Feast Day: March 19th| Spouse of Mary, Foster Father of Christ, Prince and Patron of the Universal Church | Imagery: Holding Christ child, Lily (for purity), Blooming Staff (from miraculous engagement to Mary), Carpenter’s Square, often wearing Brown (carpenter garb) and Green (indicating fecundity)
All of us know St. Joseph. We celebrate him on multiple feasts each year, and spend much of Advent with him and Our Lady as they prepare (with us) to receive the gift of the Christ child. This year we approach him through the lens of the Eucharistic Prayers. Well, that is a rather impersonal way to put it … let us choose today to come to St. Joseph and ask him to teach us about our Eucharistic Lord.
And we find an odd thing: He points to his wife. In each Eucharistic prayer, St. Joseph is invoked only in his relationship with Mary, as “Blessed Joseph, her spouse.” Mary, similarly, is only mentioned and reverenced in relation to her son – “the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ” (EP1) or “Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God” (EP2, 3, & 4). There is something important to grasp here! Even these greatest saints of the Church, given the highest veneration among the choirs of heaven are only honored within their union with Christ! (Recall, we give Mary hyperdulia [highest-veneration], but only as the mother of God, and Joseph protodulia [first-veneration among the other saints], but only as the spouse of Mary). Here’s the key truth: No one becomes a saint without Christ, without becoming a member of His Body (though, as Lumen Gentium mercifullyreminds us, sometimes that union is in ways known only to God).
But isn’t it a better thing to be Jesus’ virginal father, His foster father, than Mary’s spouse?! St. Bernadine of Siena preached of the sublimity of St. Joseph’s vocation as Mary’s spouse, but then makes the obvious point that his even more exalted vocation was to be Jesus’ earthly father, to stand in the place – as a human being – of God the Father! Of course, one becomes a father after first being a husband (both of those vocations themselves flowing from first being a brother, and before all else, a son), so in some ways Joseph’s being a spouse is the prerequisite for his being a father. (Notice that this was the case for Mary as well! She was asked to bear God’s son after she had already been betrothed, truly entering a preliminary marriage, to St. Joseph).
But I think there is something more important that St. Joseph is teaching us here: Vocations don’t vanish; nothing cancels God’s call. If God has made you His son, and called you to be His son, nothing will ever steal that identity from you. Not sin, not suffering, not centuries. If God has made you a brother, and called you to be a brother, that relationship never expires. If God has made you a husband, and called you to be a husband, nothing can break or sunder that reality. Not infidelity, not illness, not even death. If God has made you a father, and called you to be a father, as long as you are united to Him, you remain a father like He is Our Father.
Now, earthly “vocations” (with a lower-case “v”): jobs, occupations, hobbies, activities … these things come and go. They are not grounded in God and so they do not last into eternity. But, those parts of our identity that are grounded in Christ remain and endure even unto heavenly life. Consider St. Joseph. He is called “Guardian of Virgins”, “Protector of the Universal Church”, “Terror of Demons” … titles that only apply to him if he is still, in heaven, the spouse of Mary, made mother of the Church on calvary. Yes, “in the resurrection, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage” [Matthew 22:30], but marriage can no more be dissolved in heaven than it can here on earth. Sacraments and vocations will no longer be fundamental in heaven, not because they are abolished but because they are fulfilled. (So is my priesthood!) In-betweens aren’t necessary once we live in God, yet all those ways that we were here called into likeness with the Heavenly Father – all those specific ways we were incorporated into Christ – will remain as glorious and perfected characteristics that somehow mark our glorified bodies and souls in heaven!
In other words, Christ must be the nourishment for our vocations now, for nothing else will sustain them in Heaven.
– Fr. Dominic Rankin was in seminary when Pope Benedict decided to add St. Joseph’s name to the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Eucharistic Prayers on May 1st 2013 (feast of St. Joseph the Worker). Wait, Pope Francis was Pope by then, how did Pope Benedict make the addition?! This was a document, and decision, made by both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. Similar to Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, the decree which added St. Joseph’s name officially to those Eucharistic Prayers, “Paternas Vices”, was also written first by Pope Benedict, but left up to his successor to edit and officially promulgate! (Fr. Dominic was not in seminary in 1973 when Pope St. John XXIII added St. Joseph to the 1st Eucharistic Prayer, but our Bishop Thomas John Paprocki was in seminary in that auspicious year!)