In the scriptures we are not given any details of St. Joseph’s childhood or his early manhood, so, as with the details of St Joseph’s conception and birth, we have to look to other divinely inspired sources for even a glimpse of Joseph before he appears in the Holy Bible.
Concerning the child Joseph, we have the revelations of Venerable Maria de Agreda, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, and Servant of God Mother Cecilia Baij. We are told that he was a humble and holy boy who possessed great understanding and awareness of God at a young age:
Catherine Emmerich: Joseph, whom I saw in
this vision at about the age of eight. He was very gifted and was a very good
scholar, but he was simple, quiet, devout, and not at all ambitious . . . I
often saw him kneeling down with his face to the wall, praying with
Venerable Maria de Agreda: The holy child Joseph was born most beautiful and perfect of body and caused in his parents and in his relations an extraordinary delight… The Lord hastened the use of his reason, endowing it with infused science and augmenting his soul with new graces and virtues. … The child began to know God … as the cause and Author of all things. He eagerly listened and understood profoundly all that was taught him in regard to God and his works.
Servant of God Mother Cecilia Baij: … Joseph had the best of dispositions … He matured in a most outstanding manner, both physically and spiritually … God fashioned him according to His own heart and spirit, in order to eventually make him a worthy bridegroom for the Mother of the Divine Word. The child gratefully acknowledged these gifts which he was receiving from God. …
Joseph already possessed the gift of the use of reason, together with the gift of sanctifying grace, and as a result had a greater comprehension of God and of the offenses committed by mankind against Him. He shed copious tears in this regard and offered them to God with the plea that He might have mercy upon poor sinners, that He would enlighten them, and enable them to see their grievous error…
Venerable Maria de Agreda: Young St. Joseph was of a kind disposition, loving, and affable, sincere, showing inclinations not only holy but angelic, growing in virtue and perfection and advancing toward his espousal with most holy Mary by an altogether irreproachable life.
Servant of God, Mother Cecilia Baij: St. Joseph never caused God any displeasure, committing neither mortal sin, nor any deliberate venial sin; and he made every effort to avoid even the very shadow of sin, always taking to heart the admonition of the Holy Spirit: “Whosoever disregards little faults, will eventually fall into greater ones.” He was ever careful in this respect, and very conscientious about minor things.
As he grew older Joseph made great strides in the practice of virtue, in the love for God, and in the study of the Scriptures, especially the Psalms of David. He recited them so frequently, he knew most of them by heart. Joseph’s life developed along these lines for fifteen years. He continuously preserved undefiled his early innocence.
He guarded his senses most carefully, especially his eyes, remembering how David and many others had fallen through curious looks which ought to have been avoided. The more that he mortified his senses in order to remain faithful to God, the more grace did he receive from God, and the more intense did his love become for this one and only object of all his love and desires.
When he felt impelled to gaze at something which would delight the eye, but which became an occasion for remorse, considering the likelihood of being drawn into sin, he would quickly raise his eyes towards heaven and seek contentment in contemplating with the eyes of the spirit the uncreated beauties of God. By means of contemplation of heavenly things, he gradually lost all enjoyment in creatures; inflamed ever more with the love of God, he experienced all that joy which is to be found in occupying oneself solely with God and seeking one’s delight in Him alone.
… Among other things, Joseph had received a special faculty for giving effective assistance to the afflicted. Whenever he conversed with such people, his attitude and treatment somehow always managed to produce an alleviation of sorrow. Of course, he always had recourse to God, and pleaded fervently for comfort in behalf of those with whom he had to deal. His ability to ease the burden of the oppressed became known throughout the locality, and brought many to his home to listen to him and to obtain his assistance.
He gave encouragement to all to bear up under their afflictions; he would exhort them to confidently recommend themselves to God, from Whom they could expect all that was good, all that was comforting, and Who, in His power, could bestow generously upon everyone. At the same time he would ask them to pray that God, in His goodness, might expedite the manifestation of His mercy by sending the promised Messiah, because they all could expect to find their greatest consolation in Him. Many a man, weighed down with poverty, lacking even the bare necessities of life eventually had recourse to Joseph, and was confident that he would help him. Joseph then humbly had to ask his parents to provide what was necessary for the needy applicant. They always readily complied with their son’s wishes.
As he made the distribution to the poor, Joseph would say: “See what great benefits you are receiving from the good God! He has given all this to me through the hands of my father for the sole purpose of aiding you. It is no more than right that you give thanks to Him, even as I do, for these things.” In this way he hoped to avoid praise for any charitable deeds, for he also considered himself to be a poor wretch, and overwhelmingly blessed with heavenly benefactions for the sole purpose of having him share them with others.
