St. Joseph: ChristOnTheAltar

Shown here is the entire chapter on the life of Saint Josph from Bishop DeGoesbriand’s Christ on the Altar (Pg. 827-838)

     When His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost.  Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately.  But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.  And she shall bring forth a son; and thou shalt call His name Jesus.  For He shall save His people from their sins” (St. Matth. i. 18-21). 

     The Church celebrates two festivals in honor of St. Joseph.  The first festival, on the 19th of March, recalls to our minds the great privileges granted to St. Joseph, his exalted virtues and saintly death.  The object of the second festival, which occurs on the third Sunday after Easter, is to venerate him as the powerful patron of the whole Church. 

      Devotion towards St. Joseph always existed in the Church, not, however, to the same extent as it does now.  There was a time when heretics denied the virginity of our holy Mother, and asserted that Jesus Christ was the Son of Joseph.  Had the Church in those days given prominence to the devotion towards Him, she might have helped to promote that erroneous and impious doctrine.  It was given to St. Francis of Assisi, the great lover of poverty, to be the first to expose for public veneration the statue of St. Joseph, and to draw the especial attention of the faithful to the privileges, the virtues and power of our great patriarch. 

     Once being near the city of Grecio, Francis made up his mind to cause the festival of Christmas to be celebrated in a novel manner.  Having, therefore, obtained the permission of the Pope, he caused to be built a large stable with a porch in which they put a manger, the floor of which they covered with straw.  An ox and an ass were brought thither by his order, and he called together so many of his religious that they seemed to be more numerous than the inhabitants of the place.  As midnight approached the shepherds crowded in, and the people of the surrounding country came in crowds to see the new and strange spectacle.  They had their musical instruments, and sung in their own fashion canticles of praise to the new-born King.  The whole night they ceased not to sing and rejoice before that stable, in which Francis and his religious in great numbers prayed, kneeling before three wooden images representing Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and St. Joseph.  In presence of these statues there were burning a quantity of lights which had been artistically arranged; and so great was the number of torches brought in by the shepherds, that the whole mountain seemed to be illuminated.  The first statue made in honor of St. Joseph was set up in that humble stable of Grecio.  Ever since devotion to St. Joseph has continued to increase.  Today his statues are seen in almost every church; the name of Joseph is one which parents love to give to their children; confraternities have been established in his honor; religious congregations have placed themselves under his protection; all the faithful cherish the belief that blessings of all kinds can be obtained through his intervention, and the voice of the vicar of Christ has declared that he is  the patron of the Universal Church. 

    The chief grace that we should ask on the Feasts of St. Joseph is that of an increase of confidence in him.  St. Joseph indeed is great and holy.  He had been announced as early as the days of the patriarchs, having been typified by the first Joseph, who became as the father of Pharao and the saviour of the people.  More blessed than the first Joseph, our Joseph was remarkable not merely by his chastity, but by the practice of all virtues, so that he was really a just man, quite worthy to become the spouse of the Mother of God and adopted father of the Son of God. 

    He alone with Mary, his virgin-spouse, had the happiness to live thirty years in the company of Our Lord, and to die in His arms.  There is something so sweet, so attractive, in the remembrance of St. Joseph, that the Christian parents, the humble workingman, the sick and the dying, place themselves under his patronage and feel unbounded confidence in his mercy and power.  How, indeed, could we question his power, how could we question his love for us?  The heart of St. Joseph was a furnace of charity.  That charity he had drawn out of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ which reposed so many times on his own.  And as to his power, it is such that in all our necessities we feel that we may go to St. Joseph, because he continues to be as the father of the King of kings; for Our Lord does not in heaven disown His adopted father on earth, but continues to obey his requests; and Joseph has also the right to call upon his blessed spouse to intercede with her Son for those who implore his protection. 

    If we are asked why Pius IX., of blessed memory, declared St. Joseph the patron of the Universal Church, we shall answer that in this case, as in the case of the definition of the Immaculate Conception, the Holy Father did but accede to the frequently expressed desire of the Universal Church.  In the midst of the persecutions which now afflict the spouse of Christ, devout souls felt that the Church must have a powerful defender, and they turned their eyes towards St. Joseph, just as the famished Egyptians and Hebrews turned their eyes and raised their voices to the first Joseph, in order to be saved in the midst of the common famine.  It was, moreover, St. Joseph who presented the Divine Babe to the adoring shepherds and wise men; it was he who carried Him into Egypt, brought Him back to Nazareth, went in search of Him into the Temple of Jerusalem, and prepared the way for His public manifestation in Judea and Galilee. 

