SERMON THE TENTH.
For the Feast of St. Joseph.
God, through the great love which he bears us, and the great desire which he has for our salvation, has added to the other means of salvation which he has offered us, that of devotion to the saints, whom, as being his friends, he wishes to intercede for us, and procure for us by their prayers those graces which we do not deserve ourselves. And this is not because the merits of Jesus Christ are not superabundantly sufficient to obtain every grace for us, but because he wishes to honour his faithful servants, by making them co-operators in the work of our salvation, and on the other hand to give us a greater assurance of obtaining graces by means of his saints. But who does not know that amongst all the saints, Joseph is the most dear to God after the divine mother, and most powerful to obtain graces from God for those who implore his intercession. — Hence, our discourse divides itself into two points. We shall consider in the first, how strongly the dignity of St. Joseph should engage us to revere him ; and in the second, how greatly we should confide in the protection of St. Joseph, by reason of his sanctity.
Most assuredly we ought to honour St Joseph, since Jesus Christ himself has honoured him by calling him his Father. ” Christ,” says Origen, ” paid to Joseph the honour due to a father.” — Orig. horn. 17. in Luc. cap. 2. And he bore the name of father in the gospel. “And his father and mother were wondering at these things which were spoken concerning him.” — Luke ii. 23. He is so styled by the divine mother also : ” Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” — Ibid. ii. 48. If then, the King of Kings has raised him to such an honour, it is meet and just that we should honour him as much as in us lies. “Ab hominibus valde honorandus quern Rex Regum sic voluit extollere.” — Card. Camer. tract, de S. Joseph. What angel, or what other saint has been thought worthy to be called the father of the Son of God ? ” Nomine patris neque angelus neque sanctus meruit appellari : hoc unus Joseph potuit nuncupari.” Hence, we may well apply to St. Joseph the words of St. Paul : ” being made so much better than the angels, as he has inherited a more excellent name than they.” — Heb. i. 4. By this name of Father, God has conferred more honour upon Joseph than upon all the patriarchs, and prophets, and apostles, and bishops ; these he calls his servants, Joseph only did he style his father.
And now behold him as father, constituted head of that little family, small in point of numbers, but great, by the reason of the two great persons it contained, namely, the mother of God, and the only Son of God, made man : ” He made him master of his house.” — Ps. 104, 21. In the house of that blessed family he was Lord, and the Son of God was obedient to him ; ” and he was subject to him” — Luke ii. 25. ” This subjection,” says Jerson, ” denotes at once the great humility of Christ, and the great dignity of Joseph.” — Serm. de nat. virg. ” And what greater dignity can there be,” pursues the same person, ” than to command him who has it written upon his thigh, that he is the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords?”
Josue astonished the world when he commanded the sun to stop, that he might have time to defeat his enemies, and was obeyed by him. ” The Lord obeying the voice of a man.” — Jos, x. 14. But, what comparison can there be between the obedience of the sun (which is an inanimate creature,) to Josue, and the obedience of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God to Joseph ? Jesus Christ, as long as Joseph lived, respected and obeyed him as a father ; his obedience lasted for thirty years. “He was subject to them so that during so many years the Saviour was occupied solely in obeying Joseph. To Joseph, during all that time, fell the office of ordering all things as head of the family ; and the part of Jesus was to obey, as being subject to Joseph, whom God placed over him with the authority of father. Hence, Jesus did nothing, never moved a step, or tasted food, or went to rest, but according to the directions of Joseph ; and was, on the other hand, all attention and obedience to my commands. The Lord revealed this to St. Bridget in the following words : ” My Son was so obedient, that when Joseph said, do this, or that, he at once did it.” — Lib. 6. Revel, cap. 58. Hence, Jerson writes, “he often prepares their meals, cleanses the vessels, or draws water at the fountain.” — In Joseph dest. 3. St. Bernard, speaking of Joseph, calls him ” The faithful and prudent servant whom the Lord appointed the comfort of his mother, the foster-father of his humanity, and his chief earthly coadjutor in his great design.”— Horn. 2. sup. miss. Not only then was Joseph destined to be the consolation of the mother of God in her many tribulations, and the nursing father of Jesus, but in a certain sense to co-operate with him in the redemption of the world, which was the design occupying the councils of the three divine persons. God having given him the place of father over his Son, entrusted to him the care of his support and defence : ” Take the child,” as if he were to say to him in the words of the psalmist, ” to thee is the poor man left.” — Ps. x. 14. Joseph I have committed to your charge my Son upon this earth ; I have given him to you poor, humble, without riches, without splendour, or apparent greatness, he is called the Son of a carpenter (“Is not this the carpenter’s Son ?” — Matt xiii. 55.) from your humble calling ; because I have wished you to be poor as holding the place of father towards my Son, who is poor, and who has come into the world, not to rule there, but to suffer and to die for man’s salvation. You then shall be his guardian, and his father in my place ; ” to thee is the poor man left.” I resign him into your hands ; he shall be persecuted, and you shall share his persecution ; take care of him, be faithful to me. ” And therefore,” says St. John Damascene, ” did he give to Joseph the love, the vigilance, and the authority of a father.” He gave to him the affection of a father, in order that he might guard him with the tenderest love, and the vigilance of a father, that he might guard him with all watchfulness, and the authority of a father to secure him obedience in all the arrangements he should make for our Lord.
