The Seven Sundays of St. Joseph

The Seven Sundays of St. Joseph is a devotion to the patron of the universal Church. On the seven Sundays preceding his feast, March 19, the faithful have traditionally contemplated a series of circumstances—seven sorrows and joys—in his life so that they might confront the joys and sorrows of their own lives as he did.

First Sunday

Now the birth of Jesus took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. But Joseph her husband, being a just man and not wishing to expose her to reproach, resolved to send her away privately. But while he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying: "Do not be afraid, Joseph, son of David, to take Mary your wife. For that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus; for he will save his people from their sins." Now all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son; and they shall call his name Emmanuel" (which means "God with us").When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took his wife. Until the angel appeared, Joseph suffered immensely. His sorrow was as great as his love for the virgin Mary. The Fathers of the Church comment on this scene in different ways. The interpretation that St. Thomas Aquinas gives to Joseph's perplexity corresponds to the reality of the situation. He explains: "Joseph wanted to leave Mary not because he was suspicious but because, out of humility, he was afraid to live beside such great sanctity. That is why the angel told him, `Do not be afraid'." Joseph felt that he was nothing compared to the incomprehensible mystery that surrounded Mary. To his great sorrow, he determined to withdraw discretely. But he received from the angel confirmation that what had happened to her was God's work and that, besides, he too had a part, a mission, in the mystery: "You shall call his name Jesus." In Biblical language this expression meant that he was going to be Jesus' father according to the law. Knowing this, St. Joseph was filled with the joy of his vocation.

Prayer: O chaste spouse of most holy Mary, glorious St. Joseph: the trouble and anguish in your heart were great when you were perplexed over sending away your immaculate spouse; yet your joy was immense when the mystery of the Incarnation was revealed to you by the angel. By this sorrow and this joy we ask you to comfort our souls, now and in the sorrows of our final hour, with the joy of a good life and a holy death like your own in the company of Jesus and Mary.

Second Sunday

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that a census of the whole world should be taken.... And Joseph also went from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judaea to the town of David, which is called Bethlehem—because he was of the house and lineage of David—to register, with Mary his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. The mystery of the Incarnation is veiled in this humble scene. Joseph loves Jesus and suffers seeing him who he knows is the Word, the King of the universe, lying in a manger. He would give him anything and everything, yet he has nothing to give. The difference between what he would like to do and his poverty places his soul in great distress. But then he grows calm. His sorrow recedes. He renews his dedication to God and carries out the divine command to love him with his whole heart, with his whole soul, and with his whole strength. He gives himself completely to God who lies in his arms. St. Josemarίa has written: There is great simplicity about his birth. Our Lord comes without fanfare. No one knows about him. On Earth only Mary and Joseph share in the divine adventure. And then the shepherds who received the message from the angels. And later on, the wise men from the East. They were the only witnesses of this transcendental event which unites Heaven and Earth, God and man... The greatness of this Child who is God! His Father is the God who made Heaven and Earth; and there he is, in a manger, "because there was no room at the inn"—there was nowhere else for the Lord of all creation. Our father and lord St. Joseph...apparently has a very minor role in the Epiphany—as usual. I can imagine him recollected in prayer, lovingly protecting the Son of God made man who has been entrusted to his paternal care. With the marvelous refinement of one who does not live for himself, the holy patriarch spends himself in silent prayer and effective service.... If you want my advice, which I have never tired of repeating these many years, ite ad Joseph: "Go to Joseph." He will show us definite ways, both human and divine, to approach Jesus. And soon you will dare, as he did, "to take up in his arms, kiss, clothe and look after" this child God who has been born to us. As a homage of their veneration, the Magi offered gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus. But Joseph gave his whole youthful and loving heart.

Prayer: Blessed patriarch, glorious St. Joseph, chosen to serve as father of the Word made flesh, the sorrow which you felt when you saw the infant Jesus born into poverty was turned into heavenly joy when you heard the song of the angels and when you saw the glory of that resplendent night. By this sorrow and this joy, we ask you to obtain for us that, after he course of this life, we hear angelic songs of praise and rejoice in the splendors of heavenly glory.

