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Saint Joseph, reverent father and protector of Holy Church

The reverence of Saint Joseph shows us an authentic freedom that is not rooted in woke, emotive rage or the self-entitlement of pride, but in a true and knowing love.

Detail from "St Joseph with the Infant Jesus" (c. 1602) by Guido Reni []

Note: This article was given in slightly different form as a closing meditation on Saint Joseph for a Lenten Forty Hours Devotion in honor of the Year of Saint Joseph at Saint Mary’s Church, Washingtonville, New York on March 14, 2021.

O blessed Joseph, happy man, to whom it was given not only to see and to hear that God Whom many kings longed to see, and saw not, to hear, and heard not; but also to carry Him in your arms, to embrace Him, to clothe Him, and guard and defend Him.

V. Pray for us, O Blessed Joseph.

R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray: O God, Who has given us a royal priesthood, we beseech Thee, that as Blessed Joseph was found worthy to touch with his hands, and to bear in his arms, Thy only-begotten Son, born of the Virgin Mary, so may we be made fit, by purity of heart and blamelessness of life, to minister at Thy holy altar; may we, this day, with reverent devotion partake of the Sacred Body and Blood of Thy Only-begotten Son, and may we in the world to come to be accounted worthy of receiving an everlasting reward. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Two of the first prayers about Saint Joseph that I came to know when I was growing up were things that I found in the back entrance of my parish Church of Saint Raymond of Penafort, East Rockaway, New York. The first prayer, over 1900 years old, was the famous Novena Prayer to St. Joseph. The second prayer is O Blessed Joseph Happy Man, and I found it in the back of an old St. Andrew Missal from the 1920s as prayers of preparation for Holy Communion that my pastor let me take home when I was 14 years old. It was often used as a prayer of preparation for the priest before he would offer Mass.

We hear in this prayer about a unique privilege that God the Father gave to Saint Joseph. It was also given to our Blessed Mother, that “he heard and saw God whom many kings long to see and hear but did not,” but also “was able to hold God in his arms, to embrace, clothe and defend him.” In this prayer we see how Joseph, in protecting Jesus and Mary from Herod’s evil plot, gives us an example of how he also protects the Church in our own day.

In speaking about Joseph’s actions in protecting Jesus and Mary, Pope Francis notes:

We should always consider whether we ourselves are protecting Jesus and Mary, for they are also mysteriously entrusted to our own responsibility, care and safekeeping. The Son of the Almighty came into our world in a state of great vulnerability. He needed to be defended, protected, cared for and raised by Joseph. God trusted Joseph, as did Mary, who found in him someone who would not only save her life, but would always provide for her and her child. In this sense, Saint Joseph could not be other than the Guardian of the Church, for the Church is the continuation of the Body of Christ in history, even as Mary’s motherhood is reflected in the motherhood of the Church. (Patris Corde, n. 5)

Joseph protects the Church both by his intercession and by his lived example. In his actions, he shows us something about the reverence we should have for the action of God in our lives and the life of the Church. When we hear about reverence, we first think of reverence toward the Eucharist or a precious object in our home that we do not want anyone to touch. Reverence is rooted in the concept of both fear and love. Love is willing the good of the other in the way God intends for them, not just according to personal preference, comfort, or opinion.

Fear is something that we often try to avoid, yet not all fear is evil. We read in Scripture that fear of the Lord is the first stage of wisdom (cf. Prov 9:10). Fear of the Lord in this sense is a gift of the Holy Spirit that enables us “to avoid sin and attachment to created things out of reverence and love of God.” Primarily, this gift entails a profound respect for the majesty of God, who is the supreme being. Here, a person realizes who they are as a creature and a child of God. Fear of the Lord then leads to a true “poverty of spirit,” in which one would never want to be separated from God, who is love. This reverential fear then arouses in the soul a vibrant sense of adoration and reverence for God and a sense of horror and sorrow for sin as letting down the one who has loved us and in that gave us everything.

