Solemnity of St Joseph

Author: Jean Galot, S.J.


Jean Galot, S.J.

A Unique Fatherly Mission

Fr Jean Galot, S.J., professor emeritus of Dogmatic Theology at the Gregorian University, prepared this reflection for the Solemnity of St Joseph, 19 March 2002. Fr Galot presents the spiritual mission of St Joseph who had a formative influence on Jesus in the house and workshop of Nazareth. Here is a translation of his French meditation.

WhileMary's motherhood is easily understood and her exalted mission is expressed in the title: "Mother of God"; the fatherhood of St Joseph is more delicate to explain. To distinguish it from ordinary human fatherhood, a putative fatherhood has been ascribed to Joseph in the sense that others thought of him as a father when in fact he was not. This notion of putative fatherhood is based on the declaration in the Gospel of the identity of Jesus as "the son (as was supposed) of Joseph" (Lk 3,23). This poses a problem: why should there be a difference between what was thought and the reality? It would seem to suggest that Joseph's fatherhood had nothing real about it, that it came from an erroneous opinion concerning Jesus' origins. Therefore it is important to make an effort to determine the best way of describing Joseph's fatherhood according to the testimony of the Gospel.

One is struck by the fact that the Gospels do not hesitate to attribute a role as father to Joseph. The Evangelists, who have shown the most clearly that Joseph played no physical part in the conception of the Child, are the very ones that highlight the fatherly role that Joseph played in Jesus' childhood. Thus Matthew's Gospel tells us that Joseph was not informed of the origin of the Child and that he learned of it by an exceptional message from on high. But Matthew is careful to mention that Joseph received with this message the father's responsibility of giving the Child the name of "Jesus" (Mt 2,21). We observe that it would be impossible to conclude that his was merely a "legal fatherhood", on account of Joseph's being a descendant of David. Indeed, the fatherly responsibility entrusted to him goes beyond the mere assigning of the Child's name. Just as he is asked to take Mary, his wife, into his home, he is called to exercise the role of father in the family of Nazareth. At the invitation of the angel, the divine will is manifested.

We find the same thing in the Gospel of Luke. The narrative of the Annunciation makes us understand that Joseph had no part in Jesus' conception. Later, however, in the accounts of the presentation of Jesus in the temple, then of his being lost and found at the age of twelve, Luke is careful to note Joseph's participation together with Mary in these events. It is both Joseph and Mary who went to make the offering of the Child in the temple, who heard Simeon's prophecy and were filled with wonder at the messianic future of the One who is the light destined to enlighten all peoples. Moreover, it is Joseph and Mary who suffer together in losing the Child and rejoice together in finding him. These Gospel accounts show that Joseph assumed his responsibility as father in the family life at Nazareth.

Thus it is difficult to ascribe to Joseph a merelyputative fatherhood, for his is a real fatherhood toward Jesus, even if his fatherhood does not involve any cooperation in the conception of Jesus. The qualification of merely legal paternity would have the disadvantage of implying that his fatherhood was only a juridical property. Joseph's fatherhood consists rather in his personal involvement in fatherhood, that comes to him by means of a juridical title, which was consecrated by the nobility of the mission entrusted to him.

Thus it is important to recognise in Joseph a real fatherhood, with a fatherly mission, fatherly sentiments and fatherly responsibility. The fact that he was not Jesus' father from the physical point of view, does not in the least prevent him from exercising fatherhood at a higher level. In particular, he fulfilled a task of outstanding importance: with his fatherly education, he helped Jesus grow and develop in the way most suitable for his mission. We can consider an aspect of this development in Jesus' learning the carpenter's trade which Joseph wanted to transmit to him along with the skill required by the trade. However there are other aspects, for education deals with the interior life of the person. Joseph must have received remarkable divine gifts in order to communicate to Jesus good example in everyday life and encourage his progress in the spiritual life. By being incorporated into the life of Jesus, this example has been a blessing for humanity.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
13 March 2002, page 2

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