St. Joseph’s part in the nativity story is a familiar feature of every Christmas pageant. But for many centuries the Church paid him scant attention. Only in the sixteenth century did the Church officially encourage his cult, as St. Joseph began to figure as an ideal “provider and protector” of the Holy Family. In 1870 Pius IX declared him Patron of the Universal Church. Besides his feast day on March 19, an additional feast for St. Joseph the Worker was assigned by Pope Pius XII on May 1.
After Joseph and Mary were betrothed, Mary was discovered to be pregnant. Matthew’s Gospel relates the story from Joseph’s perspective. Here, the discovery of Mary’s pregnancy precedes any divine reassurance, thus presenting Joseph with a terrible dilemma. According to the law Mary should be stoned to death. But Joseph, “being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame,” resolves to divorce her quietly. Fortunately, an angel appears in Joseph’s sleep to explain the source of Mary’s condition, and he is apparently satisfied. After Jesus’ birth, Joseph is alerted in another dream to the threat from King Herod, and so leads his family to safety in Egypt.
Aside from his virtues as a father and man of faith, Joseph is also a poor working man—a detail not without significance in the Gospels. Though linked to the house of David, he remains a carpenter from a Galilean town so miniscule that it serves as the butt of jokes. Thus, while Joseph recedes from the Gospel story, he remains a reminder of Jesus’ humble origins—and an enduring reminder of his humanity.
“Is this not the carpenter’s son?”