Reverence then enables us to receive reality as it is in itself as a gift from God and love people and things around us with divine love. Supernatural reverence is seen in the way we worship Jesus in the Eucharist and the way we worship him at Mass, within the realm of prayer, and the way we live out faith within our lives. From this supernatural reverence, we are also anchored to the mysteries of faith and are able to receive the gift of salvation, sanctification, and divine union Jesus desires to give us. There is also natural reverence which is also guided by divine grace and influences the cardinal virtues, especially prudence, temperance, and the virtue of chastity. This form of reverence enables us to embrace the people and things of the world rightly in authentic love, without destroying their goodness or making them into idols that enslave us. This natural reverence encompasses our relationships, the things of this world, our passions, personal goals, or the gift of God that is our own individual personhood as men and women created in his image and likeness.

We see natural and supernatural reverence coming forth from the heart of Joseph when the Angel tells him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife: for the child which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:20). Joseph shows this filial fear, this reverence towards the mystery of God’s plan of salvation, by freely embracing his call to be both the husband of Mary and the earthly father of Jesus. Joseph’s embrace of his vocation comes with the realization of his limits and an awareness of the mystery unfolding before him. He enters into his divine vocation with the entirety of his heart—believing, trusting, hoping, and loving despite the difficulties he faces.

This reverence that Saint Joseph gives to Jesus also exemplifies the guardianship that is central to both the natural fatherhood of marriage and the supernatural fatherhood of the priesthood. A father knows how to guard and protect the little ones against evil and scandal. A father, when he is true to his vocation and to grace, knows when and how to be present in vigilance and how to lead by example. A father also has the wisdom and detachment to know how to protect and when to let go of the children under his care so they can grow in freedom and virtue. The reverence of Saint Joseph shows us an authentic freedom that is not rooted in woke, emotive rage or the self-entitlement of pride, but in a true love that leads to a discovery of who we are and what is our unique role within the mystery of God’s plan of salvation.

Pope St. John Paul II reflected on this reverence of Joseph:

St. Joseph was called by God to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood. It is precisely in this way that, as the Church’s Liturgy teaches, he “cooperated in the fullness of time in the great mystery of salvation” and is truly a “minister of salvation.” His fatherhood is expressed concretely “in his having made his life a service, a sacrifice to the mystery of the Incarnation and to the redemptive mission connected with it; in having used the legal authority which was his over the Holy Family in order to make a total gift of self, of his life and work; in having turned his human vocation to domestic love into a superhuman oblation of self, an oblation of his heart and all his abilities into love placed at the service of the Messiah growing up in his house. (Redemptoris Custos, n. 8)

How was Saint Joseph able to act rightly and to protect Mary and Jesus in light of dangers and threats? John Paul II stated:

The total sacrifice, whereby Joseph surrendered his whole existence to the demands of the Messiah’s coming into his home, becomes understandable only in the light of his profound interior life. It was from this interior life that “very singular commands and consolations came, bringing him also the logic and strength that belong to simple and clear souls, and giving him the power of making great decisions… (Redemptoris Custos, n. 26)

Joseph recognized the mystery of his divine son’s fragility as he held Jesus in his arms and within his heart with true love. Now he can both guard and protect his family with a true father’s heart. This guardianship would also give a glimpse into how his son Jesus would later defend and establish the Church in defeating sin, death, and Satan through love by the power of his cross and resurrection.

Saint Joseph’s role of the protector of the Church gives an example of how to live in that spirit of authentic reverence for God’s plan of salvation in our own lives and to thereby protect the faith of the Church. This guarding the gift of faith involves knowing how to act, trust, and cooperate with the presence of Jesus, whom Joseph held in his arms and saw with his eyes. It will also help us to know our limits before God and to cooperate with his divine plan and to wage the war against sin, error, and the spirit of the world.