Having, as St. Bernard says, made him a cooperator in the work of our redemption, he wishes him to be present at the birth of our Lord, in order that he might be the faithful witness of the glory which the angels gave to God at the birth of his Son, as had been revealed to the shepherds, who disclosed it to Mary and Joseph when they came to visit the Saviour who had been announced to them ; he was moreover witness of the visit of the Magi, who, led by the star, came from the east to adore the heavenly infant, as they themselves declared ; ” for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to adore him.” — Matt. ii. 2. God wished that Joseph should, jointly with Mary, present to him the child ; ” they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord.” — Luke ii. 22. Yielding him up to death for the salvation of the world, according to the scriptures, the predictions contained in which, relative to the passion of Jesus Christ, were always , known to Joseph and Mary.
Next, the Lord seeing that Herod, through fear of losing his kingdom, sought to take the life of the divine infant, commanded Joseph by an angel, to take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt. ” Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt, and be there until I shall tell you, for it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him.” — Matt. ii. 13. Behold, Joseph in obedience to the voice of God, on that very night (for so the commentators will have it,) takes the child and his Mother, and sets off for Egypt. Joseph, without loss of time, gathers up what implements of trade he can bring along with him, on which his poor family depends for support ; Mary, on the other hand, takes her infant, with his scanty clothes, and both set off without servant or companion, unprovided pilgrims, to cross the many dreary deserts which lay between them and Egypt, where they had neither friend nor relative, and had to meet a barbarous and unknown race of people. Joseph upon his arrival, laboured night and day, as St. Bernard says, for the support of his holy spouse and the divine infant. After a time he leaves Egypt in obedience to the new command received from the angel, who says to him, ” arise, and take the child and his mother, and go unto the land of Israel.” — Matt. ii. 20. Upon leaving Egypt, he directs his steps towards Judea, but being again warned by the angel not to live there, as Archelaiis the son of Herod reigned then in his father’s room, he withdrew to Nazareth in Galilee, where he dwelt till his death, in the company of his beloved Jesus, continuing to earn a poor subsistence by his humble trade.
It happened after some time, that going with Mary and Jesus then twelve years old, to visit the temple, he found upon his return when he met Mary, that Jesus whom he believed to be with her had been missing for three days, he did nothing else than weep, not having near him Jesus who was the love of his heart ; but what afflicted him most, was the fear that Jesus had left him on account of some oflfence which he had received from him, and which he thought had rendered him unworthy of being any longer the guardian of such a treasure, as Laspergio writes. But he was consoled by hearing from Jesus himself, that he remained in the temple about his father’s business. Joseph continued thenceforward, to govern our Lord until his death, which he had the happiness of meeting between Jesus and Mary, who assisted him at that moment ; whence St. Francis of Sales says, we may hold for certain that Joseph died of love, as did Mary his spouse.
