Once called “the most hidden of the saints,” Saint Joseph led a humble life in Nazareth as the foster father of Jesus. Yet despite his quiet life, the Church named Saint Joseph the patron saint of the Universal Church.
In a recently published book, The Truth About Saint Joseph: Encountering the Most Hidden of Saints, Father Maurice Meschler, S.J. explores the life of Saint Joseph.
Here are eleven surprising details about the life of Saint Joseph from Father Meschler’s work.
1. The two branches of the family of David merge into one in Saint Joseph
Saint Joseph’s genealogy is incredibly important in the story of salvation history. A descendant from the line of David, and is listed closest in relationship to Christ in the Biblical genealogies. Psalm 88:30 says that the roots of the Messiah would come from the line of David.
“Matthew calls Joseph’s father ‘Jacob’ in Matthew 1:16; Luke, however, styles him ‘Heli’, a difference that can be explained only in the supposition that in the view of the Law of Levirate, Jacob was the natural father of Joseph, while Heli was his legal father. Hence, just as was apparently the case with Zerubbabel, the two branches of the family of David merge into one in Saint Joseph, who in turn transfers the glory of both ancestral lines to his divine foster Son,” writes Father Maurice Meschler, S.J., in his book The Truth about Saint Joseph.
2. Saint Joseph gave Jesus the heritage of impoverished royalty
Christ entered the world in poverty. Saint Joseph was not able to offer him riches, or even a proper place to be born when He entered the world.
“Joseph had, then, nothing in the temporal line to offer our Savior but his calloused hands and a heart full of devotion and love, and instead of the splendid pomp of the world, poverty and obscurity,” Father Meschler writes. “This was precisely what the Redeemer wished. For this He had come down to Heaven.”
3. Joseph wasn’t an old man when he was espoused to Mary
Although we don’t know Joseph’s exact age when he was betrothed to Mary, we do know that he wasn’t an old man. “Saint Joseph may well have been older than Mary, likely in the prime of his life,” Father Meschler explains. “But in the earliest centuries, art represents him as beardless.”
4. Saint Joseph and Mary’s union was a true and genuine marriage
The Church and the Holy Fathers agree – Joseph and Mary were truly married. Father Meschler writes more on the subject, saying, “Saint Joseph was the husband of Mary and the legal father of Jesus Christ. Our Savior belonged to him as a son. The genealogy of Saint Joseph was the genealogy of Jesus. The descent of our Lord from David is thus legally established and is verified through Joseph’s marriage with Mary.”
5. The lily Saint Joseph is often depicted with symbolizes his virginal fatherhood
Saint Joseph is often seen in paintings holding a lily. Father Meschler explains the significance of this symbol, saying, “The fatherhood of Saint Joseph embraces the glory of virginal integrity, and thus lays claim to a new mark of resemblance to the Fatherhood of God. The heavenly Father has given to the saint’s fatherhood all that He could without detriment to his virginity. Moreover, the fatherhood of Saint Joseph resembles that of the eternal Father because both have but one Son, in fact, the same Son.”
6. Saint Joseph faithfully safeguarded the virginity of Mary before and after marriage.
In addition to fulfilling his role as the foster father of Jesus, Saint Joseph was also entrusted with the role of protecting the virginity of the Mother of God. Father Meschler writes, “Saint Joseph fulfilled the conditions dependent on him and necessary for the Incarnation – namely, the protection of Mary’s virginity. It was of paramount necessity that the conception and birth of Christ should be virginal. This condition Saint Joseph fulfilled in faithfully safeguarding the virginity of his spouse before and during his married life with her.”
7. Joseph was destined to live a life of obscurity for the glory of God
Saint Joseph, a humble carpenter, never held public office. We know a little about his life here on earth, and his interior life is virtually unknown to us. But that is how it was supposed to be. Father Meschler explains, “Saint Joseph’s particular and personal vocation was to be the foster father of the Messiah, exalted and sublime in itself and without compare, was the very reason that demanded the profoundest obscurity.”
8. Saint Joseph is referred to as the “shadow of the Heavenly Father”
Father Meschler explains the significance of this title, writing, “This expresses the full extent of Saint Joseph’s greatness and the complete concept of his high vocation in the most concise and sublime manner. Above all, he was the foster father of the Savior. The heavenly Father is the type and origin of all fatherhood in Heaven and on earth; and so every human father is a representative and image of the Heavenly Father. In the case of Saint Joseph, however, this is verified in a most characteristic and glorious manner.”
9. Saint Joseph is an incredible guide for the interior life
Saint Joseph’s life and actions can guide us into greater interior, spiritual development. Father Meschler writes, “Without the practice of the interior life, the most hidden life would remain a merely eternal existence without value and meaning for God and eternity. There is not better guide to the promised land of the interior life than Saint Joseph. To be a citizen of and a great man in this kingdom is the particular property of our saint’s holiness and the rich reward he merited by his services during the infancy of Jesus.”
10. Saint Joseph is also an incredible model for active life
In addition to his lessons on interior life, Saint Joseph also teaches us the importance of the active life. “We are all bound to lead the active life; to lead it properly, we must all labor, and labor in a correct manner,” Father Meschler explains. “This is indeed an important lesson that Saint Joseph teaches us.”
11. Saint Joseph was no stranger to suffering, and is a patron saint for the afflicted
Saint Joseph’s life was filled with suffering. Father Meschler writes, “Indeed, Saint Joseph’s share of suffering was exceedingly great because of his close relationship to the divine Savior. All the mysteries of our Lord’s life are more or less mysteries of suffering. Even Bethlehem and Nazareth have their Cross. Wherever the Savior pillowed His head, traces of the crown of thorns were to be found. How long the divine Child dwelled with Joseph, and how often He rested in his arms and on his breast! Surely the cross could not be wanting to the saint.”
Want to learn more about the amazing life of Saint Joseph? Check out the newest book by Father Maurice Meschler, S.J., The Truth About Saint Joseph: Encountering the Most Hidden of Saints, recently published by Sophia Institute Press.