of St. Joseph
March 19, 2016
Provincial House, New Rochelle
“Grant, Almighty God, that by St. Joseph’s intercession your Church may constantly watch over the unfolding of the mysteries of human salvation whose beginnings you entrusted to his faithful care” (Collect).
St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church
St. Joseph didn’t have a direct role in “the mysteries of human salvation,” he had an essential indirect role as the protector and guardian of Jesus, and as the one who linked Jesus to the house of David, to whom God promised an everlasting dynasty (2 Sam 7:16).
The “beginnings” of “the mysteries of salvation” were entrusted to Joseph’s “faithful care.” One commentator notes that “beginnings” here translates primordia, a word that “suggests hidden principles of growth, like seeds.” Jesus’ identity and mission were indeed hidden and developed slowly—hidden in Mary’s womb, hidden from Herod’s plot, hidden in the humble village of Nazareth—all under Joseph’s “faithful care,” until the seed of that identity and mission was ripe for the harvest in Jesus’ ministry. The mysteries of our salvation unfolded ever so slowly, matured gradually, as Joseph (with Mary) taught Jesus his Jewish faith and heritage, fostered in him a life of prayer and charity, trained him in human virtues and life skills. Not least, of course, was Joseph’s “faithful care” in taking Mary into his home as the angel had directed him (Matt 1:24), his promptness in fleeing with his family into Egypt (Matt 2:14), and on their return his prudence in settling in Nazareth, beyond the reach of Herod’s tyrannical son Archelaus (2:22-23).
Joseph saw the “beginnings” of “the mysteries of human salvation.” He didn’t live to see Jesus’ public ministry or the culmination of the mysteries in Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. He didn’t see the fulfillment of what the angel promised him, that Jesus would save the world (Matt 1:21). He died having helped nurture the seed of all that but not seeing its fruit; without fully understanding the role he played in “the unfolding of the mysteries.” He “watched over” God’s Son without knowing what the Son would do in his maturity. Joseph faithfully, obediently, and quietly played his own part and left all else to God.
So Joseph models the Church, for which our Collect asks him to intercede. The Church now has the role, in God’s Providence, of “watching over the unfolding of the mysteries of human salvation.” These “mysteries” are both the unfathomable plan of God (cf. Eph 3:8) for each of us and all of us—how God’s grace will touch and guide our lives—and the more particular “mysteries” entrusted to the Church’s “faithful care”: the sacraments and the rest of the sacred liturgy by which Christ acts in the Church to effect our salvation.
The “beginnings” of “the mysteries of our salvation” were entrusted to St. Joseph in the person of Jesus. The mysteries continue to “unfold” in the living body of Jesus, his Church, mysteriously and wondrously extending Jesus’ person over the ages thru our Baptism, thru the Eucharist, thru the preaching of the Word, thru the testimony of holy, grace-filled lives. All this mysterious unfolding we entrust to St. Joseph’s continued guidance and protection, to his “faithful care,” knowing that he bears the same love for all of God’s children that he lavished upon God’s Only-begotten Son.