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“Joseph, son of David”, this is how the angle calls him. The outstanding fact in the life of this “just” man is his marriage with Mary. The popular tradition imagines Saint Joseph competing with other young men for Mary’s hand. He is chosen because, as the tradition also says, the stick he was holding miraculously blossomed whereas those of the others remained dry. This lovely tradition has a mystical meaning: from the trunk already dry of the Old Testament, grace blossomed under the new sun of the Redemption.
The marriage of Joseph and Mary was a true, although virginal, marriage. Shortly after their engagement, Joseph became aware that Mary was expecting a child and, even though he did not have doubts about her integrity, he thought of “repudiating her secretly.” The Gospel adds that, being a “just man” —the adjective used in this dramatic situation is like a flash of lightening that illuminates the entire figure of this saint—, he did not want to admit any suspicions, but neither did he sanction with his presence an inexplicable fact. The word of the angel clarifies the anguishing dilemma. And so, he “took his wife with him” and, with her, he went to Bethlehem for the census. It was there that the Eternal Word entered into the world, was received by the homage of humble shepherds and wise and rich Magi, but also by Herod’s hostility, which forced the Holy Family to flee to Egypt. Later they returned to the tranquility of Nazareth, and stayed there until the boy was twelve years old, when the episode of Jesus’ disappearance and discovery in the temple took place.
After this event, the Gospel seems to leave Joseph aside with a suggestive image of the Holy Family: Jesus is obedient to Mary and Joseph and grows “in wisdom and in stature, and in grace” under their vigilant care. Saint Joseph lived with humility the extraordinary privilege of being Jesus’ putative father, and he probably died before the beginning of the Redeemer’s public life.
His image remains in the shadows even after his death. In fact, his cult only began in the 9th century. In 1621, Gregory XV declared March 19th a holyday of obligation (this celebration was maintained until the liturgical reform of Vatican II) and Pius IX proclaimed Saint Joseph Patron of the Universal Church. The last homage was rendered to him by Jean XXIII, who introduced his name into the Canon of the Mass.