I keep choosing the hardest saints to tell stories about. Unlike St. Anne, we at least have St. Joseph’s name in scripture, and a couple scenes that show him in action, but we only get the outlines of his character from those passages, and no words that he spoke at all. Well, that’s not quite right, we do know one thing that he said:
“behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.”(Matthew 1:20-25)
“Jesus”. We may know none of the other words that Joseph spoke, but we know that on one particular world- changing day 8 days after his birth, Joseph named the little baby that he held in his arms “Jesus”, meaning God- saves. All the fears in the face of Mary’s pregnancy, all the trials of bringing his pregnant wife to Bethlehem, all the frustration of not being able to provide a place to stay in his own ancestral home, all the wonders and glories of that night above all nights faded away as he spoke that name. The heavenly hosts marveled as a carpenter held the little, mighty, Son of God in his arms. Mary smiled as her husband held his new, eternal, baby boy. Joseph trembled as he embraced the life he was now entrusted to love, protect, and raise. And the registers of Caesar’s census added a new name to their list:
Jesus, son of Joseph, of Bethlehem.
Joseph’s word that day did not just pass on his genealogy to Our Lord: making him a son of David and member of the tribe of Judah. Nor did his action simply incorporate Jesus into the historical, Roman, empirical, world:
welcoming him into a particular place and a particular time. No, that name, announced by the angel, had to be vocalized by the carpenter of Nazareth. Joseph was entrusted to be the first human to announce to a fallen and messy universe that, ready or not, God was invading and He had a plan to save His world, and that divinely chosen plan entailed a little baby boy, a young maiden, and a carpenter.
St. Peter’s is a story for another day, but as we continue to reflect on the role of parents raising their children in the faith, St. Peter’s words after Pentecost only reiterate what Joseph has taught all of us by the only word we know he said: “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
All you fathers and dads out there. You have a hard vocation these days. It has never been easy to be an icon of God the Father! But let St. Joseph be a model, and an intercessor for you: like him, call upon the name of Jesus in your every battle in defense of your families, in every struggle for holiness, in every fight for God’s presence in your home and heart, in every struggle to love your wife and children like God the Father loves all of us.
Father Dominic Rankin has been a son of his biological father, and his Heavenly Father, for 27 years, 4 months, and 4 days. He has been a spiritual father for 2 years, 3 months, and 18 days. How about you?