Today, the Universal Church celebrates the Solemnity of St. Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Blessed Pope Piux IX declared the humble carpenter from Nazareth Patron of the Universal Church. Later on, Blessed Pope John XXIII, whose given name was Giuseppe (Joseph), added the saint's name to the Roman Canon.
It stands to reason that Blessed Pope Pius IX proclaimed St. Joseph as the Church's patron saint, as St. Joseph vigilantly guarded the young Jesus and His Blessed Mother with great love and devotion. That same loving vigilance and devotion, the holy patriarch now shows to the Church founded by his foster Son.
Of all of the individuals named in the Gospels, St. Joseph is the only one who remains silent. He is not a man of words; he is a man of action. The just man who showed great concern for the young Mary when she was found with child, he pondered whether or not to put her away quietly. However, like his Old Testament namesake, Joseph received his direction through dreams. In this case, an angel of the Lord told him to not have any misgivings about taking Mary as his wife. Joseph wasted no time in heeding the angel's message, as it was from God. Then, after Jesus' birth, Joseph received another dream, telling him to take the Christ child and His Mother to Egypt as King Herod sought to kill the baby. Again, Joseph heeded the message and led the family to safety. Joseph's actions mirror what two of the Old Testament partriarchs did. Abraham left the safety and security of Ur of the Chaldeans at God's behest, going on faith. It was that same faith that saw Abraham through many difficulties. The second Old Testament figure, Joseph, the second youngest son of Jacob, went to Egypt, but, by force, having been sold into slavery by his older brothers. But, through God's providential will, the evil that Joseph's brothers had committed wound up being their salvation, as it was Joseph who would wind up rescuing his family from famine.
When Herod died, the angel once again appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him that it was safe to return to Israel. However, Joseph chose to return to Nazareth, leading his family to a peaceful, normal existence. The last time Sacred Scripture records Joseph is during St. Luke's Gospel account of the finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple. After Jesus is found in the Temple, He submits Himself to the authority of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph.
As brief as these Gospel accounts are, they give us an important insight into who St. Joseph is and why he matters. He is that trusted steward who faithfully cares and protects those entrusted to his watch. Joseph's faithfulness, fidelity and love are qualities that God needed in the man who was to serve as Jesus' foster father. While Mary gave Jesus unfathomable maternal love and care, Joseph provided his foster Son with fatherly love, guidance and support. St. Joseph was God's go-to for everything concerning the Holy Family. Now, he exercises that same care, guidance and vigilance over the Church.
Perhaps it is providential that another Joseph also serves as the guardian and protector of the Church here on earth: Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.
Pope Benedict XVI, like his patron, guards the Church with immense love, care and fidelity. Like his patron, he has been called by God to make difficult moves. The former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger had resisted the invitation that the Venerable Pope John Paul II made to lead one of the Congregations in Rome; however, he could not resist a second time when the Polish Pontiff asked him to assume the leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. When the time came for the prefect to submit his resignation, as required by Canon Law, to John Paul back in 2002, Ratzinger received a direct response from his superior: the Pontiff simply dismissed the document and asked the cardinal to remain in service. He obediently stayed at his post until the pope's death.
On April 19, 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger led his brother cardinals into the conclave that would elect John Paul's successor. He had planned to return to Germany, live in his house in Regensberg and enjoy a quiet retirement with his brother. However, as was the case with St. Joseph, God had other plans. Joseph Ratzinger emerged from the conclave with a new title and a new name: Pope Benedict XVI. Following the example of his patron, the holy patriarch of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI resigned himself to following God's will in all things, leaving aside his own plans to conform himself to whatever Divine Providence deigned.
I went to Mass today to both mark St. Joseph's feast day and to pray for our Holy Father. Like St. Joseph, the Holy Father has had much to suffer these six years since that conclave. But, like St. Joseph, our pontiff has remained steadfast in his faith and firm in his resolve.
If there was ever a time when Pope Benedict XVI needed our prayers, it is now. If there was ever a time when St. Joseph needed to stand vigilant over the Church it is now. New Herods have arisen over the horizon, both within and without the Church.
May St. Joseph continue to intercede for the Church founded by his Divine foster Son and may he guide and protect his namesake as he exercises his Petrine ministry.