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Meet My Friend, St. Joseph

 

By Devin Rose

I had gone to daily Mass that morning, and not just because it was my birthday, but also because it was March 19, the solemnity of St. Joseph, and I was devoted to him.

Afterward I went to work and met a coworker in the hallway. Stan, an atheist, asked about my morning. “Oh I went to Mass,” I said, “since it’s St. Joseph’s feast day.” He said, “St. Joseph? What was he known for?”

He didn’t know who St. Joseph was. I felt a little embarrassed for him and said as nonchalantly as I could, “You know, the Virgin Mary’s husband and Jesus’ foster-father.” He nodded, apparently recalling enough childhood memories to be able to identify St. Joseph as the male figure in nativity scenes.

How could someone not know who St. Joseph was?

Well, I have to admit that there was a time when I was just as oblivious as my coworker was. Like him, I was an atheist and had little care for the Catholic Church, let alone any of her so-called saints. But then I converted to Christianity – evangelical Protestantism to be precise –
and naturally I became interested in the great men of the Bible. I encountered St. Joseph in the brief accounts of Jesus’ Incarnation and birth, but the Scriptures only tersely described him as “a just man,” so he didn’t hold my interest for long.

No, it was obvious from the Bible that the real hero of the apostolic age was St. Paul. Now there was a godly man! He wrote most of the books of the New Testament; his missionary journeys were legendary; his doctrines were pivotal for all of Christianity. That’s the kind of man to emulate.

So St. Joseph got “put on the shelf” during my time as a Protestant, where he remained even after I converted to Catholicism. But with my conversion, a new tension arose, for everyone knows that Catholics love St. Joseph. They name churches after him. They ask for his prayers. At my first Catholic parish, they had even erected a life-size statue of him, surrounded by candles which people could light after making a donation to the poor box.

So how did I grow to love this “silent” saint? It began when I discerned that God was calling me to marriage instead of to the priesthood. I wanted to learn more about husbands and fathers and the meaning of Christian marriage, and this desire increased when I entered into a courtship with a faithful young Catholic woman. She had a devotion to the Holy Family and shared insights into the biblical account of Joseph’s life with Mary and Jesus which she had learned by reading stories told about him by other saints.

I learned that the Bible’s description of him as a “just” man was more than just a throwaway line. It was tremendously high praise, a term rarely used to describe anyone but God himself. I also contemplated what his daily life with Mary and Jesus must have been like and imagined Joseph teaching Christ how to work with wood in their carpentry shop. He was a real man and a real father, one who worked hard to provide for his family, a man who had to be as strong as iron to endure the attacks of the secular and spiritual enemies against him and his wife and child. Sometime later, I learned that the Church had declared him to be the patron and protector of the Universal Church, since God himself had entrusted his own Son, as well as the Mother of God, to his care and protection.

As my understanding of him grew, St. Joseph went from being a far-off saint in a stained glass window to a friend and mentor. My girlfriend gave me a courtship prayer card which included prayers to him asking for purity, a virtue which I was striving to grow in, and soon I found myself in front of his statue at my parish, lighting a candle and praying. Though our courtship did not end in marriage, I kept exploring this great saint in the Tradition of the Church, meditating upon his life and virtues. I prayed novenas to him for the grace to find my future wife and to become a good man for her, and he came through. I met my future wife, and we both now share in devotion to St. Joseph and the Holy Family.

I can’t help but hurt for my atheist friend, so clueless about this amazing man. And I can’t help but feel an overflowing sense of gratitude to God the Father for giving us such a man after his own heart, to be our model as husbands and fathers.

Devin Rose is a 31-year-old software engineer and lay apologist who blogs at St. Joseph’s Vanguard. He and his wife, Katie, live with their four children in Austin, Texas.