What do we know about St. Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and foster-father of Jesus?
The only historically reliable information comes from Sacred Scripture, principally the birth narratives in the first and third Gospels, although there are many traditions associated with him, some more dependable than others.
We know that he came from the household and lineage of King David, so he was descended from royalty ((Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38). He travels with Mary for the census to Bethlehem, the City of David, which apparently was his original hometown.
He was a carpenter, or artisan, what we would call a tradesman, a skilled worker. We know this because the people of Nazareth inquired about Jesus saying “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” (Matt. 13:55). He was also not wealthy. When he accompanied Mary to the Temple for her purification, and for the circumcision of Jesus, the offering they made was two turtledoves or a pair of pigeons. This was done only by those who did not have enough money to purchase a more expensive lamb to sacrifice (Lev. 12:8).
Tradition tells us that Joseph was an older man when he married the Blessed Virgin. The Protoevangelium of James, an apocryphal work dating from the second century, says that Joseph was a widower with children from his first marriage, the “brothers of Jesus” that we read about in the Gospels. That same source says that Joseph was selected by the priests of the Temple to be Mary’s guardian and to watch over her and protect her. This we know that he did. Joseph obviously loved Mary. We see this in today’s Gospel when he was solicitous for her reputation. We see also that he was obedient to God’s will given to him through the message of an angel.
The death of Joseph is not mentioned in the New Testament, but he disappears from the narrative after Jesus’ childhood, and Mary appears without him during the ministry of Jesus. Tradition says that Joseph died in the presence of Jesus and Mary. Consequently, Joseph is the patron saint of the dying, and an intercessor for a happy death, as is shown in the icon on this page, by the hand of my wife, Ruth Ballard. Pope Pius IX named St. Joseph as the patron and protector of the Universal Church, and thus our heavenly intercessor as well.
Blessed St. Joseph, help us to live piously, die holily, and obtain eternal happiness in heaven. Amen.
Fr. Richard Ballard