We ought to confide greatly in the protection of Joseph, for his sanctity makes him very dear to God. In order to conceive the sanctity of Joseph, we have only to remember that he was chosen by God to fill the place of father towards Jesus Christ. St. Paul has those words, ” who hath also made us fit ministers of the new testament.” — Cor. iii. 6. Which implies, as St. Thomas explains it, that when God chooses any person for an office, he gives all the graces necessary for the discharge of his duty therein. ” Quando Deus quosdam ad aliquid eligit ita disponit ut ad id inveniantur idonei.” — 3 Prop, quae 27. art 4. God then having intended Joseph to fill the place of father over the incarnate word, was most assuredly bound to endow him with all the wisdom and holiness necessary for such an office. Nor should we doubt of his having enriched him with all the graces and privileges granted to the other saints; Gerson and Suarez say, that St. Joseph had three special privileges, first, that of having been sanctified in his mother’s womb, like Jeremias and John the Baptist ; secondly, of having been confirmed in grace, and thirdly, of never having felt the motions of concupiscence, a privilege which St. Joseph, by the merits of his purity, is entitled to share with his clients, by freeing them from these same motions.
St. Joseph in the gospel is called just, ” Joseph her husband being a just man.” — Matt. i. 19. What is the meaning of a just man ? It means, says St. Peter Chrysologus, a perfect man, a man who possesses every virtue. Joseph was holy before his marriage, but still more so after his union with the divine mother ; the bare example of his holy spouse would have been sufficient to sanctify him. But if Mary, as St. Bernardine of Sienna says, is the dispensatrix of all the graces which God bestows on man, how profusely must she not have enriched her spouse with them, whom she so much loved, and who loved her so well. How immensely must not the sanctity of Joseph have been increased by the conversation and familiarity of Jesus during the many years they lived together. If the two disciples who were going to Emmaus, found themselves influenced with love, in the few moments during which the Saviour walked and conversed with them, so as to say, ” was not our heart burning within us whilst he spoke in the way— Luke xxiv. 32. What a fire of holy charity must we not believe to have been enkindled in the heart of Joseph by thirty years conversation with Jesus Christ, by hearing constantly from him the word of life, by observing his perfect humility, patience and obedience, by seeing him so ready to assist him in his labours in every thing which required to be done about the house ? What a conflagration of divine love must not those torches of charity have spread in the breast of Joseph, a breast which was free from every earthly affection. It is true that he had a great love for his spouse Mary ; but his was not a divided love, although, as the apostle says, the heart of the husband is usually divided. ” But he that has a wife is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided.” — 1 Cor. vii. 33. No, the love which he felt for his spouse, filled him still more with divine love, and therefore, we cannot doubt that Joseph whilst he lived with Jesus Christ, increased so much in sanctity and merits, that we may say he excels all the other saints.
The apostle writes that Jesus Christ, in the other world, ” will render to every man according to his works.” — Rom. ii. 6. With what glory, think you, must he not have adorned Joseph, who so faithfully loved and served him on this earth ? On the last day, the Saviour will say to his elect, ” For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat ; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink ; I was a stranger, and you took me in ; naked, and you covered me.” — Matt. xxv. 35. Those have fed, and lodged, and clothed Jesus Christ, in the person of the poor ; but St. Joseph procured food, and raiment, and lodging, for Jesus Christ in person. Moreover, the Lord has promised a reward to whosoever gives a poor man a drop of cold water in his name. ” For whosoever shall give you to drink a cup of water in my name amen, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” — Mark ix. 40. Who can tell what ought to be the reward of Joseph — of him, who can say to Jesus Christ, Lord, I have not only furnished you with food and raiment, and lodging, but have even saved you from death, by rescuing *you from the sword of Herod. All this should serve to increase our confidence in Joseph, by bringing us to the conclusion, that on account of all these merits, God cannot deny him any favour which he solicits for his clients.
St. Bernardine of Sienna says, ” We may be assured that the same filial reverence and respectful familiarity with which Jesus Christ treated Joseph while on this earth, he not only does not deny him in heaven, but has rather increased towards him.” — Serm. de S. Jos. Recollect, “reverence,” and “familiarity.” That Lord who on the earth reverenced St. Joseph as father, certainly denies him nothing in heaven. Besides this, although St. Joseph had no authority over the humanity of Jesus Christ, as natural father, yet he had it in a certain degree, as husband of Mary ; who, as natural mother of the Saviour, had true authority over him, for he who has a right to the tree, has a right also to the fruit. On this account Jesus Christ respected Joseph on the earth, and looked upon him as his superior. And on the very same account, his prayers are looked upon by Jesus as commands. ” Dum Pater orat natum, velut imperium reputatur.” — Serm. de S. Jos.
