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By F. K. Bartels

3/19/2012 (3 years ago)

Catholic Online (

In the life of St. Joseph is revealed the importance of responding in freedom and love to the Father's plan

Given the dangers the Holy Family faced, the murderous intent of Herod, the precarious flight into Egypt and the subsequent departure to the land of Israel, which led to taking up residence in the city called Nazareth (Mt. 2:23), we find an impressive illustration of the importance in cooperating with God's grace as well as the good that will come in doing so.

St. Joseph gazes into the eyes of eternity come to rest in a human babe. There he ponders the greatness of his vocation. There too is unveiled the sanctity and dignity of every human person.

St. Joseph gazes into the eyes of eternity come to rest in a human babe. There he ponders the greatness of his vocation. There too is unveiled the sanctity and dignity of every human person.


By F. K. Bartels

Catholic Online (

3/19/2012 (3 years ago)

Published in Christian Saints & Heroes

Keywords: Saint Joseph, Holy Family, the solemnity of st. joseph, husband of mary, theological virtues of faith and hope, faith, hope, F. K. Bartels

GLADE PARK, CO (Catholic Online) -- On the eve of the Solemnity of Joseph, Husband of Mary, the reading for Evening Prayer I of the Liturgy of the Hours -- the official prayer of the Church in which millions of Catholic faithful around the world unite together in the fellowship of koinonia and ecclesial prayer -- is taken from Colossians:

"Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being. Do it for the Lord rather than for men, since you know full well you will receive an inheritance from him as your reward. Be slaves of Christ the Lord" (3:23-24).

That about sums up St. Joseph's life. For with his whole being he devoted himself in loving service to the care of the Child Jesus and his Mother, the sweet Virgin Mary, guiding his family through peril, providing for their needs and protecting with fatherly determination against what was often diabolical enmity. Joseph lived not for himself nor for men, but for the Lord. Consequently, we can be certain that, at the end of is life, Joseph heard those greatly sought after words: "My good and faithful servant" (cf. Mt. 25:21).

In Joseph's fatherly role, he suffered strain and sacrifice. In fact, if he had not been accustomed to relying on God's grace, he could not have withstood the pressure. In gazing upon his life as it is recorded in the gospels -- albeit however meager is that recording -- there is a great deal we can learn of what it means to be attentive in faith to God's word, to respond to God's grace, and to trust in hope that God will fulfill completely and with totality his providential plan of wondrous goodness: that unstoppable movement of God's supreme governance, unfolding before our eyes as it did for the eyes of St. Joseph. 

The ability to overcome doubts, to conquer struggles, to rise above adversity are all virtues we find in St. Joseph. Early on he encounters a difficulty in his betrothal to Mary: for "before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit," and, "being a just man," Joseph "resolved to send her away quietly" (Mt. 1:18-19). We should not presume the gospel is indicating that Joseph believed Mary to have been unfaithful in their betrothal, for Joseph may have simply felt himself unworthy of the magnificent and demanding position in which he would be required to care for the Child.

But what happened next? The Father knew that Joseph would respond to his grace and agree to become the foster-father of Jesus, but he saw Joseph lacked understanding. Therefore a messenger is sent: an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream, and tells him not to fear to take Mary as his wife. A choice was thus set before Joseph: he could doubt against what had been revealed and thus jettison his faith; he could follow his own path and take the easier, wide road; he could give in to uncertainty and fear in lack of hope. However, "When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, . . ." (Mt. 1:20-24). 

Note that Joseph unhesitatingly responded to God's providential plan. Yet the difficulties and sacrifice continue: Joseph must travel to Bethlehem (see Lk 2:1-7), exposing himself, his wife Mary and the Child within her womb to danger on the treacherous road that lay ahead. Further, after Jesus is born, when Herod the Great, ruler of Palestine, sought to kill him, an "angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; . . .'" (Mt. 2:13).

Again, Joseph responds through faith with immediacy: "And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod" (Mt. 2:14-15).

The Infused Theological Virtues

Given the dangers the Holy Family faced, the murderous intent of Herod, the precarious flight into Egypt and the subsequent departure to the land of Israel, which led to taking up residence in the city called Nazareth (Mt. 2:23), we find an impressive illustration of the importance in cooperating with God's grace as well as the good that will come in doing so.

And of course we find in Joseph a wonderful model of faith and hope, for his life as the foster-father of Jesus reveals to us, on many levels, precisely what it means to have and live out these two theological virtues.

Given the high degree of indifference and relativism we find in society today, we would do well to have a better understanding of what it means to have faith and hope. We might begin by asking a question: from where do these two theological virtues come?

