St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Feast Day - March 19A sermon of St. Bernard, Abbot
From the great honor of being privileged to be called and considered the father of God (though, of course, he was only the foster-father), we may judge the character and spirit of St. Joseph. We may learn it from his own name, which undoubtedly means Increase. Here we must not forget that great Patriarch Joseph, who in ancient days was sold into Egypt and of whom St. Joseph was heir not only in name but also in purity, innocence, and grace.
Indeed, as that former Joseph, sold and brought to Egypt by the envy of his brothers, prefigured the selling of Christ, so this Joseph, fleeing the envy of Herod, carried Christ into Egypt. The former Joseph, faithfully serving his master, would not commit adultery with his masters wife; this Joseph, knowing Mary to be a virgin, She who was his Lady and the Mother of his Lord, himself remained continent and faithfully protected Her. To the former Joseph was given the gift of knowing the mysteries of dreams; the latter was graced not only with knowledge of, but even participation in the mysteries of Heaven.
The former Joseph kept foodstuffs, not indeed for himself but for all the
people, while the latter received into his care the living Bread from Heaven
for himself as well as for all the world. We dare not doubt that blessed Joseph,
to whom the Mother of the Savior was espoused, was a good and faithful servant;
a prudent, faithful servant, I repeat, for the Lord appointed him guardian and
consoler of His Mother, nourisher of His own body, and coadjutor on earth in
the incomprehensible designs of Heaven.
Why must She who conceives the Lord be not simply a virgin, but a betrothed virgin? First, that through the genealogy of Joseph the (Davidic) origin of Mary may be demonstrated. Second, that She may not be stoned as an adulteress by the Jews. Third, that She may have a protector during the flight into Egypt. The Martyr Ignatius adds a fourth reason for Our Lord's being conceived by one who is betrothed: that His birth may be hidden from the devil, who thinks that this is the child of a married woman, not of a virgin.
“She was found, before they came together, to be with child by the Holy Spirit.” Her condition was discovered by no one else but Joseph; concerning his future wife, he had almost the privileged of a husband to know everything about Her. The qualification “before they came together” does not imply that afterwards they did come together. The Scripture is merely indicating that up to this time they had not done so.
“But Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wishing to expose Her to reproach, was minded to put Her away privately.” If anyone is joined to a fornicator, he becomes one body with her; and it is a precept of the Law that not only the one who commits a crime, but anyone who is silently aware of it, is guilty of sin. Then how can Joseph be called a just man, when he is hiding his wifes crime?
The question is not to the point. The point is that Joseph was a just man,
and his conduct becomes a piece of evidence in Marys favor. What he knew was
not Her crime (there was none to be known), but Her chastity. What he did not
know was the mystery of how She had conceived; and by his silence he kept hidden
from the public the circumstance that was a source of wonder to him.
Epistle and Gospel for March 19