Third Sunday

"And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb." Joseph teaches us to deal confidently with the Word made flesh. St. Teresa of Avila reveals her great love for the patriarch. She tells us her personal experience: I took for my advocate and lord the glorious St. Joseph and commended myself earnestly to him; and I found that this father and lord delivered me both from this trouble and also from other and greater troubles concerning my honor and the loss of my soul, and that he gave me greater blessings than I could ask from him. I do not remember even now that I have ever asked anything from him which he has failed to grant. I am astonished at the great favors which God has bestowed on me through this blessed saint... I beg for the love of God that any-one who does not believe me will put what I say to the test, and he will see by experience what great advantages come from his commending himself to this glorious patriarch and having devotion to him. Those who practice prayer should have a special affection for him always. I do not know how anyone can think of the queen of the angels, during the time that she suffered so much with the child Jesus, without giving thanks to St. Joseph for the way he helped them. If anyone cannot find a master to teach him how to pray, let him take this glorious saint as his master, and he will not go astray.

Prayer: Obedient follower of the law of God, glorious St. Joseph, the precious blood which flowed at the circumcision of the infant Jesus caused your heart to be pierced, but the name of Jesus gave new life and filled you with peace. By this sorrow and this joy, obtain for us that by struggling against the slavery of sin we die in joy with the most holy name of Jesus in our hearts and on our lips.

Fourth Sunday

And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord") and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons." And there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. And he came into the temple by inspiration of the Spirit. And when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God, saying: "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word. For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples: a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel." And his father and mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary, his mother, "Behold: this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign that shall be contradicted. And a sword shall pierce your own soul also that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." Simeon tells them that Jesus will be a sign of contradiction, a standard which people will either follow or oppose. And he adds that the Son's sufferings will be intimately connected with his Mother's sorrows. The sorrows of Jesus and Mary are made known. This revelation enables St. Joseph to glimpse more clearly the mystery of the Son's cross. It is impossible to guess the depth of his suffering. He always wanted to protect the child whom he loved with the greatest of fatherly love, for, as St. Pius X says, he is "the virgin father of Jesus." Now he understands with new insight all the Old Testament prophecies related to Christ's passion. St. Joseph's mind and heart have been marked by the cross. As Mary offered her Son on the cross, so did St. Joseph. This offering constitutes the holy patriarch's greatest act of generosity. "It took all the generosity of his love to offer Jesus and Mary to God. It was his supreme sacrifice since he loved them immeasurably more than his own life."

Prayer: O glorious St. Joseph, model of faithful fulfillment of God's plans, the prophecy of Simeon about the future sufferings of Jesus and Mary brought mortal fear to you but at the same time filled you with blessed joy for the salvation and glorious resurrection which he prophesied would follow for numberless souls. By this sorrow and this by obtain for us that we may be among those who through the merits of Jesus and the intercession of the Virgin Mother are to rise in glory.

Fifth Sunday

Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said: "Rise, and take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you. For Herod will search for the child to destroy him."So he rose, and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod, that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled, "Out of Egypt I have called my son." St. John Chrysostom comments on this scene: On hearing this, Joseph was not shocked, nor did he say: "This is strange. You yourself made it known not long ago that he would save his people, and now you are incapable even of saving him—we have to flee, to set out on a long journey and spend a long while in a strange place; that contradicts your promise." Joseph does not think in this way, for he is a man who trusts God. Nor does he ask when he will return, ever, though the angel left that time vague: "Stay there until I tell you to return." Joseph does not object; he obeys and believes and joyfully accepts all the trials. St. Joseph faithfully fulfills God's will. St. Josemarίa adds: The Gospels give us a picture of St. Joseph as a remarkably sound man who was in no way frightened or scared of life. On the contrary, he faced up to problems, dealt with difficult situations and showed responsibility and initiative in whatever he was asked to do. I don't agree with the traditional picture of St. Joseph as an old man, even though it may have been prompted by a desire to emphasize the perpetual virginity of Mary. I see him as a strong young man, perhaps a few years older than our Lady, but in the prime of his life and work. You don't have to wait to be old or lifeless to practice the virtue of chastity. Purity comes from love; and the strength and gaiety of youth are no obstacle for noble love. Joseph had a young heart and a young body when he married Mary, when he learned of the mystery of her divine motherhood, when he lived in her company, respecting the integrity God wished to give the world.