It is not surprising, therefore, to find him so solicitous that everything should be received as coming from the bountiful hand of God, to Whom he wished to give all honor and thanksgiving. Those who came to him for alms esteemed him for this, and praised him throughout the village.
All this provided certain vicious characters with an inducement to envy and persecution. They spoke ill of Joseph, declaring that he did everything merely to be praised and honored. The devil made good use of these evil-minded creatures to bring the virtue of the holy youth into bad repute. When Joseph was informed of all this … he recommended all his calumniators to God, and when he encountered these critics he was always polite and friendly. If he had the opportunity to engage in a conversation with them, he would remark: “It matters but little what you do to me, but you ought to have more concern not to offend God.” Some of these individuals gradually grew to like Joseph, because of his gentle and charitable attitude. He was always humble and submissive towards everyone, and was really convinced that others possessed more virtue than he. Small wonder that obstinate hearts were softened by his kind and loving words. It was evident that the Saint lived in prayerful communion with God and that his soul was filled with the Holy Spirit.
The holy youth spent many a night watching and assisting at his mother’s bedside, or praying for her. Just as he had previously shown his gratitude for her goodness to him, so now in these last moments of her life, his behavior was exemplary. He did not wish to leave her, and never tired of serving her or comforting her with his truly childlike, yet holy love. ... Joseph remained with her until she expired. He was a great help not only to her, but also to his father, who was sorely grieved over the loss of so virtuous a companion in life.
St. Joseph, suffering and weakened by the loss of his mother, had little time to grieve, as it was soon after her departure that his father had become ill. He would continue in his role as devoted son to his father, just as he had done for his mother, ministering to him in his final moments:
It was not long afterwards that Joseph’s father Jacob became deathly sick. Joseph himself had been weakened considerably during the period of his mother’s painful illness, to which was now added this serious affliction. He fervently implored God for the help of His grace, and for the energy and strength needed to be able to assist his father during his final illness. …
Joseph tended and served his father affectionately, both day and night, and encouraged him in the patient endurance of his sufferings and anxieties. As his father’s last hours arrived, Joseph attended him lovingly, encouraging and stimulating him to an ever greater trust in the divine goodness and mercy, and consoling him with his own conviction that he would soon enter into the domain of peace and joy. Thus, fully resigned and with a firm hope of obtaining eternal life, Joseph’s father finally expired. Once his father had breathed his last, Joseph withdrew and allowed his grief-stricken nature to find relief in tears. Indeed, he had every reason to be sorrowful, considering what a generous, loving and solicitous father he had lost.
I have always been Yours’, and also have always been safeguarded and defended by You. I wish to renew my dedication to You, and desire to have You reign over me completely. Since I am no longer subject to anyone but You, my God, give me the requisite grace, so that I too may be able to say with the royal prophet: ‘My father and mother have left me, but the Lord has taken me up’ (Psalm 27:10). From now on do You be my father, my protector, my mother, my refuge, my whole support. Do with me and mine as it pleases You. May Your holy will be accomplished in me in everything. Grant that I may always discern Your will, for it is my desire to follow it completely and perfectly.”
♔ ST JOSEPH THE OLD WIDOWER? ♔
Given the customs at the time, Mary was believed to be no older than sixteen when she was married. We are told by the mystics Venerable Maria de Agreda, Mother Maria Cecilia Baij, and Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, that Joseph was a young man at the time of his espousal to Mary. Through the ages, art has shown him as an elderly man hunched over his walking stick, barely able to stand. Joseph was not a senior citizen. No offense to the elderly, but God would choose a strong, energetic man who would be able to support his family. Why, then, was Joseph depicted as an old man in so many European art pieces through the centuries? There are two reasons for this:
The first reason was to explain the “brothers and sisters” of the Lord, mentioned in the Bible. The apocryphal book titled, “The History of the Carpenter Joseph,” states that he was once a priest as well as a carpenter who was a widower with four sons and two daughters, meaning Mary’s stepchildren would be far older then she was. Apparently, Joseph was old enough to be Mary’s grandfather. This is false, and the notion of Christ having “brothers and sisters” will be explained in a later post, though some Christians are too proud and do not want an explanation—choosing instead to be deaf to the fact that Mary and Joseph were both young virgins at the time of their marriage and remained so afterward.
The second reason for the elderly Joseph was to protect the virginity of Mary. The idea of the Virgin Mary living with a handsome and robust man was not acceptable as people would think that he might have some inclination to have sexual relations with her, therefore robbing her of her virginal title. This insults both Joseph and his bride. The Bible tells us that the Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14.) Mary herself tells us this when the angel Gabriel tells her she will conceive: “How can this be since I am a virgin?” (St. Luke 1:27, 34.)
