As he grew up in the village of Nazareth, Joseph would have studied the Torah from the ages of five to eleven. At the age of eleven he would become an apprentice for his life’s work as a carpenter who probably also worked in stone building the small homes in his own and surrounding villages. As a faithful Jew Joseph would also participate in Sabbath worship in his local synagogue. There he and his fellow men would learn the Scriptures, share in fellowship, and thank God for all of his blessings. He would daily pray Deuteronomy 6:4 – 9
Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Joseph’s betrothal to Mary would not have seemed to be so extraordinary. It would have been an arrangement made by their families. He undoubtedly knew Mary having grown up in the same area. He was pleased as her qualities as a young woman were apparent to all. So it came as a considerable shock to discover that she was pregnant. The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of Joseph’s struggle. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. (Matthew 1: 18 – 19) Joseph loved Mary, and did not wish her to be shamed and exposed to snide comments or being outcast. He would quietly end the betrothal.
Joseph’s difficulties ended in revelation in a dream. He discovered that he was chosen by God to be the earthly foster father of Jesus and the protector of his family.20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1: 20 – 21)
As a faithful Jew, Joseph would also know the promise of the Messiah. As Mary did, he also said “Yes!” to God and acted in obedience to the Holy Spirit.
It was not an easy life. It involved the taking his family to Egypt to save Jesus from Herod’s soldiers (Matthew 2: 13 – 15). When they returned to Nazareth, Joseph had the daily concerns of finding enough work to feed his family. Even after making the costs of everyday life, the family managed to save enough to participate in the yearly Passover celebration in Jerusalem accompanied by their family and friends. (Luke 1: 41 – 51)
Joseph’s life, work, and his continuing care and protection of the Holy Family is hidden from us. And in this way he is a model for all men who in their families and religious communities in their daily labor love and support all who come under their protection. It is for this reason that Pope Pius IX declared St Joseph to be the Patron of the Church. St Joseph was also declared the patron of workers celebrated on May 1. And as tradition tells us that he died in the presence of Mary and Jesus, we may also pray for his intercession for a holy death.