You may not have realized it, but today, March 19th, is a pretty big day for the Catholic religion. It’s St. Joseph’s Day, also sometimes called the Feast of St. Joseph, and it’s a day to honor, well, St. Joseph, of course. Even if you know a lot about the Catholic religion, you may have forgotten many details about St. Joseph — we can’t blame you, there a lot of saints to remember out there. So if you’re wracking your brain asking yourself, Who was St. Joseph?!, you’re definitely not alone.
To put it simply, St. Joseph was the husband of the Virgin Mary, and the “Earthly” father of Jesus Christ. Now, obviously, Jesus is the child of God according to the Bible, and Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to him. So while St. Joseph is not Jesus’ actual father, he was a father figure for Jesus when he was on Earth. Kind of like his adoptive father, if you will.
The story of St. Joseph first appears in the Bible in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and in Matthew, his lineage can be traced back to King David. Catholic Straight Answers says, “Because of this ancestry, St. Joseph is the linkage between the old covenant made with Abraham and Moses, and the new, perfect, and everlasting covenant which will be made through the blood of Jesus.”
The Bible says that Joseph was born circa 100 B.C. and died in Israel circa 1 A.D. For someone who had a very important role in the life of Jesus, there is surprisingly little information available about him. There are not many mentions of Joseph in the Bible — the 13 New Testament Books written by Paul don’t include Joseph, and neither does the Gospel of Mark.
You might be wondering how Joseph dealt with the fact that his wife was pregnant with the child of God. As it turns out, it wasn’t a super smooth ride! According to the Bible, Joseph wanted to quietly divorce Mary after he found out she was pregnant — he wanted to do this quietly because, if done publicly, Mary probably would have been stoned to death.
When he first found out that she was with child, he did not realize how this child came about. But then an angel came to Joseph, and told him that the child Mary carried was the son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit. He stayed with Mary after that.
That wasn’t the only time an angel told Joseph something important. After Jesus was born, an angel came to him again to warn him and Mary about King Herod of Judaea and his plans for violence against Jesus. Joseph took Mary and Jesus and fled to Egypt to protect them. They came back to the Holy Land when an angel told him Herod had died. So yeah, you can say that Joseph did a lot to protect Jesus.
The Bible is not clear about how Joseph died, but many believe it happened before Jesus’ ministry began. Although he was already a patron saint of Mexico, Canada, and Belgium, Joseph was declared patron of the universal church in 1870 by Pope Pius IX.
Today, Catholics and Christians celebrate St. Joseph’s Day all over the world on March 19th with a feast. In Sicily, they traditionally serve fava beans, lemons, and breadcrumbs, all of which have symbolic meanings — for example, the breadcrumbs symbolize sawdust, because Joseph was a carpenter (a trade he is believed to have passed on to Jesus). St. Joseph’s Day is a giant feast full of delicious Italian food, but because it occurs during Lent, it does not include meat.
It’s safe to say that a court battle over paternity rights for Jesus would have been pretty rough, if you know what we mean!