Our “Return to God” Apostolate has chosen the earthly, foster father of Jesus, St. Joseph as its patron saint. St. Joseph’s guidance and powerful intercession have been sought for centuries by holy men and women like St. Theresa of Avila and St. Thomas Aquinas because of his fatherly care and leadership of the Holy Family.
What little is known about St. Joseph comes down to us from a few quotations in the Bible. Notably, only the gospels of Matthew and Luke mention him. These gospels tell us that Joseph was a ‘Tekton’ (greed work meaning a ‘builder’, someone who worked with his hands), and it is presumed that he passed his trade on to Jesus.
We are told that Joseph was betrothed to the Blessed Virgin Mother Mary when he learned that she was pregnant. Because Joseph was a ‘just man’ he planned to divorce Mary privately, to save her the shame and ostracization that accompanied a woman guilty of infidelity. Under Toric Law, he could have even had her stoned to death! However, Joseph was then visited by an Angel of The Lord, who assured him that Mary had been faithful and had conceived of the “Holy Spirit,” a child who would be the Savior of not only Israel but of all mankind.
Luke’s infancy narrative tells us that Joseph had to take his very pregnant bride to Bethlehem, his birthplace to be counted in the Roman census. There, Mary gave birth to Our Lord Jesus and Joseph’s mission as the earthly father of Jesus and protector and provider for Jesus and Mary began. In a dream, Joseph was again visited by an Angel of The Lord, who told him to flee Israel and travel with the Holy Family to Egypt, for Herod was soon to murder all of the newborn innocents in the town of Bethlehem. Later, the angel would again appear to Joseph and inform him that all was safe again in Judea and so he moved the family once again, this time to Nazareth. Because of these events, Joseph is depicted as a “Man of Dreams,” like Joseph in the Old Testament.
We hear no more direct mentions of Joseph until Luke mentions the incident where an apparent miscommunication results in Jesus being left in Jerusalem for a few days. Frantic at what might be the fate of their 12-year-old son, they were amazed to find him sitting at the temple, teaching and discoursing freely with the learned rabis. From this point on, there are no more references to St. Joseph in the biblical record, other than John’s comments about Jesus in Nazareth when the people are heard to say, “Is this not Joseph the carpenter’s son?” Not even St. Paul mentions him in any of his many letters. However, it is assumed that Joseph died sometime before the ministry of Christ because while his mother Mary is mentioned many times in reference to his ministry, the scriptures are silent on Joseph. Stronger evidence that Joseph had passed on before Christ’s crucifixion is given in the Gospel of John, where Jesus tells his mother, “Woman, this is your son,” referring to the apostle John. He then says to John, “John, here is your mother.” Jesus clearly would not have entrusted his mother’s care to John if his father was still alive.
Despite the lack of biblical references to St. Joseph, there are many church traditions and devotions that have been dedicated to him. The Eastern Orthodox church very early on venerated St. Joseph, as depicted in iconography of the period. However, the Roman Church’s early focus on the veneration of only martyrs meant that he was generally overlooked until well into the second millennium. It wasn’t until 1129 that the first recorded Catholic Church dedicated to St. Joseph was founded in Bologna. Slowly, after several high-profile saints had begun their own devotion to the earthly father of Jesus, the popularity of St. Joseph began to grow in the West. In 1726, St. Benedict XIII added St. Joseph to the ‘Litany of the Saints.’ From this point onward, the devotion to St. Joseph and celebration of his earthly ministry have grown rapidly.
It is partly because so little has been written about St. Joseph that we attribute to him the virtues of humility, piety and steadfastness. Because we know of his trade as a ‘builder,’ he also seems more approachable as a ‘working man of the people.’ He supported his family by working with his own, skilled hands and as a poor man, would have had to perform difficult labor for long hours each day. Along with the Blessed Mother Mary, Joseph was the first teacher, mentor and earthly father figure for our own Savior, who repeatedly referred to God as his own “Heavenly Father.”
There are many devotions to St. Joseph and the list of professions, and special intentions dedicated to his devotion and intercession includes: Carpenters, Accountants, Lawyers, emigrants, house-hunters and house-sellers, teachers, laborers in general, and the dying who seek a ‘happy death.’ St. Thomas Aquinas had this to say about the power of the devotion to St. Joseph.
“Some saints are privileged to extend to us their patronage with particular efficacy in certain needs, but not in others; but our holy patron St. Joseph has the power to assist us in all cases, in every necessity, in every undertaking.”
Another great saint who helped popularize the devotion to St. Joseph was St. Theresa of Avila, whose own personal devotion to him was very strong. About her devotion she said this.
“I know by experience that the glorious St. Joseph assists us generally in all necessities. I never asked him for anything which he did not obtain for me.”
The following prayer to St. Joseph is one of the earliest known and is thought to have originated around 50 AD. It is a beautiful and powerful prayer which is utilized by the “Return to God” Apostolate to help us in our important mission of leading lost and hurting souls back to Our Lord. We encourage you to seek the powerful assistance and intercession of our patron St. Joseph for your own material or spiritual needs, as we seek his guidance and intercession for our own apostolate.
Oh St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.
Oh St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your divine son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, our Lord; so that having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.
Oh St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while he reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss his fine head for me, and ask him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for us. Amen.