Saint Joseph: Most Just and Most Chaste

Sermon, Feast of Saint Joseph, Saint Peter Church, Steubenville, March 19th, 2021.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The liturgical texts for the Feast of St. Joseph emphasizes one of his virtues more than all the rest: namely, his justice. Justus ut palma florébit: sicut cedrus Líbani multiplicábitur / The just man shall flourish like the palm tree; he shall grow like a cedar of Lebanon, the schola chanted in the introit. And in the Gospel we heard: Joseph autem, vir ejus, cum esset justus et nollet eam tradúcere, vóluit occúlte dimíttere eam / Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately. In the Preface I will sing: Qui et vir justus, a te Deíparæ Vírgini Sponsus est datus: et fidélis servus ac prudens, super Famíliam tuam est constitútus / who, being a just man, was given by Thee as a Spouse to the Virgin Mother of God, and, as a faithful and prudent servant was set over Thy Family.

Saint Joseph is the just man. 

The iconographic tradition puts more emphasis on another one of his virtues: chastity. He is depicted with a lily the symbol of purity. Joseph is resplendent with the spiritual beauty of chastity.

I believe that there is a deep connection between these two virtues: justice and chastity, and that Saint Joseph can be our exemplar of that connection, and a powerful intercessor, helping us to develop both virtues together.

Saint Joseph was of the House of David. Now, King David shows the impossibility of being just without being chaste: it happened that David arose from his bed after noon, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and he saw from the roof of his house a woman washing herself, over against him: and the woman was very beautiful. Thus begins the terrible story that we know so well. David’s disordered lust, his lack of chastity, leads him to grievous injustice against his loyal subject Urias the Hethite. David’s injustice brings a curse upon. The Prophet Nathan says to him:

Thus saith the Lord the God of Israel: I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee from the hand of Saul, 8 And gave thee thy master’s house and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and Juda: and if these things be little, I shall add far greater things unto thee. 9 Why therefore hast thou despised the word of the Lord, to do evil in my sight? Thou hast killed Urias the Hethite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. 10 Therefore the sword shall never depart from thy house, because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Urias the Hethite to be thy wife. 11 Thus saith the Lord: Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thy own house, and I will take thy wives before thy eyes and give them to thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. 12 For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing in the sight of all Israel, and in the sight of the sun.

The curse goes into fulfillment to the great ruin of the whole people.

Many of the injustices that we see in our own time stem from lust. Divorce—in which persons break a most solemn promise to the lasting injury of their children—often comes from lust. Abortion—in which millions of innocent babies are savagely murdered—is kept legal largely because people want to be able to fornicate with whomever they wish, without carrying for the offspring of their lust. How harmful to the common good of the Church have been the scandals of sexual abuse by priests and prelates—sins which are against both chastity and justice at once. How many souls have been lost on account of such foul hypocrisy and evil?

Lust is particularly dangerous to superiors, to rulers, to those who are put over others for the sake of the common good. Lust draws them to abuse their subjects for their own private good to the destruction of the community. Lust inclines rulers to tyranny: to seeing their subjects as being ordered to the private good of the ruler.

Saint Joseph is the great exemplar of another way. Being most chaste, he is most just. He does not become the husband of our Lady and the foster father of our Lord for any private advantage, but only for the common good of the Holy Family.

I think that St Joseph had a difficult mission has head of the Holy Family. He must have known that our Lord and our Lady were superior to him in every way but one. 

His wife was the Mother of God: she gave birth to her own creator. She was the holy of holies; the Ark of the covenant; there was no spot of sin or imperfection in her; she was the height too high for human thought; the depth too deep for the minds of angels; she sustained the Sustainer of all, and contained the Creator who contains all things.

And Joseph’s foster-son was God Himself. The Incarnate Word, born of the Father before all ages, light from light, true God from true God. Infinitely powerful, infinitely wise, infinitely holy. The creator and master of the entire universe. 

And yet, in the Holy Family Saint Joseph was placed over both Mary and Jesus. As far as authority in that family goes, he was superior to both of them. He must have ruled over them while deeply honoring them, full of reverence and holy fear.

Let us ask Saint Joseph for his powerful intercession. Let us pray for the beautiful virtue of chastity, which enables us to serve others honorably and benevolently, with reverence for the image of God that they bear. Let us pray especially for those who are placed above others in authority—both spiritual and temporal. May they receive something of the chastity and justice of St Joseph. 

We beseech thee, O Lord, that we may be helped by the merits of the Spouse of Thy Most Holy Mother: so that what we cannot obtain of ourselves, may be given to us through his intercession: Who livest and reignest, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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