January is for St Joseph
By Fr Jonathan Ishak
Today’s gospel talks about a saintly character, a man of a few words. Although he is known for his quiet spirit he was also a man of great, virtuous deeds. For these characteristics the Heavens chose him from amongst all of humanity to behold the Lord Christ and protect Him as a young Child. This great saint is indeed, St Joseph the Carpenter (holding Christ on the left).
Today’s gospel tells of how a mere human on Earth was chosen by the Heavens for this revered role, to protect the Child, from the unmerciful hands of Herod. Indeed, this shows us that St Joseph the Carpenter was judged worthy to look would look after The Christ, with St Mary. Amongst many there are three particular characteristics which can be learnt from the virtuous St Joseph the Carpenter. The first is his steadfast faith in the Lord, a brand of faith that parallels that of Abraham in the Old Testament. We observe Abraham’s faith in his
response to God command that he go slaughter his only beloved son to which he unhesitatingly obeyed, “Yes Lord.” Thus, Abraham had faith that what God commands is for the best and is governed by His goodness. In the same spirit St Joseph the Carpenter faith mirrors Abraham’s steadfast faith in the Lord, this can be understood in discussing St Joseph’s speediness and readiness when a request from Heaven was given to him, whether this be in the form of a message or a desire. The final point to be discussed is his quiet nature as a silent saint, he was constantly more occupied with God than with people and thereby, was able to hear God’s voice clearly. These three points are evident in the life of St Joseph the Carpenter and will be expounded within this article.
In the picture above you can observe the spirit and nature of St Joseph the Carpenter; one righteous saint commented on the above picture and said, “On every Christmas, we should remember this righteous saint, who beheld the Child Christ between his hands and cared for him. The one who Christ glanced at and was the first person who He addressed as ‘father’.” Indeed, this saint who loved God and God the Father entrusted with His Son, knew that the one he held was the Son of God. This is a comment on his faith, for He believed what the Angel Gabriel told him; that the one born of the Virgin Mary is God.
Yesterday I was accompanied by Fr Micheal during a trip, who recounted his visit to a known church named after St Joseph the Carpenter, whilst in Canada. He commented that many people go and visit the church and make petitions through the intercession of St Joseph the Carpenter, and also that he performs many wonders and miracles in this church. Evidence of his intercession and blessings could be seen in a designated room set by the parish priest, which holds items that had previously belonged to people once burdened with infirmities and had been cured through his intercession. Notably, this also included the wheelchair of someone who was paralysed and was healed through this blessed saint. This church is known for its miracles because St Joseph the Carpenter is a great saint which the Heavens selected thus, in our human weakness how could we not honour him and venerate him greatly?
As we look into the picture of St Joseph the Carpenter, our hearts are inevitably touched with his humility and his purity. Not solely this but we are also touched in this image by the spirit of one who worships in the presence of God continually and in the same nature, acknowledges and feels the presence of God.
The first of the three points of discussion is this saint’s faith. In gazing upon this picture, we see an icon of faith. If we were to glance at every icon in the church, we would find and learn something very individual to each one. For as believers, when we enter into church and see a beautiful icon, we leave and feel we have learnt something from it, for we desire to liken ourselves with the saints in these icons. In St Joseph the Carpenter we observe a brand of faith unmeasurably great for he never allowed his mind to distract nor disrupt his faith. Sometimes our minds cause us to be over thoughtful and be coaxed into the belief that we posses intelligence greater than which we have. This therefore causes us to enquire into things to do with God, things that we shouldn’t question, for they are greater than what we can comprehend. An example of this is if someone were to ask if confession is necessary. To this we would explain that the Church has practiced confession since the time of the Apostles and furthermore, that it was said to the saintly apostles, “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18 NKJV) Thus when one comes to church, they should come in humility, and not overuse their mind. They should not question as to what benefit would be gained in confessing to a priest if they pray and partake of Christ’s Holy Body and Precious Blood, which they might think to be sufficient. This is a misconception, for the Church teaches and encourages us to come and take the absolution from the mouth of the priest. To resolve such conflicts, we can take the example of St Joseph the Carpenter who never used to overuse his mind rather he believed the word of God with simplicity, evidenced in his sincere belief of the word prophesied by Angel Gabriel. Undoubtedly, this Saint was so great in his faith.
Many people delay the baptism of their children despite hearing the verse, “Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” ” (John 3:5 NKJV). Those engrossed in their own self knowledge and are proud in their hearts, are caused to question saying: when a child is submerged into the water, he comes out looking the same and its very essence it is simply water- what is its use? They do not recognise however that the water is indeed the secret presence of the Holy Spirit, for Baptism is one of the seven sacraments of the church. Thus, it not ordinary water but water endowed with the work of the Holy Spirit; water that writes the name of this child in the Kingdom of Heaven. In simplicity, there lies our faith.