Let us hear what St. Bernard says of the power which Joseph has of his dispensing graces to his clients : ” To some saints,” he says, ” it is given to protect us upon certain occasions, but to Joseph it is allowed to help us in every necessity, and to defend all who fly to him.” And what St. Bernard writes as his belief, St. Theresa confirms by her experience. ” It appears,” she says, “that to the other saints it is given to succour us in some one necessity ; but we know from experience, that Joseph can succour us in every need.” Let us rest assured of this, that as Jesus Christ on earth was subject to Joseph upon the earth, he is subject to him still in heaven, in this sense, that he grants his every request. Let us then imagine we hear the Lord addressing to each of us the words which Pharaoh spoke to the people during the time of the famine in Egypt : ” Go to Joseph.” — Gen. xli. 55. Go to Joseph, if you desire to be consoled. By the mercy of the Lord, there are few Christians at present, who are not, to some extent, devout to St. Joseph ; but those do assuredly receive most graces who have recourse to him most frequently, and with greatest confidence. Wherefore let us not fail to recommend ourselves every day and night to St. Joseph, who, next to divine Mary, is most powerful with God. Let us not fail to address to him, each day, some special prayer ; and let us increase our prayers during his novena, and let us fast upon his eve, and beg favours of him ; all of which he will obtain for us, provided they be useful to our souls. I exhort you to apply to him more especially for the three following graces, namely, pardon of your sins, love of Jesus Christ, and a good death. With regard to the pardon of your sins, look at the matter thus : if, while Jesus lived on earth with Joseph, a sinner wanted to obtain pardon of his sins, could he do better to insure a pardon than apply to Joseph ? If, then, we wish to obtain pardon, let us apply to Joseph, who is now more beloved of Jesus Christ than he was on earth. Let us, moreover, beg St. Joseph to procure for us the love of Jesus Christ ; and I, for my part, hold, that tender love for the Word Incarnate is a grace, the obtaining of which for us, belongs most specially to Joseph, by reason of the tender love which the saint bore towards him in this world. Lastly, let us beg of him to procure us the grace of a happy death ; it is known to all that Joseph is the protector of the death-bed, because he had the happiness of dying between Jesus and Mary. Whence his clients ought to hope that at their death they shall see Jesus and Joseph coming to assist them. Of this there are many examples.
Moverio tells that in the year 1541, brother Alessio of Vigevand, a Capuchin lay brother being about to die, begged of the brethren to light some candles. They asked him why ? he said, that he expected a visit from Joseph and most holy Mary in a few moments ; scarcely had he so spoken when he exclaimed, behold Joseph and the queen of heaven ; kneel brethren, to receive them, and having said this he tranquilly expired, on the nineteenth of March, the very day consecrated to St. Joseph. It is related by Father Patrignam (and he takes the account from St. Vincent Ferrer and other authors,) that a certain merchant in the city of Valenza, was in the habit of inviting every year upon his birth day, an old man and a woman with, a child at her breast to his table, in honour of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. This devout man appeared after his death, to a person who was praying for him, and told him that he had been met in his passage by Jesus, Mary and Joseph, who said to him, you were in the habit of receiving us every year into your house, in the person of those poor people whom you brought to your table, we are now come to receive you into our house, and having so spoken they led him to paradise. It is related also in the ” Leggendario Francescano,” that the venerable sister Prudentsiana, who was very devout to St. Joseph, had the happiness of seeing the saint approach her death bed with Jesus in his arms, she would now speak to St. Joseph, now to Jesus, and in this heavenly company she breathed out her soul.” In the history of the discalced carmelites, it is related of sister Anna di Sant Agostino, that when she was dying, some of the religious saw her assisted by St. Joseph and St. Theresa, and transported with joy ; another religious, belonging to another convent saw her ascending to heaven between St. Theresa and St. Joseph. A religious of the order of St. Austin, as we learn from Father John de Allora, in his book upon St. Joseph, appeared to a companion of his, and told him that he had been saved from hell by means of a particular devotion to St. Joseph, and then mentioned that the saint, as reputed father of our Lord, was all powerful with him.