DEAR FATHER | Public revelation reveals some detail of life of St. Joseph

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The life of St. Joseph is largely veiled to us by history. While there are some writings from the early centuries of the Church about St. Joseph, they are part of the apocryphal literature. Writings in this category are largely viewed with suspicion, as they were written more to convey hidden, secret knowledge that was believed to be needed to attain salvation, rather than to give an account of events that took place. We also have the writings of mystics such as Anne Catherine Emmerich and the Venerable Mother Mary of Jesus of Agreda, which pass along vivid details of St. Joseph from their mystical experiences. While widely read and professed by many to be faithful private revelations, for our purposes here, we will keep to what is known through public revelation.

The Catholic Encyclopedia gives its opinion that Joseph was born in Bethlehem. This would make sense being that this is where David's family is originally from. Most likely to find work as a carpenter more easily, Joseph moved from Bethlehem north to Nazareth.

While in Nazareth, Joseph was betrothed to a young virgin by the name of Mary. There are two traditions that explain the circumstances of this betrothal. The first is one in which Joseph, a few years older than Mary, who was 12 or 13, gets engaged to her. The other is a more dubious account, though its constant repetition in apocryphal literature lends it some credibility. This account puts Joseph as an older widower who is selected by the priests to be Mary's husband. Such an account does explain the mentioning of brothers and a sister of Jesus in the Gospels (another explanation is that they are cousins rather than siblings). It also is one that artists typically use when depicting St. Joseph.

In the accounts of the Gospel, we hear of Joseph's reaction when discovering Mary's pregnancy, the reversal of his decision, and his acceptance and living out the role as the foster-father of Jesus. We also know from the Gospels that after returning from Egypt, the Holy Family settled in Nazareth. After the finding of Jesus in the temple when He was 12 years old, we do not hear of Joseph in the Gospels again.

From this silence in the Gospels about Joseph during Jesus' public ministry and Jesus giving Mary to St. John to care for at the foot of the cross, we can infer that Joseph died sometime before Jesus' ministry began. Most likely, he died in Nazareth, surrounded by Jesus and Mary. This image is why the Church names St. Joseph the patron of a happy death, for he was surrounded by the Lord and Mary when he died. He was likely buried in Nazareth. No tomb or relics of him have ever been discovered.

Father Mayo is pastor of Holy Rosary Parish in Warrenton. 

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