     Today also, as in the days of Our Lord, new nations, and many of them, are being evangelized; can we have any better protector than St. Joseph, who learned from the Divine Babe confided to his care how precious are the immortal souls purchased by the blood of God Himself? 

     Thanks be to God.  Who has granted such great privileges to St. Joseph, and has placed him in the Church as her special protector.  May we never fail to implore his protection for ourselves and all those for whom we are particularly bound to pray! 

    But we have now, according to the purpose of our work, to turn out eyes  towards the holy altar and see if in the life of St. Joseph we will not find something to imitate in our duties towards the Blessed Sacrament. 

     It occurs to us, first of all, that we are indebted to St. Joseph in a certain sense for the real presence of Our Saviour in the Holy Eucharist.  The first Joseph became the first minister of King Pharao, and, as the father of that monarch had gathered in the royal granaries an abundance of wheat against the days of famine, he became the savior of the Egyptians and of the surrounding nations by procuring bread for them.  The second Joseph, the great saint whom we venerated, was born and lived at Bethlehem, which means the “house of bread;” and from this city, before his marriage to the Mother of God, he was wont to go down to the places around it, and gather in the excellent wheat which grew there in abundance.  But his vocation was one far superior to that of the first Joseph.  For the space of thirty years the carpenter of Nazareth earned in the sweat of his brow the bread which sustained the existence of Jesus and Mary; and when we read that angels at Bethlehem announced to the shepherds that “a Saviour was born for them,” we are reminded of the words of Christ: “I am the bread of life” and I would fain apply to Joseph the words which we sing so often in the Church: “Thou gavest them bread from heaven…..Man ate the bread of angels….”  Is it not true that Our Lord was in a certain sense indebted to Joseph for His existence?  Was it not our Saint who wrapped Him up in swaddling-clothes; who, full of anxiety, took into Egypt the Mother and her Child; who brought Him back to Nazareth; who wept so bitterly when He was lost in the Temple; in a word, who acted towards Him the part of the most tender father?  Whoever, therefore, has faith in the Real Presence will not fail to venerate St. Joseph, and to call him blest; for He Whose adopted father he was is the same Whom we adore really present in the tabernacle.  When we consider this admirable privilege of St. Joseph, we would almost exclaim, in the language of the Church:  O Joseph! What praise to give thee, I know not, for thou hast been a father to Him Who is the light and life of our soul.  Great as this privilege of St. Joseph is, we should consider that a favor of the same kind has been placed within our reach; for we can all, by our offerings, contribute to procure the bread and the wine for the holy Mass, or help in the education of those who are called to enjoy the unspeakable honor and power to consecrate the Body and Blood of Christ. 

     Our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Blessed Sacrament that He might remain with us as the companion of our exile.  Were not Mary and Joseph the only companions of Our Lord for the greater part of His Life?  Had He any companions more devoted, more constant, more fervent?  Were there any beings on earth or in heaven who enjoyed more intimate conversations with this King of kings, living in human flesh, dwelling in the stable of Bethlehem or in the humble cottages of Cairo and Nazareth?  Many pilgrims go from distant lands every year to visit the spots sanctified by the presence and miracles of Christ.  Oh, how much more worthy of our veneration is holy Joseph, who was beloved and obeyed by the Son of God Himself, and who in return loved and venerated Him with the ardor of a cherub!  We imagine that St. Joseph would oftentimes exclaim from the poor dwelling which he shared with the Son of God: “How lovely are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts!…..My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God…. Better is one day in Thy courts above thousands” (Ps. lxxxiii.).   

     He had learned of Jesus Christ Himself to understand the greatness of the gift which he possessed, and his knowledge of his perfection became more perfect every day.  Who can tell of the fervent prayers that Joseph poured forth night and day to his adopted Son in behalf of sinners, of the depth of his humility, of the extent of his charity!  Let us pray to St. Joseph to obtain an increase of faith in the Real Presence, and greater fidelity and fervor in visiting the Blessed Sacrament. 

    Our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist as a sacrament, and as a sacrifice also.  During the Sacrifice of the Mass Jesus Christ offers to the Holy Trinity, as a victim of propitiation, the body which was immolated on the cross, the blood which flowed from all His limbs for our redemption.  He offers Himself on the altar in a state of death in order to apply to our souls the merits of His Passion and death.  The Sacrifice of the Mass is a continuation of the Sacrifice of the Cross.  St. Joseph did not witness the death of the Lord on the cross; he was not present with the apostles when the Holy Eucharist was instituted; let us see, however, how abundantly he participated in the sufferings of Christ.  Not to speak of the poverty of the cold stable, let us remember the day of Our Lord’s presentation in the Temple.  It was in the arms of Joseph that He was carried thither from Bethlehem.  Here it was that he heard the words of Simeon: “Behold this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted: and they own soul a sword shall pierce, that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed” (Luke ii. 34, 35). 