Unfortunately however, we live in a world that does not have faith in God, rather on the contrary values glorifying the mind. This can be observed when the world tells us something it can steal our peace and troubles us very much. For example, today the world tells us to think logically and question the benefit of going to church on a Sunday. It whispers attempting to convince us that it is unnecessary: “Why don’t you stay home and just say your own prayers?” You see however, the Church is the house of the Lord, the house of the saints. Thus we have faith that when we enter into the Church we are not simply entering a physical building, but rather we have been granted the greatest honour and gift, to meet the Lord and partake of His Body and Blood.
This spirit was exhibited by St Joseph the Carpenter who teaches us this kind of faith as evident in his very nature. For when approached by Church elders as to whether he would take a very poor fourteen year old girl, who offered no prospect of a future. Although It only seemed logical that he could not, for how could he? We know from various sources that he was a celibate man. Despite not previously desiring to be married and at the present not wanting one, in obedience he listened to The Church’s instructions, with steadfast faith. Perhaps, what is more incredible to note is that he did not at present even have resources to adequately care for St Mary, she would have been an extra burden on him in his old age. However, in his obedience He even did not consider the large age difference between them when he was asked to take her as his wife and he continued in celibacy, both individuals living in purity. Therefore, initial evidence of his faith was in his trust and subsequent obedience to the Church elders: “at your word, I will cast the net” (Luke 5:5 NKJV), and he took the hand of St Mary.
In St Mary‘s pregnancy, he willingly kept it a secret out of his righteousness. He didn’t want to make it public knowledge nor did he seek to protect his image, although having the opportunity to seek self-preservation and kill her according to Mosaic law for this supposedly, ‘unlawful pregnancy’. Rather, St Joseph most likely thought that she had found a partner and in his humility would have commented, “May God bless your relationship. I am not the one who can have a physical relationship with you. Go in peace and live a blessed life with your partner.” But then that night, the angel appeared to him and told him that this pregnancy was not by a human but by the Holy Spirit. We wonder, O’ St Joseph have you ever heard before of a lady who became pregnant by the Holy Spirit? It would have been a defiance of reason
and that of human understanding! Nevertheless, St Joseph believed and trusted in faith what the angel from heaven told him, that she had indeed became pregnant by the Holy Spirit.
For what is even more beautiful is, St Joseph the Carpenter was steadfast in his belief. In our own lives we may retain faith for a period of time, to which the devil is very quick to come and take the belief away from us. Similarly, you may listen to a sermon and have your heart moved towards a certain service or incentive. You might conclude that you will take care of giving to the poor, or help with the church or even commit to participating in a certain service however after one week, you may find that you have forgotten your promise and other earthly matters may be prioritised instead. St Joseph the Carpenter did not allow himself to fall to this, despite inevitably experiencing many wars by the devil, for many years. As St Mary progressed through the pregnancy, the devil would have implanted doubts in his mind. He would have questioned him, “Do you actually believe this, that a woman would become pregnant without a man? Nothing alike has ever occurred, this defies all reason!” Nevertheless, St Joseph the Carpenter believed what he was told by God steadfast in his faith and did not allow his belief to be shaken. This man believed for twelve years that this Son who came from the womb of St Mary was indeed the Son of God, that He was not human and that He has great power. St Joseph the Carpenter deserves the praise that Abraham received for his faith for amazing is the faith of St Joseph the Carpenter, who believed until the end, whom the devil could not overcome. May we too always have this faith in God and His word.
The second characteristic displayed by St Joseph the Carpenter was his service to God, he never delayed in obeying an instruction or in fulfilling a desire in his heart. Today’s gospel says that the angel came to him and he arose that same night, “When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt” (Matthew 2:14 NKJV). We observe that He did not wait until the morning, rather He got up that night loaded his donkey, took St Mary and Christ and headed for Egypt. We must question ourselves, for we often are woken up to commit to a virtuous deed, how often however do we act upon this immediately? A daily example is in that one may experience a desire to pray, but they immediately stray making an excuse and consequently separating themselves from God. An excuse as, “Right after this phone call,” would have removed the desire to speak to God immediately from your heart. By the same token, God often moves your heart towards doing a certain charitable deed, on many different occasions. It could be that you feel you should call and seek forgiveness from someone that you have upset, or that is upset from you, or even that you
should pay your tithes, yet we excuse ourselves and delay this calling. St Joseph the Carpenter fought this temptation; instead He immediately arose as soon as he was given the command by the angel. In the same spirit we too should rise whenever we have a desire to be closer to the Lord, and also long to perfect this feeling of repentance in our heart by immediately wanting to see our confession father. Like this virtuous saint, we also should seek God when we are susceptible to these feelings and conquer it through reading the Bible and prayer. For when the Holy Spirit visits your heart and tells you to go attend a certain spiritual meeting today, indeed how many the fruits would be, if only you don’t delay it. These holy desires are visits from the angels to us, just like the angel visited St Joseph the Carpenter. Therefore, let us not delay or put off feelings of charity, good deeds, repentance or worship but act like St Joseph the Carpenter.
