For the past 2,000 years of Church history, there’s been an elephant in the room, and his name is St. Joseph.
St. Joseph, an elephant in the room? But we talk about him all the time!
Do we? How well does the average practicing Catholic know St. Joseph? Most regard him and elephants in much the same way: as pleasant, benign, and cuddly figures that cast a large shadow but have little to do with our everyday lives. And why should they? They’re quiet and harmless. Never mind those sharp-tipped tusks.
But in ancient India, kings had a very different idea about elephants. Elephants were animals of war. Their massive presence cut a swath through enemy lines, tusks impaling attackers as their feet crushed oncoming ranks. This is exactly the role St. Joseph was made for, but tenfold! He’s the Guardian of Virgins. The Terror of Demons. He’s God’s highest-ranking general. And we’ve put him in a corner.
A pity, since St. Joseph is the key to the battle for marriage and the post-Christian world.
If you’ve relegated St. Joseph to the corner of your life and artistic work, you have a critical mission. The world needs St. Joseph, and Catholic artists are uniquely equipped to lead the charge!
Are you ready to be a warrior for St. Joseph? Here’s what you need to know.
The Hidden Truth About St. Joseph
When you think of a warrior general, what do you imagine? Someone strong? A man in his prime? A leader more than capable of defending women and children from the enemies surrounding them?
More importantly…do you picture that man as St. Joseph?
Artistic tradition and stories passed through the ages hardly render St. Joseph worthy of the title Terror of Demons. He looks more like Mary’s great-grandfather than the stalwart defender who led his family through blistering deserts to escape a homicidal king.
But why does it matter? Does it truly make a difference whether St. Joseph is depicted as young or old?
Definitely. The hidden truth about St. Joseph speaks volumes to our culture about fatherhood, masculine virtue, and the role of the family. The lies we believe about St. Joseph speak to those things, too–and those lies have put us in chains. We as Catholic artists claim to uphold beauty, goodness, and truth, don’t we? If the truth matters, then we’ve got to set the record straight.
Especially since Catholic artists spread the lies in the first place.
3 Lies Catholics Believe About St. Joseph–and How Artists Helped to Spread Them
So what are the lies, how did Catholic artists spread them, and how bad are the consequences?
Lie #1: “St. Joseph was too old to be a protector for Jesus and Mary.”
Although the Church has never ruled on St. Joseph’s age, evidence places him in his late teens or early twenties at his marriage. St. Joseph led Mary and Jesus 65 miles into Egypt, then back–and he did it all on foot. He worked day after day as a carpenter. He provided for his family long before modern conveniences made it easy.
St. Joseph was well-acquainted with sweaty, back-breaking work. That, after all, is what it took to be the head of the Holy Family.
It’s a job only a young man could do.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with being elderly, but when we cast an old man in a young man’s role, we miss the message God has for us. In the Holy Family, God gave us a physical representation of the spiritual realities in human relationships. Fathers aren’t merely for decorative purposes. We can’t just trot St. Joseph out at Christmas for the Nativity scene. We always need his protection, and families always need protective fathers.
More and more, society would like us to imagine fathers as nice but unnecessary members of the family–or if we must have fathers, then we must strip them of everything that makes them fatherly. The devil tells us we don’t need a protective male presence in our lives. Protective men are toxic men. We need weak men. Weak men or none at all. Strong women and weak men are what it takes to run a family.
Nothing could be further from the truth. That’s why St. Joseph’s age–his ability to be a protector–matters.
So where does this lie come from, and why have we clung to it through the centuries? Believe it or not, the story of St. Joseph as an old, widowed groom comes from early apocryphal literature. It has as much respectability as the story about Jesus having a wife, but the legend refuses to die for one simple, misguided reason: It was a convenient way to defend Mary’s perpetual virginity.
But at a terrible cost.
Lie #2: “St. Joseph was only chaste because he was too old to be anything else.”
Have you ever noticed that lies tend to snowball? Every child on earth figures this out eventually. One little untruth leads to a tide of misunderstandings, and in order to save face, you have to keep lying. Sooner or later, though, things get out of control, and you need a snow plow to get to the truth again.
The apocryphal St. Joseph story is like that. It snowballed. Before long, generations of artists took up the cry of the old St. Joseph. Gray-bearded, crinkle-eyed St. Josephs abound in church frescoes from one side of Europe to the other. For most of Church history, few gave them a second glance.
But if anyone could see the disconcerting effects of these artistic renderings, it was Ven. Fulton J. Sheen, as he expressed in The World’s First Love. He knew what these artists hoped to accomplish, but he also knew that they had unconsciously stripped St. Joseph of his greatest strength:
Somehow, the assumption had crept in that senility was a better protector of virginity than adolescence. Art thus unconsciously made Joseph a spouse chaste and pure by age rather than by virtue. But this is like assuming that the best way to show that a man would never steal is to picture him without hands…
But more than that, to make Joseph out as old portrays for us a man who had little vital energy left, rather than one who, having it, kept it in chains for God’s sake and for his holy purposes. To make Joseph appear pure only because his flesh had aged is like glorifying a mountain stream that has dried.
