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Joseph, Her Most Chaste Spouse
by Patrick Neve
When I was younger, my knowledge of St. Joseph was simple. I knew the usual joke about him not speaking in scripture and had a vague knowledge that I should bury him if I wanted to sell my house. Recently I began a job at a new parish and came across a tradition of which I was previously unaware. In preparation for our parish festival, volunteers tied a small statue of St. Joseph on the roof. When I asked one of them why, the old Italian man replied, “For good weather, of course!”
Of course. What was I thinking?
That night, there was a small rainstorm and I felt bad for poor St. Joseph alone on a roof in the rain. But the next day as I went into work, I saw an even bigger St. Joseph statue strapped to the roof. Sure enough, our parish festival saw great weather all weekend.
Besides real estate, good weather, and not talking, there must be more to this saint we call the Terror of Demons. Since we don’t have quotes to tie him to, we are too quick to forget this man of gentle strength who loved Mary and Jesus so well. So we rely on Church tradition to tell us about him.
In the Divine Praises, St. Joseph is called Mary’s “most chaste spouse.” It’s a short line, but it tells us the glory of St. Joseph is in his chastity and his relationship to Mary.
Joseph’s love and devotion to Christ and Our Lady is an example to all believers, but his role in salvation history is particularly masculine and is revealed through his chastity.
In Genesis, Adam was told to till and protect the Garden with the help of Eve. The Father formed his body for work. After the Fall, that work changed. Adam had to fight against the Earth to make it fruitful. The work God gave to Abraham, Moses, and David was different as well: to prepare the Earth for the coming of Christ.
Though he was not as well-known as Abraham and David, Joseph was given the same work as his fathers. Christ chose Mary to be the New Eve and made her womb the New Eden. Then He tasked St. Joseph with the role of protecting her.
As men, we rarely choose the work that comes to us, but we do choose how to respond to it. A pipe bursts, a toilet clogs, a child needs to be disciplined. Adam didn’t choose to till the Garden and Joseph didn’t choose to be the spouse of Mary, but they knew how to hear the call of the Father and say yes.
The glory of St. Joseph is not merely his physical virginity, but his patience and trust in God’s will. He shows all Christians what it means to be chaste: sacrifice.
We often connect chastity with sexual virtue, and while this is important, it’s not the only aspect of chastity. Chastity is a virtue that places its own desires to the side and works for the good of another. It trains the body to give up its selfish desires and sacrifice itself. It’s a virtue that fixes a toilet even though we would rather watch a movie. It gets you out of bed at 3 a.m. to change a diaper even though it’s your spouse’s turn. Chastity turns our bodies into an instrument of sacrificial love.
Being called “chaste” and “spouse of Mary” together is no coincidence. Joseph’s virtue grew in his closeness to the Mother of Jesus. In Genesis 2, the Father calls Eve a “divine help” (Hebrew: ezer). Other places in scripture use this word to mean “divine aid.”
As a disciple of Christ, we are called to chastity, and Mary, the New Eve, is our divine aid. Drawing close to her and to Christ, as St. Joseph did, will make us more open, more patient, more loving, and more chaste. When we pray the Rosary, the litany of Mary, or Marian Consecration, we meditate on her virtues and become more like her.
Regardless of our state in life, we are called to be like St. Joseph. We are called to live and die in the presence of Jesus and Mary, helping those around us to reflect them more perfectly. We are called to be silent unless we are preaching the one Word that Joseph speaks in Matthew 1:25. The only Word the Father speaks from all eternity: “And he called His name ‘Jesus.’”
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Patrick Neve is the director of youth ministry at Holy Spirit Parish in the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the host of The Crunch podcast.