St. Jerome (347–420,) Doctor of the Church, explains the virginal relationship between Joseph and Mary:
That God was born of a virgin we believe because we read it. That Mary consummated marriage after her childbirth we do not believe because we do not read it. Nor do we say this in order to condemn marriage, for virginity is itself a fruit of marriage, but because there is no license to draw rash conclusions about holy men.
For if we wish to take the mere possibility into consideration, we can contend that Joseph had several wives because Abraham and Jacob had several wives and that from these wives, the ‘brethren of the Lord’ were born, a fiction which most people invent with not so much pious as presumptuous audacity. You say that Mary did not remain a virgin; even more do I claim that Joseph was virginal through Mary, in order that from a virginal marriage a virginal son might be born. For if the charge of fornication does not fall on this holy man, and if it is not written that he had another wife, and if he was more of a protector than a husband of Mary, whom he was thought to have as his wife, it remains to assert that he who merited to be called the father of the Lord remained virginal with her. — St. Jerome
♔ VOWS OF CHASTITY ♔
The earliest saints of the Church, who would have had contact with the original twelve Apostles, were all in agreement that the mother of Jesus was a virgin both before and after the birth of Christ. Also, Church traditions fully support that Joseph, being led by the Holy Spirit, chose to offer everything about himself to God, and had made a vow of virginity early on in life. Given that he was sanctified by God, and given many special graces, this doesn’t seem so strange.
Venerable Maria de Agreda: From his twelfth year he had made and kept the vow of chastity… and was known for the utmost purity of his life, holy and irreprehensible in the eyes of God and of men.
St. Francis de Sales: How exalted in this virtue of virginity must Joseph have been who was destined by the Eternal Father to be the companion in virginity of Mary! Both had made a vow to preserve virginity for their entire lives, and it was the Will of God to join them in the bond of a holy marriage…
This was not a common practice; however, Jesus was not a common man, so why should we doubt His parents’ uncommon vows? Joseph and Mary were Jews, and yes, it was unusual to make vows of virginity in their culture, but it is the same in our own culture today! If someone tells you they have made a vow of virginity, would you doubt them? You may doubt them, you may not, but you would be inclined to ask them why they say this. Why would anyone want to live without sex!? Because sex, in its proper context of “making love,” is one of life’s most beautiful treasures, and some people, impelled to serve God in a unique way, choose to offer it to the Lord instead of to themselves. Joseph gave one of the most beautiful gifts he could offer to God. Virginity in our culture is seen as prudishness and “old school,” and some people lie to say that they are not virgins! It is seen as something to lose as early as possible and to brag about losing – more notably among young men. If it were the other way around and virginity was seen as something to cherish, this perpetual virginity of Joseph would not seem so strange.
Pope St. John Paul II: In the Liturgy, Mary is celebrated as "united to Joseph, the just man, by a bond of marital and virginal love." There are really two kinds of love here, both of which together represent the mystery of the Church - virgin and spouse - as symbolized in the marriage of Mary and Joseph. “Virginity or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God not only does not contradict the dignity of marriage but presupposes and confirms it. Marriage and virginity are two ways of expressing and living the one mystery of the Covenant of God with his people,” the Covenant which is a communion of love between God and human beings.
The Bible gives us examples of people who gave their gift of virginity to God and were not ashamed of people knowing it. They were seen as holy, not because sex is bad and they were abstaining from it, but because they saw this God-given gift as being so wonderful and they wanted to offer it and themselves wholly to God. It is a selfless act of love!
Revelation 14:1, 14:4 And I saw, and behold, the Lamb was standing upon Mount Sion, and with Him a hundred and forty-four thousand having his name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads… These are they who were not known with women; for they are virgins.
♔ VIRGINAL TRINITY ♔
The great St. Gregory Nazianzen (329-389) proclaimed that the first virgin ever is the Holy Trinity. God the Father is a virgin who generates the Son in all His goodness; God the Son is a virgin who existed in Heaven without a mother; God the Holy Spirit is a virgin, who proceeds gloriously from the Father and the Son. As the Heavenly Trinity is the first and altogether virgin, so is the second Trinity, on earth. The Earthly Trinity of Jesus, Mary and Joseph mirror the Heavenly Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Jesus (God the Son) connecting the two Trinities. If Jesus is a virgin and Mary is a virgin, why wouldn’t Joseph, who completes this virginal Trinity, be one as they are?
St. Josemaria Escrivá: You don't have to wait to be old or lifeless to practice the virtue of chastity. Purity comes from love; and the strength and gaiety of youth is no obstacle for noble love. Joseph had a young heart and a young body when he married Mary, when he learned of the mystery of her divine motherhood, when he lived in her company, respecting the integrity God wished to give the world as one more sign that he had come to share the life of his creatures. Anyone who cannot understand a love like that knows very little of true love and is a complete stranger to the Christian meaning of chastity.