By Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
To even begin to comprehend the nature of Saint Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, we must bear in mind two awe-inspiring facts. St. Joseph is the virgin-husband of Our Lady and the guardian-father of Our Lord.
The husband must be proportional to the wife. Saint Joseph's spouse is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the most perfect of all creatures, and masterpiece of the Creator's handiwork. In her incomparable person, we find the sum of all the virtues of all the angels, and saints, indeed all creation until the end of time. Even these poor considerations, of course, fail to convey adequately the sublime perfection of the Most Holy Mother of God.
From among all men, God chose one man worthy to love and honor the Mother of His Only-Begotten Son as her husband He was a husband proportional to his wife in love of God, purity, wisdom, justice-in every virtue. Saint Joseph was that man.
However there remains something even more incomprehensible. The father must be proportional to his son, and, as we have noted, the Son for Whom God sought an earthly father was none other than His Own.
There could be but one man fit for such an awesome responsibility, the man God created for precisely this vocation and whose soul He crowned with every virtue. That man, too, was Saint Joseph.
Saint Joseph is proportional to the Blessed Mother and her Divine Son. What greater homage could we render him? It is beyond our power to imagine the grandeur of Saint Joseph's exaltation.
Words cannot express the depth of his penetration of the most holy soul of Our Lady and the degree of his intimacy with the Incarnate Word.
Saint Anthony of Padua is commonly depicted holding the Child Jesus. Because the Divine Child rested in his arms for a few moments, we deem Saint Anthony particularly blessed. Yet how many times did Saint Joseph hold the Christ Child in his arms?
Saint Joseph's were the pure lips that taught Jesus and answered His questions. Consider Saint Joseph's carpenter shop in Nazareth, where a son learns the trade of his father.
If you can conceive of a man with the purity, humility, and wisdom to govern the Holy Family as its lord, you may begin to appreciate the sublime virtue of Saint Joseph. But how did Saint Joseph's contemporaries react in the face of this grandeur? Saint Luke provides clear testimony. "And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2:7)
These last words reveal a bitter truth. In their petty selfishness, men find it difficult to accept that which is great-much less that which is divine. We may think that men like to deal with important matters. Indeed some men do enjoy such things, but in a superficial and selfish manner.
What attracts men is not so much grandeur as mediocrity, a mixture of good and evil in which evil predominates.
So we can understand why the innkeepers of Bethlehem were unwilling to make room for the Holy Family. Saint Joseph and Mary showed them the most tender kindness. Their majesty was unmistakable, even in their poverty.
However distinction is only acceptable when it is accompanied by wealth, for the latter pardons the former. Moreover, greed incites flattery, which takes the place of respect. Thus, when a poor man of great distinction knocks at the door, there is no room. It would have taken but five minutes to arrange ample accommodation for mediocre rich men, but there was no room in the inn for Saint Joseph or for his wife with Child. And even had they known that the Child was the promised Messiah, they still would not have received them. As Donoso Cortes aptly reminds us, "The human spirit hungers for absurdity and sin."
The Child Jesus resembled Our Lady. She was the prefigure of the Redeemer. Saint Joseph also looked like Him, but there was no room in the inn for the Holy Family. Thus history records the first refusal of the Hebrew people. Our Lord knocks at the doors-at the hearts-of men through the paternal intercession of Saint Joseph and He is refused.
Saint Joseph, prince of the House of David, the royal family from which would come the Hope of the Nations-knocks at the door and is rejected. But in this rejection lies his glory. Taking another step toward martyrdom, he leads his august spouse to a poor stable, where the Lord of the Universe will be born.
To this glory would be added many others: the glory of being considered a person of little worth; the glory of taking upon himself the humiliation, ignominy, and opprobrium that was to fall upon Our Lord; or the glory of being scorned by men for the grandeur of his soul. Even to this day; that same glory leads us to implore, “Saint Joseph, Martyr of Grandeur, pray for us!”