The Theology of St. Joseph

Saint Josephs Paternity of the Son of God

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By José Antonio Varela Vidal

ROME, MARCH 19, 2012 ( Italian Father Tarcisio Stramare and Brazilian Father Alberto Santiago of the Congregation of Oblates of Saint Joseph, were appointed by their Congregation to the work of the Josephite Movement. On the feast of Saint Joseph, March 19, ZENIT interviewed these two theologians. 

ZENIT: What can you tell us about this research center you direct?

Father Tarcisio: It’s called the Josephite Movement and it was founded in 1983 by Father Angelo Renero. Its objective is to make the figure of Saint Joseph known. It is a commitment of the Congregation to open itself and put its charism at the disposition of others.

ZENIT: Let’s talk about Saint Joseph, whose best known feast is celebrated on March 19. Why is he a model for fathers of families?

Father Tarcisio: Because he was a man who put himself at the service of his family. He is the one who guides, it’s true, but at the same time he is the littlest one because he serves with love. He did not beget Jesus, but he is his father and in the Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos, Blessed John Paul II defends the full authenticity of Joseph’s paternity.

ZENIT: Placing ourselves in the Jewish tradition and in daily life in Nazareth, what did Jesus learn from his father?

Father Tarcisio: He learned experience, which is something very different from speculative knowledge. He learned about human life, because he was truly a child, a youth, a worker. He learned to talk, to pray, to read the word of God next to his parents. And this is very important.

ZENIT: Did Joseph, like Mary, “keep all these things in his heart?”

Father Tarcisio: The Gospel doesn’t mention it, but he clearly meditated. We are doing a theological study on the artistic representations that have Joseph with a book, as Mary is also seen when she receives the angel, to show that she saw in the will of God what she should do. Also in iconography we see Joseph reading a book; he was not only a worker, but read and sought to understand what he should do to carry out the will of God. Redemptoris Custos reiterates that he was “with” Mary, which makes it clear that he meditated everything, with her, in his heart.

ZENIT: In paintings and images he is seen with a flower, at other times with a staff that flowers.

Father Tarcisio: The staff is the flowering branch of the almond tree that God made to flower to choose the high priest Aaron, as the custodian of the Tabernacle in Numbers 17:23. Now it is Joseph whom God has chosen directly as “Custodian” of a more precious tabernacle, which is Jesus. We see that in Hebrew the almond tree means “vigilant” and it is the first flower that appears in spring and alerts that the season has arrived. That is why it is Saint Joseph who alerts us that the Incarnation has happened. If we look at the pictures up to the end of the 19th century, it was always thus, but painters haven’t understood well and introduced the iris or lily which signifies purity.

ZENIT: What do the Fathers of the Church write about Saint Joseph?

Father Tarcisio: The Fathers of the Church, up to Saint Bernard, speak with great respect of Saint Joseph. Let’s keep in mind that they didn’t have the theology manuals of today, but only the Gospel and primarily Matthew. Then, with the passing of the centuries the apocryphal Gospels have influenced a lot, with their legends and fantasies. For example, here in Europe, he is represented as elderly, more asleep than in an active role.

ZENIT: And, from where does devotion to a good death come?

Father Tarcisio: This arose because people are interested in dying well. If he died in the midst of Jesus and Mary, what is better than to die like that? It is a devotion, not theology, but this devotion should lead us to the source itself.

ZENIT: Joseph’s faith was fundamental, but it’s believed that he had doubts, especially about Mary.

Father Tarcisio: No, on the contrary, he was the patriarch par excellence, the splendor of the patriarchs, more than Abraham who was the Father of faith. He had no crises, but yes difficulty, because he was faced with the mystery, faced with something that was so great for him that he wondered: What do I do here? If God has chosen her, do I have a right to have her? Or if he was the Son of God, do I have the right to say he is my son? Wouldn’t I be deceiving everyone? Faced with the question of what he should do, he thought of leaving, but God tells him in a dream that he must stay and be the child’s father, husband of Mary, and to name him Jesus and recognize him, which was important because only a father could do so. In this way Jesus was also of David’s descent thanks to his father, not his mother.

ZENIT: Hence, he is a model of faith?

Father Tarcisio: Yes, because he accepted and did the will of God. He lived what is called a pilgrimage of faith, a journey that in the measure that one knows what God wants, it is done. It’s not only believing in truth, but complying with it through faith.

ZENIT: From all that you have read and discovered, what best describes Saint Joseph?

Father Tarcisio: I discovered his participation in the plan of salvation, and that he is a key personage in the Incarnation. Without him, neither the Incarnation nor the Redemption, which are very united, could have taken place.

ZENIT: In the parish of Saint Joseph on the Aurelia, which you have built here in Rome, there is a tapestry a gift of Pope Paul VI, isn’t there?

Father Tarcisio: Yes, it was made for an anniversary of the proclamation of Saint Joseph as Patron of the universal Church, declared by Pius IX, but it was not exhibited in Saint Peters. As I learned that it was stored, one day when Paul VI asked me what he could give me for the work I had done in the Commission of the New Vulgate, I asked him for the tapestry and he gave it to me. Now it is venerated in our church and in this beautiful work we can see Joseph looking up, with two angels by his side: one who shows him the decree naming him and the other that presents him with the Church for his protection. 

ZENIT: We can be sure that your work will continue, because you have been accompanied for some years by Father Alberto. We now ask him: Why did Saint Joseph Marello choose Saint Joseph as patron of the Congregation?

Father Alberto: It was the 19th century, in which an infinity of Congregations developed under his patronage because of the declaration of him as a universal patron. And the founder saw in Saint Joseph the way to serve the Church, as a model of union with Jesus and of service to the Church.

ZENIT: And what did he advise his sons about this figure?

Father Alberto: In the educational field he asked us to pray to Saint Joseph to look after us and our students. And to us, religious, he said we should carry out our ministry as he did, in profound union with Jesus, serving and doing the will of God. That he should be our model.

ZENIT: You have been helping Father Tarcisio. What new thing have you found in this work?

Father Alberto: I have never doubted Saint Joseph’s importance. But from this work beside Father Tarcisio I have obtained deeper knowledge; it is like a window that opens and I see how it opens ever more. For example, the theological aspect of Saint Joseph, because we in the Congregation have always prayed to him, but it’s different when you discover the foundation, which is not only something personal or sentimental, but which is related with the root of the faith. As a priest, it’s something new that strengthens me in faith and in trust.

ZENIT: And has Saint Joseph worked a miracle for you?

Father Tarcisio: His friendship. It’s what benefits me most because he has me under his protection and that’s the most beautiful miracle. I pray to him because he is my director, he is the one who gives orders and I carry them out.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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