Pope Pius IX declared Saint Joseph the patron of the Universal Church. His successor, Pope Leo XII, dedicated an encyclical letter to Saint Joseph. It is On Devotion to St. Joseph (Quamquam Pluries), published on the feast of the Assumption in 1889.
As the world faced novel challenges created by the advent of modern society, Pope Leo, who would later write On Capital and Labor (Rerum Novarum), his better-known encyclical that started modern Catholic social teaching, asked the Church to look to Joseph as model in a new world.
In part, he wrote:
“The special motives for which St. Joseph has been proclaimed Patron of the Church, and from which the Church looks for singular benefit from his patronage and protection, are that Joseph was the spouse of Mary and that he was reputed the Father of Jesus Christ. From these sources have sprung his dignity, his holiness, his glory. . . . Joseph shines among all mankind by the most august dignity, since by divine will, he was the guardian of the Son of God and reputed as His father among men. Hence it came about that the Word of God was humbly subject to Joseph, that He obeyed him, and that He rendered to him all those offices that children are bound to render to their parents. From this two-fold dignity flowed the obligation which nature lays upon the head of families, so that Joseph became the guardian, the administrator, and the legal defender of the divine house whose chief he was. And during the whole course of his life he fulfilled those charges and those duties. He set himself to protect with a mighty love and a daily solicitude his spouse and the Divine Infant; regularly by his work he earned what was necessary for the one and the other for nourishment and clothing; he guarded from death the Child threatened by a monarch’s jealousy, and found for Him a refuge; in the miseries of the journey and in the bitternesses of exile he was ever the companion, the assistance, and the upholder of the Virgin and of Jesus. Now the divine house which Joseph ruled with the authority of a father, contained within its limits the scarce-born Church (3).
“These are the reasons why men of every rank and country should fly to the trust and guard of the blessed Joseph. . . . As to workmen, artisans, and persons of lesser degree, their recourse to Joseph is a special right, and his example is for their particular imitation (4).”
Over the ages, the faithful have always looked to Joseph as the spouse and protector of Mary and Jesus, but as Pope Leo points out, Joseph is more than a silent statue. He was the active support of his family and in that role, he becomes the model for all of us who have the care and charge of families—regardless of our gender.
“For Joseph, of royal blood, united by marriage to the greatest and holiest of women, reputed the father of the Son of God, passed his life in labour, and won by the toil of the artisan the needful support of his family.” –Pope Leo XIII
Saint Joseph, be with all who work to support themselves and their families. Amen.
Image credit: Corinne SIMON/CIRIC