Are we really telling our sons that the only way God could ensure that Mary’s husband be chaste was not to give the role to a young man? Are we saying that men don’t have the willpower to be chaste?
For that matter, what are we saying to our daughters? Are we really telling them that Mary could only be chaste if she was married to someone she wouldn’t find attractive? Are we saying that women don’t have the strength to be chaste?
Our country has a serious chastity crisis, and if we think Catholics fare better than the general population, we’re not looking at the facts. The data is out there. We’re losing this war. But what can we expect when we insinuate that the Holy Family itself couldn’t be virtuous in our shoes? If that’s true, why bother trying? Even the Holy Family couldn’t be chaste? What hope do the rest of us have?
But…What do you think could happen in our Church and our world if Catholics knew the real St. Joseph–a young man who loved his Lord and his lady enough to exercise restraint?
Lie #3: “St. Joseph’s marriage to Mary was nothing more than a legal contract.”
We know that apocrypha and art inadvertently marred St. Joseph’s image and put a wedge between society, marriage, and the family. But there’s something else–something we haven’t talked about–that has everything to do with Mary and Joseph.
If you want art that shows the love between Mary and Joseph, you won’t find it in religious tradition. When you look at those old frescoes, do you get the sense that there was love in their marriage? You’d do better to look at Pre-Raphaelite paintings inspired by Arthurian legends if you want the truth. Knights gazing raptly on their lady loves. Kings bending the knee to the queen of their hearts. Men baring their souls for the women they’d give their lives to save.
Most of us eschew this image of Mary and Joseph because it’s too romantic for our tastes. We’ve bought into the culture too much. St. Joseph couldn’t have loved Mary with such passion and had a virginal marriage, we say.
Nonsense. Of any saint who lived, of any man who looked upon the Virgin’s face, none loved her as deeply as St. Joseph. Mary was the most beautiful woman in creation because she was God’s perfect specimen–she was Woman as God intended women to be. She was pure, unadulterated perfection, Eden personified, and St. Joseph lived with her side-by-side. Hers was the last face he saw before sleeping and the first when he opened his eyes. How could we believe he didn’t fall head over heels in love? That he didn’t love her the way a husband loves a wife–regardless of their lack of physical union?
As St. Josemaria Escriva says, “Anyone who cannot understand a love like that knows very little of true love and is a complete stranger to the Christian meaning of chastity.”
When we reduce Mary and Joseph’s marriage to the status of a legal contract, we forget that their marriage is a mirror of Christ’s love for his Church. Are you willing to accept that Jesus sees you as nothing more than a party in a legal document?
The definition of marriage is more than a legal dispute. It’s a battle in history’s oldest war. According to Fatima visionary Sr. Lucia, “The final battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be about marriage and the family.”
We have to show the world what marriage is about. If marriage is just a legal contract, it’s meaningless. If marriage is meaningless, so is gender. If marriage and gender are meaningless, they can mean anything we want…and Satan can strip every reminder of Christ’s love from the face of the earth.
That’s exactly what’s happening. For most of modern society, marriage and gender are about unvirtuous desires and imagined identities. The world has no idea that marriage points to freedom from vice’s chains–to our truest selves.
The World Needs St. Joseph!
The lies are many and mighty. The consequences are devastating. In this Year of St. Joseph, we need Mary’s Most Chaste Spouse–not as we’ve never needed him before, but as we’ve needed him all along. Terror of Demons. Guardian of Virgins. Patron of the Church.
Coincidentally, St. Joseph has another title that’s of interest to Catholic artists. And since the call to arms begins by turning our own hearts to St. Joseph, let’s commit ourselves to his patronage now.
St. Joseph, Model of Artisans, pray for us.
Catholic Artists are St. Joseph’s Standard Bearers
St. Joseph is God’s greatest general, but most of us dismiss him in the post-Christian world’s war for souls. This tactical error has cost us massive ground in the fields of marriage, fatherhood, and the family–and the casualties are all one-sided.
If St. Joseph is going to get anywhere on this battlefield, someone has to blaze a trail, and that someone is us. Catholic artists are St. Joseph’s standard bearers, leading the charge across a ravaged landscape. Our culture is so entrenched in lies that concepts such as truth and even goodness mean nothing to the people who’ve bought into the deceit. The only way to put St. Joseph front and center–with no chance that he’ll be ignored–is to do it with beauty.
Fortunately, that’s our specialty.
Misleading literature and art paved the way for the world’s dismissal of St. Joseph. These attempts at beauty missed the mark and led to the errors we see today. But hope is within grasp–in fact, it looks at you from the mirror every day. It’s you, Catholic artist. If artists got us into this mess, artists can get us out again.
So put on your armor! You’ve been drafted into St. Joseph’s army!
