Matt C. Abbott
October 23, 2009
Go to St. Joseph
By Matt C. Abbott

If you're in the mood for edifying and enlightening reading, check out Go to Joseph, a newly-published little book (literally: 4 1/8" x 6 1/4" paperback, 160 pages) authored by the late Father Richard W. Gilsdorf of the Diocese of Green Bay.

With recommendations by Catholic personalities Joanna Bogle, Father "Rocky" Francis Joseph Hoffman, JCD, and Mike Aquilina, and with a foreword by Bishop David Ricken, Go to Joseph contains the following chapters:

Chapter One, The Man by the Manger . . . .1

Chapter Two, The Just Man: Who is He? . . .7

Chapter Three, The Testing . . . . . . . .15

Chapter Four, Joseph the Most Chaste Spouse . 27

Chapter Five, The Greatest Journey . . . . . 39

Chapter Six, From Bethlehem to Nazareth . . 53

Chapter Seven, The Earthly Trinity . . . . . 67

Chapter Eight, Patron and Patriarch . . . . . 81

Chapter Nine, The Mystery of Silence . . . . 87

Appendix 1, Suggested Readings . . . . . .107

Appendix 2, Prayers to St. Joseph . . . . . .111

Appendix 3, Homily of Pope Benedict XVI for the Feast of St. Joseph . . . .121

Thanks to Brian O'Neel of CatholicWord.com for helping me obtain permission to reprint the first chapter of Go to Joseph (footnotes are included, but not endnotes), as follows:

Chapter One

The Man by the Manger

I write these first words of this cherished task late on Christmas Eve. Soon, at Midnight Mass, we will once more retell and renew the tenderest mystery. All eyes will focus on the crib.

For the Christmas pageant, our first graders will play shepherds and, followed by two of their number chosen to represent Mary and Joseph, will escort the statue of the Infant and place Him in the manger.

After an inimitable "Silent Night," the children will have a few questions posed to them. Who is this Baby, and who is this beautiful lady? Who is that man standing beside the manger?

Our children will know that man quite well since he has been mentioned often during Advent, both in the classroom and from the pulpit. This may not be the case everywhere. He has often been neglected, and the importance of his sublime mission has been ignored. (Little wonder in an age when even Mary's role has been less than fully appreciated.)

The purpose of this little book, therefore, is to concentrate on St. Joseph, the "just man," as St. Matthew calls him. On this Christmas night, the person and mission of Joseph come into sharp focus.

The rest of these meditations will focus on his role in relation to Mary and Jesus. In the final analysis, the reader is encouraged to think back to that mystic midnight by the crib and consider how it all centers there.

Indeed, in light of this night, let us begin by mentioning one aspect of Joseph's life.

First (as medieval theologians and modern popes have well noted), Joseph fulfills the type of that other Joseph, 1 the patriarch whose life is so touchingly presented in the final chapters of Genesis.

The first Joseph, the beloved favored son of Jacob, was forced to go into Egypt. He was guided by heavenly dreams that he interpreted with precision, and then Pharaoh summoned him to interpret his own perplexing dreams.

    (1. According to Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, a biblical type is a "biblical person, thing, action, or event that foreshadows new truths, new actions, or new events. In the Old Testament, Melchizedech and Jonah are types of Jesus Christ. A likeness must exist between the type and the archetype, but the latter is always greater. Both are independent of each other. God's call for the return of the Israelites from Pharaoh's bondage typifies the return of Jesus Christ from His flight into Egypt. In the New Testament the destruction of Jerusalem, foretold by Christ, was the antitype of the end of the world.")

One of these foresaw seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. Joseph counseled the stockpiling and careful guarding of grain during the years of plenty for prudent, cautious distribution in the period of famine. Pharaoh trusted his interpretation, took his advice, and made Joseph "grand vizier," second only to himself in all Egypt. "He made him lord of his house and ruler of all his possessions." The hungry were sent to Joseph with the words, "Go to Joseph! What he says to you, do."

It is true that the early Church Fathers occasionally spoke of the first Joseph as a type of the second, but the first major comparison to this effect came from St. Bernard of Clairvaux.2 Since that time, the popes have built on this firm foundation.

    (2. A Frenchman, St. Bernard (10901153) was the primary founder of the Cistercian order and a hugely influential man in the Church of his time. He was canonized a mere 21 years after his death, and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pius VIII in 1830.)

Let us reflect on two passages as examples.

In a special decree titled Quemadmodum Deus, promulgated by the Sacred Congregation of Rites on behalf of Bl. Pius IX, the Pope declared Joseph "Patron of the Universal Church." In this document, he refers to Joseph of Egypt as a type of Joseph of Nazareth:

    'As almighty God appointed Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob, over all the land of Egypt to save grain for the people, so when the fullness of time was come and He was about to send to earth His only-begotten Son, the Savior of the world, He chose another Joseph, of whom the first had been the type, and He made him the lord and chief of His household and possessions, the guardian of His choicest treasures.... Him whom countless kings and prophets had desired to see, Joseph not only saw but conversed with, and embraced in paternal affection, and kissed. He most diligently reared Him whom the faithful were to receive as the bread that came down from heaven whereby they might obtain eternal life.'

In his encyclical of August 15, 1889, Quamquam Pluries, Pope Leo XIII develops the type:

    'There was even a more evident similarity when by the [pharaoh's] order, [Joseph] was given supreme power over the entire kingdom. When calamity brought on a deficient harvest and a scarcity of grain, he exercised such excellent foresight in behalf of the Egyptians and their neighbors that the [pharaoh] decreed he should be styled "savior of the world." Thus in that ancient patriarch we may recognize the distinct image of St. Joseph. As the first caused the prosperity of his master's domestic interests and at the same time rendered great services to the whole kingdom, so the second, destined to be the guardian of the Christian religion, should be regarded as the protector and defender of the Church, which is truly the house of the Lord and the kingdom of God on earth.'

In the atmosphere of Christmas, however, we can go beyond these statements to add some further details of comparison.

Keeping vigil over the Child, our Joseph is truly patriarch of a "new Genesis."3 Guided by dreams, Joseph stands beside Jesus, the new Adam, and Mary, the new Eve. As He Himself will one day reveal, Jesus is "the living Bread come down from heaven." The flesh and blood of the Son of David will be food indeed and drink indeed for the life of a starving world.

    (3. Keep in mind, the biblical account of the first Joseph takes place in Genesis.)

Joseph has arranged this birth in Bethlehem, the City of David (since he is of the House of David), and it is through Joseph that Jesus is legally a son of David. Here on Christmas in Bethlehem (which is Hebrew for "house of bread"), the Bread of Life lies personified and incarnate. His parents place him in a manger, which is, precisely, a food trough. Joseph will defend and protect this living Bread of Heaven for the life of the world.



St. Joseph, pray for us!

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He's been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.


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