Saint Joseph: A Loving Defender of Life

by Theresa Cavicchio, OFS

The few references in Sacred Scripture concerning Joseph of Nazareth reveal him as far more a man of action than of words. In fact, nowhere do we find direct quotes which would help us to discern the character of this most unique of men – one tasked with the most unique of responsibilities.

This means that in order to get to know him, we must explore what we can learn from what he did rather than what he said. We turn to Scripture now as we consider Saint Joseph in one of his most important roles: that of a loving defender of life.

In his book Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father, Father Donald Calloway, MIC, cites a quote from Blessed William Joseph Chaminade: “To give life to someone is the greatest of all gifts. To save a life is the next. Who gave life to Jesus? It was Mary. Who saved his life? It was Joseph.”

As the Gospel according to Saint Matthew relates (1:18-25; 2:13 – 18, 22), Saint Joseph did in fact save the lives of both Mary and Jesus, guided by dreams featuring heavenly messengers. A loving, devoted husband and foster father, he defended the Virgin Mother and the Son of God, protecting them from numerous dangers.

The Virgin Mother
Upon learning of Mary’s unexpected pregnancy, Joseph at first “decided to divorce her quietly” to spare her shame, at the same time circumventing the possibility of the lethal penalty of stoning. However, when the reassurance of an angel set him on a different path, he acted quickly. He “took his wife into his home,” effectively saving not only Mary’s reputation, but also her life.

The Flight into Egypt
Blinded and enraged by jealousy, Herod lashed out when informed of “the newborn king of the Jews” and ordered the massacre of many infant boys. Another angelic dream message spurred Joseph to take Mary and the Infant Jesus in great haste from Bethlehem “by night.” The journey to Egypt was long, arduous, and fraught with many dangers. Even after their arrival, the challenges of finding safe housing and regular work presented serious obstacles. In the end, saving the lives of Jesus and Mary was a testament to the faith, courage, and resourcefulness of Saint Joseph.

The Return from Egypt
The sojourn in Egypt ended when a third angelic message directed Joseph to return to Israel “for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” Again, Joseph moved quickly to obey but feared returning to Judea because it was ruled by Archelaus, son of Herod. A fourth and final dream prompted Joseph to take his family instead to Galilee, eventually settling them safely in Nazareth.

Underscoring each of these perilous situations from which Joseph saved Jesus and Mary was his deep love for and devotion to them. We can look to Saint Joseph today as a loving defender of life as attested to by a quote from Pope Saint John Paul II cited in Consecration to St. Joseph.

In a 1997 homily delivered at the Shrine of St. Joseph in Kalisz, Poland, the Holy Father stated: “… Joseph of Nazareth, who saved Jesus from the cruelty of Herod, is shown to us in this moment as a great supporter of the cause of the defense of human life, from the first moment of conception to natural death.”

One of the best ways we can honor Saint Joseph on his feast day could be to explore possibilities for life-affirming works of charity we can perform in his name.

In our time, organizations such as the Knights of Columbus follow Saint Joseph’s example in defense of life. Their wide-ranging programs supporting life include, in part: providing ultrasound machines and other resources to pregnancy centers, supporting refugees worldwide, and implementing programs for special needs individuals of all ages.

Click here for more information on the Knights of Columbus and their numerous works of charity.

The Sisters of Life, a contemplative/active religious Order of women founded by Cardinal John O’Connor in 1991, take a special fourth vow – in addition to poverty, chastity, and obedience – “to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.”

Appropriately named, one volunteer group giving hands-on support to the Sisters and the women they serve is the St. Joseph’s Workers: “men willing to help a vulnerable pregnant woman by building cribs, moving furniture, and other ‘handyman’ services,” as stated on the Order’s website. Undoubtedly, Saint Joseph would approve.

Click here for more information on the Sisters and their various outreach opportunities.

With Saint Joseph, loving defender of life, as our guide, we close with an appropriate prayer provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

A Prayer to St. Joseph, Defender of Life

Dearest St. Joseph, at the word of an angel, you lovingly took Mary into your home.
As God’s humble servant, you guided the Holy Family on the road to Bethlehem,
welcomed Jesus as your own son in the shelter of a manger,
and fled far from your homeland for the safety of both Mother and Child.

We praise God that as their faithful protector, you never hesitated to sacrifice
for those entrusted to you. May your example inspire us also
to welcome, cherish, and safeguard God’s most precious gift of life.

Help us to faithfully commit ourselves to the service and defense of human life –
especially where it is vulnerable or threatened.
Obtain for us the grace to do the will of God in all things.

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