Jesus’ earthly father, St. Joseph – often overlooked – is honored on Father’s Day in many Catholic countries

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Gloria Falcao Dodd, University of Dayton

The United States celebrates Father’s Day on the third Sunday in June. Many countries with Catholic heritage, however, such as Portugal and Spain, have already honored fathers on March 19: the feast of Saint Joseph, husband of Mary and patron saint of fathers.

Joseph is easy to forget. None of his words have been included in the Christian Bible. In Islam, the Quran omits it entirely, though it does include Jesus and Mary by name; in fact, it refers to Mary more than the Christian gospels do. And while Catholic tradition places the highest veneration on the Virgin Mary, it places less emphasis on the importance of Joseph – there’s even a joke that a Sunday school student thought the names of the Jesus’ parents were “Verge ‘n Mary”, after hearing her name so much. more than his.

However, the Bible depicts Saint Joseph playing a crucial role in the life of Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity. In Catholic culture, Joseph is still an important model of fatherhood and faith.

Husband of Mary, father of Jesus – on earth

Most of the biblical descriptions of Joseph come from what are called the infancy accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which describe the birth and childhood of Jesus.

According to the Gospels, Mary, a virgin betrothed to Joseph, conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit – and therefore Christians regard Jesus as the Son of God. However, most Christians understand that Joseph is a true father in all respects except biological, since Joseph was the legal father who raised Jesus.

As someone who studies Catholic beliefs about Mary, I have argued that it is incorrect to interpret their “engagement” as modern “engagement.” Jewish custom of this period involved a two-stage marriage: first a legal prenup, later followed by a party with the husband taking his wife home. This is shown in the Gospels: Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant before she came to live with him, so he planned to divorce her; but an angel ordered him not to do so and to take his wife into his house. Therefore, Joseph was already the legal husband of Mary at the time Jesus was conceived.

“The Dream of Saint Joseph”, by the 18th century Italian painter Stefano Maria Legnani. Sergio Anelli/Electa/Mondadori/Hulton Fine Art Collection via Getty Images

Some Christians believe that after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph had several children together. The Gospels mention the brothers and sisters of Jesus. However, Catholics and Orthodox Christians argue that these verses refer to other relatives, not actual siblings. Jesus taught that children have an obligation to provide for their parents, but when he was dying he entrusted Mary to the care of his apostle John, not a brother or sister.

Catholics believe that Mary and Joseph had what the Catholic Church calls a “Josephite marriage,” that is, a marriage that meets Catholicism’s requirements for a true marriage, such as fidelity, but does not does not involve sexual intercourse.

Like any parent, Joseph had his challenges. At one point, for example, he and Mary lost track of 12-year-old Jesus for three days while traveling. But in Catholic teachings, it models faithful fatherhood. Joseph supported his family as a carpenter and followed God’s instructions to care for them. He named and circumcised his son, presented him to the Temple in Jerusalem, and took him to the Temple on holy days when possible, all in accordance with Jewish law. Joseph also protected Jesus from Herod, the king of Judea who wanted to kill the child, by taking Mary and Jesus to safety in Egypt and then Nazareth.

Significance in Catholic cultures

For Catholics, Joseph is the second greatest saint after Mary, because she alone knew, loved and served Jesus more than Joseph. In 1870 Pope Pius IX declared Joseph the patron saint of the entire Catholic Church.

The Catholic liturgical calendar has two days just for him. The primary celebration of Joseph honors him as husband of Mary and takes place on March 19. It is a “solemnity” – a worldwide celebration requiring specific liturgies – and in some countries Catholics are obliged to attend Mass. Many Italians celebrate the day with an Altar or bread table of St. Joseph offering free food to all, as a way to thank the saint for his help.

May Day is an optional holiday that honors Joseph in his role as a worker. Pope Pius XII created this celebration in 1955 to give a Christian dimension to International Workers’ Day, also known as International Labor Day or May Day, and counter its Marxist roots.

Joseph also participates in the universal feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph on the Sunday after Christmas, as well as some local commemorations. For example, the Oblates of St. Joseph, a community of priests and religious brothers, celebrate the marriage of Joseph and Mary on January 23.

Year of Saint Joseph

In 2020, an American priest, Reverend Donald Calloway, published a popular book called “Consecration to St. Joseph”. This guide encourages Catholics – many of whom traditionally dedicate themselves to Mary – to also dedicate their lives to Joseph, as their spiritual father. Calloway outlines a 33-day program to prepare readers for a ceremony entrusting themselves to Joseph’s care.

An illustration shows a man wearing two brown robes embracing a small blond child.
Saint Joseph holds the infant Jesus and a lily, representing purity. Geoffroy/Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Subsequently, Calloway wrote to Pope Francis and asked him to declare a “Year of Saint Joseph” for the church. The pope did not say whether this letter influenced him, but Francis proclaimed December 8, 2020 to December 8, 2021, the very first year of Saint Joseph, a time for Catholics to deepen their knowledge of the saint. and pray for God’s blessings through Joseph’s intercession.

Francis wrote a public letter titled “With a Father’s Heart,” which highlights Joseph’s fatherly qualities, such as tenderness, courage, and self-sacrifice. “Fathers are not born, but made. … Each time a man accepts responsibility for the life of another, he becomes in some way a father to that person,” Francis wrote.

Joseph is considered the patron of a happy death because the Bible implies that he died in the company of Jesus and Mary, before Jesus’ ministry and death. But in life too, Catholicism sees in Joseph an encouraging ideal: a man who fulfilled his important role in the family with hope and joy.

Gloria Falcão Dodd, Research Professor, University of Dayton

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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