The great dignity of St. Joseph

From the writings of St. Leonard of Port-Maurice –

There is a prophetic figure who embodies the greatness of our saint: According to St. Bernardine, Joseph, son of Jacob the patriarch, represents in the distant past the awe-inspiring prerogatives of Mary’s spouse.

You will remember the extraordinary dream in which the first Joseph saw the sun and the moon and 11 stars bowing down at his feet (Gen. 37:9). This dream was not one of those which a restless imagination conjures up during sleep; rather, it was an ecstatic vision sent to Joseph by God Himself, not only to show the imminent rise in rank of this sleeping youth, but also to point out the future greatness of our saint.

I leave it to you to ponder over the unbelievable destiny of the first Joseph who saw not only his father, his mother and his brothers, but all of Egypt, prostrate at his feet. I will use this to illustrate the great dignity of the second Joseph.

Almighty God, who could ever begin to fathom it! Do you not think Joseph was moved to see Jesus and Mary at his feet, as if they were servants, showing the most loving signs of respect? This is what makes me bold enough to assert that Joseph, in order to become Mary’s spouse, must have been the greatest person to have ever lived, after the Virgin herself. I don’t mean that kind of greatness in which the ambitious boast of their honors to gain the empty respect of men. If you study his lineage you will see that Joseph, not lacking such greatness, could boast of having 14 kings as ancestors, and as many patriarchs and leaders – none of them as great as he despite their scepters and crowns. According to St. Bernardine of Siena, Joseph came from a line of such illustrious nobility, reaching nearly to the heavens and including many prophets and patriarchs, that he was able to bestow earthly nobility on the Word Itself.

However, it is not because of this greatness that Joseph is praised. If he has dignity in himself, it is not because of the greatness of his ancestors. His identity as a carpenter was as dear to him as the title of prince. The royal scepter was not more important to him than the workman’s hammer. His greatness comes above all from his glorious title: “the just one”. This is what pleases him most; for this he will be admired for all time. All Joseph’s glories are summed up in the eulogy: Joseph was a just man (Mt 1:19).

If you really want to understand Joseph’s greatness as “just,” analyze the word itself. It sums up all the virtues and height of Christian perfection. The Holy Father of the Church, St. Maximinus of Turin, tells us the same thing: “Do you wish to know why Joseph is called just? Because he possessed perfectly all the virtues.” What more can one say about a man than to say that he possesses all the virtues to a perfect degree? Is this not the highest praise? And who could compare himself in grandeur to Joseph who deserved this praise? Could Adam who, before the fall, appeared with all the animals subject to him? Could Moses who commanded creatures with his rod? Could Abraham surrounded by his descendants like a sun in the midst of stars? Call to mind Josue stopping the sun at the command of his voice; Solomon seeing queens prostrate before his throne; and you, miracle workers, show us how nature obeys your commands. Realize, however, that all these powers cannot make you equal to St. Joseph. For you received these powers and virtues only in part, while Joseph had them all and to a perfect degree.

Humble yourselves then at his feet, all you prophets, patriarchs, apostles, martyrs, miracle workers, all you great ones of heaven and earth, just as in ancient times the sun and the moon and the stars bowed down to honor the first Joseph.

(This text was taken from The Glories of Saint Joseph, published by Traditions Monastiques, pps 55-59. Used with permission)

March 19 is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, when he is venerated in particular as the spouse of the Virgin Mary and the patron of the Universal Church.

 

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