It’s March 19, the Feast of Saint Joseph. Here in the United States we really kind of shortchange Joseph. We wear the white vestments to honor him, but we don’t celebrate the day as they do in other countries, especially in Italy. It’s probably because Joseph’s feast falls just two days after Saint Patrick’s Day and it’s a bit much to have two celebrations, especially when both involve a lot of food and we’re in the middle of Lent.
It seems that there was a great drought in Italy and the people prayed to Saint Joseph to intercede for them to make it rain. It did rain, leading to a bumper crop of food. To celebrate, the people had a great feast in honor of Joseph. They called it Saint Joseph’s table. Like I said, they still celebrate with Saint Joseph’s in many parts of the world, but in the United States, not so much.
In America we associate Saint Joseph with another interesting phenomenon. We consider Joseph to be sort of a real estate agent’s assistant. The story is that if you bury a statue of him in your yard, you’ll be more likely to sell your house. It’s always seemed a little strange to me that you have a better chance of a sale if you bury a statue of the stepfather of Jesus in your yard, UPSIDE DOWN, but a lot of people believe it and thousands of little plastic statues of him are sold every year. When you do sell your house, the tradition holds that you dig him up and put him in a place of prominence in your home.
This strange tradition seems to have begun with Saint Theresa of Avila. Trying to secure land for newly-converted Catholics, Theresa had her sisters bury medals of Saint Joseph. The sisters were successful in getting the land they wanted and the tradition grew. With the invention of cheap plastic statues, the medals gave way to today’s plastic statues and the rest, as they say, is history. It still seems like a strange thing to me, but enough people swear it works that when I sell my house, I’ll make a stop at Catholic Supply.
Saint Joseph was certainly a central figure in salvation history. The prophets predicted that Jesus would be “of the house of David”. To make the prophesy come true, Joseph had to say “yes” to the angel’s request. He had to swallow his pride and take Mary as his wife, even though she was pregnant with a child who wasn’t his. He had to make the long journey to Jerusalem with Mary and to watch her give birth in a stable. He had to abandon his carpentry shop and take Mary and the child to Egypt. Then, he had to get up in the middle of the night and take them back. It wasn’t easy being Joseph.
We never hear from Joseph after Jesus gets lost in the temple, and we don’t have a single record of anything that he ever said. Some scholars think that he lived to a very old age, maybe even 100 years. I personally believe that he died before Jesus began His public ministry. Remember Jesus and His mother were at the wedding feast in Cana when He performed His first miracle. It’s hard to believe that Mary would go to a wedding reception without her husband.
It’s definitely hard to believe that, if he’d been alive, he wouldn’t have been there when his step-son was nailed to a cross and that he would have remained silent while it happened. I can’t imagine any father, even an adopted father would have done that.
So, today we remember this silent saint, this saint who we know so little about. Even though we don’t know much about his life, we know that he was absolutely essential in the story of our Savior.