Thursday, March 18th, 2021

On St Joseph and the Priesthood: a Homily for the Nineteenth of March

Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: that that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 1, 19).

This is a consoling passage for every priest. We do well to remember that St Joseph’s hesitance to take Our Lady into his home was not an expression of self-righteousness: he was not putting away a woman whom he was convinced was an adulteress. The Scriptures themselves tell us this. Because we know he was a just man, he knew how to weigh things in their proper perspective. Our Lady’s impeccable character would have been perfectly clear to him; equally clear was the fact of her pregnancy. Sensing a mystery beyond himself, he intended to divorce her, not by way of punishment, but as a way to stand aside from the strange and great mystery. I do not see a more sensible way to read Matthew ch 1. 

However, God’s angel instructs and confirms him: noli timere.

And that is why, returning to our initial point, this episode from the Holy Gospel is consoling for every priest: St Joseph, by nature a man like any other, is nevertheless commanded to take custody of Holiness Itself and the Immaculate Vessel of which this holiness is to be born. It is a dignity beyond reckoning, which no one would take upon himself. And yet this is precisely the vocation of St Joseph.

It is just as the Letter to the Hebrews says: ‘neither doth any man take the honor to himself.’[1] Therefore, in truth, St Joseph does tell us something about the priesthood.

But this morning I would turn the comparison on its head: every priest reveals the vocation of St Joseph.—Regardless of the man himself, we see something of St Joseph in every priest at the altar: tending and caring for Christ, who has made himself a perpetual infant upon the swaddling linens of our altars. Every priest mirrors St Joseph at work with his tools. The priest stands always before the Father, offering the merits of the Son, with the Holy Ghost presiding. And as St Joseph was the bread-winner for the Holy Family, the priest is the Bread-winner for the family of the Church: the priest feeds the Church with the Bread from heaven, as St Joseph fed Jesus and Mary with the bread of his labor.

And we know that the comparison between St Joseph and the priest is a traditional one. In the appendix to the Roman Breviary, there is an antiphon for the priest’s use before Mass. It reads, in English,

O happy man, blessed Joseph! to whom was given the God who many kings wished to see but did not see, to hear but did not hear; to you was given not only to see and hear, but to carry, to kiss, to dress, and to keep watch over!

A collect follows:

O God, who gave us the royal priesthood: grant us, we beseech you; that, as blessed Joseph merited to devoutly tend and carry with his own hands your Sole-begotten born of the Virgin Mary, likewise with clean hearts and innocent works you may make us worthy of your holy altars; so that we may worthily lift up the Most Holy Body and Blood of your Son and, in the age to come, merit to receive eternal reward.

St Joseph is the best of fathers as we stand before the high mysteries of the Faith. Thus, the fearlessness counseled first to St Joseph, he now counsels to us. And dare we say that we see this devout fearlessness of St Joseph at work, please God, in the Mass of every priest. 


[1] Hebrews 5, 4.

{Art Credit: Modesto Faustini (1839-1891), St Joseph at Work (1889); Shrine of the Holy House, Loreto}

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