The Single-Most Neglected Weapon in St. Joseph’s Arsenal
As warriors of St. Joseph, we need to emulate his virtues and strengths in order to avoid past mistakes and reclaim our territory. St. Joseph was a holy man. A humble man. A man opposite the devil in every way. If we want to defeat Satan, we need to take up St. Joseph’s weapons. Are you ready to grasp the greatest one of all? First, we have to know what it is.
St. Joseph’s most effective weapon against Satan’s pride is humility.
It’s also the most neglected, which explains why we’re in such bad shape.
The most important thing we can do as Catholic artists is recognize that our ideas, our compositions, our craft, our work–all of it is subject to a power higher than our own passions, self-expression, or creative whims. The definition of art today is nearly as meaningless as definitions of gender, but this must not be true for Catholic artists. If art is the force that shapes the culture, then Catholic art cannot say whatever its creators please. Our messages must be cut from the tapestry of the Church–and we’d better make sure it’s not a knock-off copy of the real thing.
More than paint, piano, pen, or proscenium, the Catholic artist needs humility and obedience to the faith we profess. We cannot be so arrogant as to think we’re immune to error just because we go to Mass regularly and say the Rosary every day. Likewise, we can’t be so arrogant as to think we’re immune to even the temptation to error. I’m not immune. You’re not immune. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI isn’t immune. We live in a fallen world, and we must be vigilant against pride–artistic and otherwise.
The apocryphal St. Joseph story’s writer probably had no idea that his work would contribute to such confusion. The artists who followed in his wake wanted to evangelize Europe, not mislead it. They might not have known that Catholic art comes with increased responsibility, but we do. We can learn from their mistakes. We must. Too much is at stake.
Spiritual Treasures Guaranteed or Your Money Back
So how do Catholic artists ensure that their art accurately represents spiritual truths? They do it by thinking inside the Church’s box. They draw inspiration from sources steeped in authentic Catholic teaching.
If we want our art to be faithful, we have to be faithful. We must cultivate truth in our spiritual lives as diligently as we develop our crafts. Read the saints. Go to Mass. Use the sacramentals. Pray. To God. To Mary. To St. Joseph.
Mary leads us to Jesus. St. Joseph leads us to Mary. That’s why we’ve got to lean on St. Joseph. If we do, we cannot fail to draw closer to the treasures of Heaven…or to drag the culture with us on the way.
St. Joseph Devotions the Devil Doesn’t Want You to Know
By now, you might be convinced that St. Joseph is what this world and your soul need…but just because you’re convinced doesn’t mean you know where to start. Where do you start your devotion to St. Joseph?
Prayers to St. Joseph
The best place to start anything is with prayer, and you can begin right this very minute! Stop reading this post and say the Litany of St. Joseph. (But please, come back when you’re done!) The Litany was written by Pope St. Pius X and comes with a plenary indulgence during the Year of St. Joseph, so you can’t go wrong with this one.
If you’re ready to make a deeper commitment, grab a copy of this month’s Magnificat, where you’ll find a lovely St. Joseph devotion from Fr. Jonah Teller, O.P.
Then there’s the mother (father?) of all St. Joseph devotions–consecration to St. Joseph.
Consecration to St. Joseph
You’d think that after 2,000 years, a consecration to St. Joseph would be old news. But that’s not so. Until last year, no such consecration existed.
So how did it come about? When Fr. Don Calloway, MIC learned that a total consecration to St. Joseph didn’t exist, he got permission to create one. His Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father is the product of three years’ research and is chock full of wisdom from the saints, along with reflections that will have you running, not walking, into St. Joseph’s arms.
If you’ve been through 33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, you’ll find Fr. Calloway’s consecration very similar. It, too, is a 33-day program, a model inspired by St. Louis de Montfort’s 33-day consecration to Mary. (For more about that, come back next month!)
Are You Ready to Be a Warrior for St. Joseph?
There’s a rumble in the distance. It’s quiet, but it quivers in the ground and rattles the trees. Do you feel it? That’s the rumble of a war elephant. That’s the rumble of St. Joseph.
We might have neglected to mention the elephant in the room in the past, but this is the Year of St. Joseph. We’re not silent anymore.
The truth about St. Joseph is out, and not a moment too soon. But it’s not enough to tell his story in fleeting soundbites and passing posts like this. We have to blaze a trail for him as only Catholic artists can do.
It’s time to paint St. Joseph’s heart on canvas. To extol his goodness in song. To write his name on the page and on our hearts. Because when we honor the earthly father of Christ, we honor Christ himself. When we honor Christ, we honor the Father we were made to love.
You know how to paint the things, sing the things, make the things. You don’t need suggestions from anyone, least of all me. You’re a Catholic artist, a child of the Father, a child of St. Joseph. So go forth! Give yourself to St. Joseph! Gain ground in the battle for marriage, family, and souls!
Go forth…and evangelize the world.