Loved But Little-Known 

by Catherine Doherty

St. Joseph is patron of the universal Church and the patron of a happy death. Many people have a simple, direct devotion to him, but even for them, he often remains a shadowy, patriarchal figure who forms a silent, protective background to Jesus and Mary.

He is much loved, yet little known, and by many, he is taken for granted. This should not be.

Who decided on his age? Why is he usually depicted as a graying, elderly man? He could not have been. Carpentry is not an occupation of the elderly. It demands an alert, creative brain, strong

Men who once made their living at it can, in their old age, putter at it, but not make a livelihood for a family. And St. Joseph did—in a small, poor village.

Who are more careful of their pennies than poor folks? Who demand as much for as little as they do? They must because when they spend a few dollars for a table or some chairs, they want them well-made and strong in order to last a long, long time in daily use by many children.

Have you ever seen people in a traditional village buy anything? They touch the fabrics. They examine the workmanship. They weigh and measure carefully, for they had to work hard for what they have, and they are not going to squander their hard-earned money on flimsy stuff or shoddy workmanship. Not they!

St. Joseph knew all about marginal poverty, which is not the same thing as destitution. He, too, was poor, and it is poor people that he served. So what he did had to be well-done.

Also, he was an artisan, a craftsman, at his trade. And what else could God’s foster father have been than someone who did his work with great care?

He was master in his own house, and he must have been gravely courteous and spare of speech with customers, yet polite and kind.

He must have sat at night at his well-made gates, after the manner of he East, discussing slowly the affairs of the village with other men. He must have been respected by them. Men like him always are.

There was another side to St. Joseph as well—the hidden side. He must have been the first contemplative, living as he did with God hidden under the veil of flesh.

There must have been moments when the glory of God was revealed to him. Perhaps it was when he held the Child Jesus in his arms, or looked into his eyes and was filled with the great love of God that enveloped him constantly, but of which he was, perhaps, not always cognizant.

For how could a human being, even St. Joseph, live on earth and sustain always the blinding light of God’s love?

Joseph is the teacher of silence. He must have used words only when strictly needed, so that his words were of pure gold, words refined in the furnace of the silent love that dwelt with him constantly in his foster Son.

Joseph was a man of utter faith, complete trust, and total surrender to the will of God. Joseph, who heard the voice of angels in his dreams, lived the hidden life of humility that loses itself in simplicity.

Excerpted and adapted from Dear Parents, (1997), pp.96-97, available from MH Publications