When we speak of the theological virtues, there are three that we ordinarily receive through the sacrament of Baptism as a direct result of incorporation into Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Therefore they are supernaturally infused virtues. They are faith, hope and charity. Here we will briefly explore only faith and hope. Let us begin with faith. What is faith, and what does it mean to say we have it?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines faith as "the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith man freely commits his entire self to God. For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God's will. The righteous shall live by faith" (1814). We find that St. Joseph's life mirrored that definition of faith.

It is important to understand that faith is a gift. As such, it must be freely accepted. And, as such, it can also be freely rejected. That is, if we fail to respond to this wondrous gift so necessary to live as a child of God, so necessary in order to seek true life in a share in the divine life of God, we might well lose it. A gift of such magnitude is to be nourished, cherished and guarded as the treasure it is. Further, note that by faith we believe all that God has said and revealed, including what he has revealed through the holy Catholic Church. This means we believe the Church; we assent with intellect and will to the teaching of the Church (the Magisterium). Therefore it is possible to say that those Catholics who obstinately persist in dissent from the Magisterium, provided they are not doing so out of invincible ignorance, lack faith.

But how can dissent be an indication of lack of faith? The answer is self-evident: the theological virtue of faith disposes us to assent with intellect and will to all that God has revealed. For Catholics, divine revelation consists in the threefold oneness of Tradition, Scripture and Magisterium. Vatican II clearly taught that the bishops in union with the roman pontiff are the divinely instituted pastors of the Church and successors of the apostles. Therefore the Magisterium speaks the mind of Christ (see Lumen gentium 20). If the teaching of the Church is rejected, then what God has revealed is to some degree also rejected, hence a lack of faith is evident.

Some will object, insisting that the above citation from Lumen gentium is merely an example of the Magisterium attempting to grant to itself authority. But such a view is entirely illogical and unbiblical (see Mt. chapters 16:17 ff. and 18:15 ff.). For if Christ had not instituted bishops as successors to the apostles, the apostles' ministry of transmitting the Gospel to all nations, a ministry itself instituted by Christ, would have died with them. Future generations in the Church would therefore be stranded on an isle of uncertainty and tumult, destined to quickly sink into the abyss of disunity and falseness.

Let us move on to hope: "Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit" (CCC 1817). In hope we are moved to desire the end-goal of our life and disposed to trust that Christ will get us there, relying on the goodness, power and grace of the Holy Spirit whose love will see us safely through to that end: the Beatific Vision and supernaturally-infused bliss.

Here a story will be helpful in aiding us in our understanding of these two theological virtues:

Suppose God were to hand us a treasure map, and on it, marked by a bold "X," is the location of a buried fortune in gold. By the infused theological virtue of faith, we believe the map to be entirely true and accurate the moment God hands it to us. But it is not enough to simply believe the information on the map, for that will not get us to the treasure. Now we must set off in search of it; however, the fortune is located in a far off land, buried amidst great dangers. The journey, in fact, is so hazardous that we fear it is impossible to successfully complete. Thus, regardless of the treasure's worth, it seems pointless to begin the search.

Here is where the infused theological virtue of hope comes into play. This virtue moves us to trust that God will first give us the strength and grace to begin the journey, rescue us if we find ourselves trapped in overgrown terrain, and scare off any wild beasts that hungrily lurk in the forest. Thus it is by the theological virtue of hope that we are moved to act on the information contained in the map, since we are convinced that God in his infinite goodness will not allow our failure -- provided for our part that we try our best. 

Of Saint Joseph, St. Bernadine of Siena wrote: "There is a general rule concerning all special graces granted to any human being. Whenever the divine favor chooses someone to receive a special grace, or to accept a lofty vocation, God adorns the person chosen with all the gifts of the Spirit needed to fulfill the task at hand."

As St. Bernadine tells us, Joseph was "chosen by the eternal Father as the trustworthy guardian and protector of his greatest treasures, namely, his divine Son and Mary, Joseph's wife. He carried out this vocation with complete fidelity until at last God called him, saying: Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord"

God too calls each of us to a lofty, sublime and eternal vocation: to live in free and loving obedience as members of the divine family, as adopted sons and daughters of God, that we may attain to unending happiness. There lies our destiny. It begins now, here, today. And in faith we believe what God has said, in hope we trust that he will make it so. Amen! Amen!


F. K. Bartels is a Catholic writer who knows his Catholic Faith is one of the greatest gifts a man could ever receive. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. Visit him also at


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