We now pray both through the intercession Saint Joseph and the Blessed Mother, that they may help us reverence and protect the gift of faith and to wage war against the enemies of salvation in love and truth. In heeding this call of reverence, we pray that we may be faithful to the voice of their son Jesus in this life so that we may be embraced fully by him in the life of the world to come.

O blessed Joseph, happy man, to whom it was given not only to see and to hear that God Whom many kings longed to see, and saw not, to hear, and heard not; but also to carry Him in your arms, to embrace Him, to clothe Him, and guard and defend Him.

Saint Joseph, Reverent Father and Protector of Holy Church, pray for us!

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About Fr. Matthew MacDonald 10 Articles
Fr. Matthew MacDonald is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. Ordained in 2014, he has an undergraduate degree in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, as well as a Bachelors in Sacred Theology, Masters in Divinity, and Masters of Arts in Theology from Saint Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York. He is currently assigned as parochial vicar at Saint Mary’s Church in Washingtonville, New York.


  1. I listened to an interview on Lifesite News where Milo Yiannopoulos has had a conversion of heart, and aspires to live chastely by placing himself under the protection of St. Joseph. St. Joseph, pray for all God’s children who need the same protection as you provided the Child Jesus.

  2. Reverence natural and supernatural a fine distinction by Fr MacDonald. Especially the “way we worship Jesus in the Eucharist and the way we worship him at Mass”. Joseph, a holy elderly man, as portrayed in Reni’s painting looked forward to marriage with his betrothed the young lovely maiden Mary. Unaware of God’s plan he seeks to divorce her until the Angel’s report, not fully conscious as Gabriel’s appearance to Mary, rather in a dream. All the angelic appearances to Joseph are in dreams. Mystery that seems to indicate Joseph’s deep faith, a spiritual reverence prone to comply to the content regardless of conveyance. More remarkable, is that a man intent on the delights of the marriage bed surrenders that desire, and as held traditionally assumes celibacy. As does Mary. For myself, a priest Joseph is the first preeminent exemplar of the celibate life and its deeper spiritual meaning. And with that the beauty of divine love, absolutely pure, selfless, intent solely on the good [in Italian I love you, Ti voglio bene, translates I want good for you] of the other. What must initially have seemed to have no rationale for Joseph, that love was nevertheless understood by him as inherently justified, that is, having its own justification. As is our love of Christ, of his presence in the Eucharist, at Mass, and for the other.

  3. Thank you , esp. for also the reverence towards the Fatherly heart of the Holy Father in quoting from his well written Apostolic letter , that reflects how in touch his own heart is with that of The Father in St.Joseph .

    The tenderness and precious pointers in dealing with the unexpected in life , given with much wisdom – hope that many would read same again and again , to bring the honey of compassion and gratitude for the Holy Family , on behalf of all in own lives and generations as well, for all the wounds that need healing in The Blood .

    St.Joseph of the Royal line , very likely would have done so , in holding the Divine Child , well aware of the debts of the carnal evils in the generations , thus being the ‘terror of demons ‘ – those spirits have been on their mission , from The Garden on down , to bring the tail of bestial appetites to make persons ape what is holy to only mock and scorn and destroy same , esp. in the realms of life and marriage !

    Faced with the rotten fruits thrown at the words of The Church and of the Holy Father by the media in its mission to wound the Heart of The Father , may we too be blessed in holiness , to protect and kiss The Divine Child , along with His Blessed Parents , on behalf of every wounded heart as well !

    May the Year of St.Joseph help The Church and families all over to know ever more and live for the True Fatherhood .

    Blessings !

  4. Beautiful article, Father. Pope Francis was wise to dedicate this year to St. Joseph, and by so doing inspire your meditation on what previous popes have said as well as your own contributions. As older parents we will turn to him for that “wisdom and detachment to know when to protect and when to let go” so that our children n can grow in both freedom and virtue in this confusing world. Saint Joseph, pray for us!

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