    The words of this prophecy were pronounced by Simeon near the spot where Abraham had built an altar for the immolation of Isaac: near, also, the altar of the holocaust, on which they daily offered to God those bloody sacrifices which prefigured the death of Jesus Christ. 

From that day, and during all the remainder of his life, a sword of sorrow pierced the heart of Joseph also, and like his ever-blessed spouse, he ceased not to resign himself to the Divine Will which required the immolation of his adopted Son. Should we not believe that Our Lord make know to St. Joseph all the circumstances of His Passion; that Joseph shared with Him the immense sorrow which oppressed His soul at the sight of the crimes of men, and of the eternal punishment they would suffer for them?

   Let us therefore pray to St. Joseph to obtain for us a sincere sorrow for our sins, and have recourse to the Mass as a means to atone for  our transgressions and those of all mankind. The prayer of St. Joseph for the sinner would not be less fervent before the altar than they were when offered in the presence of the Infant Jesus in the Temple. Our prayers ought to be as fervent as his, and we should be as willing as he to carry our cross.

   At the Last Supper in the Cenacle, Our Lord fulfilled the promise which He had made some time before. He changed the bread and wine into His body and blood, and gave to His apostles the power to do the same, so that all they that hunger might henceforth partake of that Bread which giveth life to the world. There are now thousands of men and women in the world who receive every day Holy Communion. St. Joseph did not enjoy this privilege, but for the space of thirty years he carried Him in his arms, or sat at one table with Him, conversed with Him, saw Him work at his own trade under the roof of his own shop. From this continual intercourse with the Son of God, it followed that the soul of St. Joseph had become a perfect counterpart of the soul of Jesus Christ. St. Joseph was like our Lord Himself, a model of humility, of obedience, of penance and charity; he, too, might say that he has no other food than to do the will of Almighty God.

   The grace which flows especially from Holy Communion is grace of union with Our Lord, of participation in His spirit. “He that eateth My Flash and drinketh My Blood abideth in Me, and I in him.” Why is it that we do not advance in virtue? The bread of which we partake is the body of Jesus Christ. We receive in this Sacrament the living Bread which came down from heaven, as living, as able to communicate life; let us be chaste as he was; let us attend to our work as he did to his; let us never lose consciousness of the presence of God, as he never did. When the time of Communion comes, purify your conscience and resolve to lead a new life; pray to St. Joseph for a stronger faith in the Real Presence. If you follow these directions, the time will come when you will live in Jesus Christ and He will live in you; you will be united intimately to your God, for this was His chief purpose when He instituted the Blessed Sacrament.

   When St. Joseph departed from this life, he was assisted and comforted by the presence of Our Lord and of the Blessed Virgin. It might justly have been said of him at that moment: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,… that they may rest from their labors; for their works follow them.” The works of St. Joseph which were known to men had nothing remarkable in the eyes of men. But he had done the will of God, he had accomplished all that had been demanded of him, and, above all, he had so conducted himself toward Jesus and Mary as to deserve their love and their assistance. In recompense of his fidelity Jesus Christ would not be absent at his death, as He was absent from Bethany at the death of Lazarus; but He would have the holy patriarch to die in His arms, as He had Himself many times slept on the breast of St. Joseph.    Oh, that you may be faithful to Jesus, to Mary, to Joseph, whilst you are in health! Your Saviour will not then forget you at the time of your death.  He will then give Himself to you for the last time to be your Viaticum.  He, the living Bread, will deposit in your soul the germ of a glorious resurrection, and “in peace, in the selfsame, you will sleep and you will rest.”  It is not in our power whilst we dwell in this land of darkness and exile to comprehend the greatness of St. Joseph’s glory in heaven.  This glory is so admirable, he is there so intimately united to his adopted Son, that the Church invites all saints and the choirs of angels to celebrate his blessedness.  The glory of St. Joseph in heaven responds to his relations to Jesus and Mary on earth.  The way for us to obtain a high degree of glory in the next world is to be filled with unbounded devotion to Jesus Christ and to all His interests; and that the fire of charity must be kept up by visits to the Blessed Sacrament, by fervent receptions of Holy Communion; for He resides in the tabernacle Who said: “I am come to cast fire on the earth; and what will I but that it be kindled?”  (Luke xii. 49.) 

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