The final point is one that I especially love about St Joseph the Carpenter; he was a man who was more occupied with God than he was with man and so sat he with God more than he sat with people. Nowadays in today’s society particularly with the quick and portable devices that we value, mobile phones prioritise constant communication with people. You can receive a text message at any time, you have Facebook and various other applications and forms of social media. Due to this we have become accustomed to be preoccupied with people all the time, sadly instead of focusing our full attention to God. St Joseph the Carpenter never allowed this, for he was a saint who was always busy with God. He was not one to be heard of as busy with people, in that he did not speak often. Rather, he was occupied with the Lord and would sit and just meditate on the Lord in his mind. Similarly, we need to have time with God. This does not mean that we should not love those around us! No, but we should not be preoccupied with them as they take us away from our time with God. For in spending too much time with people, inevitably you would not have the heart or time to open the Bible or to pray. How often do we think about what others say, whether it be praise or criticism? How often do we take notice of superficial matters like, if a certain person replied to our text message or if they remembered to message on your birthday? There is also the triviality and shallowness of, ‘How many likes did I get on Facebook?’ coupled with, ‘who commented on the picture that I posted?’ It is clear that we become absorbed in our friendships with human beings instead of focusing on the one friendship of utmost value, that with our Lord.
This can be further explained through a particular experience on our youth trip to Egypt. It was spent three and a half weeks where the youth were extremely happy in visiting their
mother land, a very blessed time. For they felt the simplicity of the people and their kindness, each day was very beautiful. Amongst our planned activities and visits, we had a special appointment to meet with His Holiness Pope Tawadros II. We were a large group and were given a time slot to meet him in the cathedral, which began through a warm welcome in his reception room where we spent a very good time with him. However, there was something about him that was brought to my attention, which I really loved about him. While sitting with us, I found that he occasionally gazed towards Heaven. I could not help but feel that he constantly felt his responsibility as the Patriarch and his service to bring people to church. This was affirmed in the manner of which he answered a question posed to him by one of the youth. He replied, “I know my responsibility, as Shepherd of the Coptic Church, as being responsible for all of the Coptic Church.” Indeed, this spirit of service was evident in all his answers and all his questions to the youth. Another example was when they would praise him and express their happiness in meeting him but he would never respond to this praise. Instead, he would be continually busy asking, “What else can we do for you to make you happy? What is the church lacking in order to make you comfortable?” Indeed, he is a person whose mind is continually with God. I also realised the same thing during the Liturgy of the Feast of the Nativity. When President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi gracefully visited the Cathedral, everyone around the President were very occupied with him. Inevitably every person wanted to exceedingly welcome him in a lavish manner, except for His Holiness. For His Holiness was sitting there in simplicity, evidently his mind was somewhere else. His smile and grace showed that he respected and appreciated the President, but his mind was with God, because he was in the presence of He who is greater and more powerful. Indeed, much like many other Saints of our Church, St Joseph the Carpenter and St Pope Kyrillos VI. There are some pictures that show the late St Pope Kyrillos VI walking beside former President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and holding his hand. It should be noted that Former President Gamal Abdel Nasser was a man who was feared greatly not solely only in Egypt, but also by surrounding countries. However, St Pope Kyrillos VI was walking with complete serenity and trust that God was with him, evidently this guarded him against fear of any individual of which he was in the company of.
In this we can observe how fortunate it is for the person who feels that God is more beautiful, that God is sweeter indeed, that God is more powerful. How lucky is he who doesn’t undervalue his relationship with God because of any other circumstance, or event or
relationship with another being, or by any desire. This is because feeling in the presence of God is far sweeter and much better, exceeding all manner of comparison to all.
In this spirit, as we celebrate the life of St Joseph the Carpenter, I have a special request that you ask for his prayers and intercession often. Let us assign January as the month of St Joseph the Carpenter. For much like how we focus on St Mary in December, let us remember St Joseph the Carpenter during the month of January yearly. Above all innately we focus on Christ the entire year but let us honour St Joseph the Carpenter and in doing so, dedicate January to him.
May his picture, a particular representation of him be ever present in our homes to aid us in remembering him, that it may be a source of blessing to us. It is that of a great saint, an elderly saint and more so it depicts the fatherly relationship Christ had with this saint, for the Child sits in his lap playing with his beard. It stands to reason that Christ loved this individual and selected him from Heaven so that he may be called His father.
May the prayers and blessings of St Joseph the Carpenter be with us all. Glory be to God forever and ever, Amen.