Prayer: Watchful guardian of the incarnate Son of God, glorious St. Joseph, you gave your toil in supporting and serving the Son of the Most High, especially when you were forced to flee into Egypt; yet you felt great joy having God himself always with you and seeing the idols of Egypt fall to the ground. By this sorrow and this joy obtain for us that we keep the infernal tyrant far away from us, especially by flight from occasions of sin, and that every idol of earthly affection fall from our hearts; and being wholly employed in the service of Jesus and Mary let us live and happily die for them alone.

Sixth Sunday

But when Herod died, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Rise, and take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel. For those who sought the child's life are dead." So he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But hearing that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there; and being warned in a dream, he withdrew into Galilee. And he went and settled in a town called Nazareth. After the sorrow of not being allowed to go to Judea, St. Joseph experiences the joy of returning to Nazareth. His joy increases as the days of Christ's hidden life go by. The home life of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph resembled that of their neighbors. Time was spent in family life. Sometimes Joseph would contemplate the Child "in the most pure arms of Mary, the blessed Mother. She held God veiled in flesh, and pressed her lips in sweet kisses on the flesh of the One who is true God and true man" (Paulinus of Aquilea). And St. Joseph, as F. de Eximensis so charmingly says, "showed delight and joy in providing for the infant Savior's needs, bathing him, reverently handling the small limbs of his precious body, changing his clothes, and doing other things that little children require."Contemplating Joseph's life in the company of Jesus and Mary, we can make our own the words of a prayer composed by Pius XII: St. Joseph, grant that according to your example we keep our eyes fixed on our Mother Mary, your most sweet spouse, who silently used to do her weaving in a corner of your workshop, with a smile on her lips. Grant that we not lose sight of Jesus, who busied himself with you at your carpenter's bench. Thus may we be able to lead a peaceful and holy life on earth, as a prelude to that eternally happy life which awaits us in Heaven forever and ever. Amen.

Prayer: Glorious St. Joseph, you marveled to have the King of Heaven subject to your commands; though your consolation in leading him out of Egypt was troubled by fear of Archelaus, nevertheless, being reassured by the angel, you lived at Nazareth with Jesus and Mary. By this sorrow and this joy, obtain for us that our hearts be freed from harmful fears, and that we have peace of conscience living in security with Jesus and Mary and dying in their company.

Seventh Sunday

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing that he was in the caravan, they went a day's journey before it occurred to them to look for him among their relatives and acquaintances. And when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem in search of him. After three days, they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who were listening to him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. We can easily understand Mary's and Joseph's sorrow on realizing that Jesus had disappeared. They were filled with apprehension as they searched for their son. Those sorrowful days were a premonition of the time that would intervene between Calvary and the Resurrection. Suddenly, they hear his dear voice. There he is! They are greatly comforted, and their pent-up emotions overflow with great joy. In this scene, St. Luke uses the word "parents" a number of times to designate the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. But this word has its deepest meaning when Mary tells her Son: "Behold, your father and I have been seeking you in sorrow." "Father." That was the word St. Joseph would love to hear most. He would smile and gaze fondly at Jesus when he called him "Father." As St. Josemarίa wrote: "Joseph loved Jesus as a father loves his son and showed his love by giving him the best he had. Joseph, caring for the child as he had been commanded, made Jesus a craftsman, transmitting his own professional skill to him. So the neighbors of Nazareth will call Jesus both faber and fabri filius, the craftsman and the son of the craftsman." Jesus worked in Joseph's workshop and by Joseph's side. Grace must have worked through Joseph, so that he was able to fulfill this task of the human upbringing of the Son of God! "For Jesus must have resembled Joseph: in his way of working, in the features of his character, in his way of speaking. Jesus' realism, his eye for detail, the way he sat at table and broke bread, his preference for using everyday situations to give doctrine—all this reflects his childhood and the influence of Joseph." Afterwards, the Gospel says that Jesus "went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things carefully in her heart."

Prayer: Pattern of holiness, glorious St. Joseph, when you lost the Child Jesus through no fault of your own, with great sorrow you sought him for three days, until you rejoiced exceedingly in finding him in the temple among the doctors. By this sorrow and this joy, we earnestly ask you to prevent us from ever losing Jesus by mortal sin; but if through supreme misfortune we lose him, grant that we seek him with untiring sorrow, until we find him again and can live in friendship with him. Let us enjoy his presence in Heaven, and there with you to sing his divine mercies.

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