When I was visiting our Mill Hill house in Rome a few years ago, I was struck by the image on the wall of the chapel behind the altar. It is a mosaic of St. Joseph surrounding the tabernacle that is built into the wall of the chapel. The reason it struck me was because, in our popular understanding, we do not usually associate St. Joseph directly with the Eucharist or the Blessed Sacrament.
But is there a direct connection? Why surround a chapel tabernacle with a mosaic of St. Joseph, rather than a more “obvious” figure, such as Jesus himself, or even his Blessed Mother, Mary?
Whatever was intended by the artist himself (who happens to be the nephew of our current Procurator in Rome), I would like to venture what such an image sparks in me as I ponder the mystery of St. Joseph’s role in the Incarnation. In this image, I see St. Joseph as taking Jesus into his very self, in just the same way Mary did at the Annunciation. It is curious that the tabernacle itself is in the very same position on St. Joseph as the womb is on a woman. Is St. Joseph also “pregnant” with Jesus?
In a very real way, yes! St. Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus contains a long genealogy of the ancestors of Jesus, beginning with Abraham, continuing through David and the Exile to Joseph, who is later addressed by the angel as “Son of David”. It was expected at the time that the Messiah would be the direct descendant of King David, so St. Joseph’s choice to accept Jesus as his son would place Jesus’ messiahship within that direct line – even though Joseph would have played no physical role in his conception. In giving his son the name Jesus, he is also publicly accepting Jesus as his own.
By accepting the boy as his son, and symbolically taking on the father’s role of naming the child, St. Joseph gives Jesus all his ancestors, regardless of the biological facts.
So often, St. Joseph has been seen as the “silent partner”, the foster father whose only main role is to protect and nurture the young, growing Jesus towards adulthood. But the image on the chapel wall in Rome has shown me that St. Joseph’s role was far more crucial than that.
In addition to being Jesus’ earthly father, he was also the resolution of the divine paradox of Jesus as Son of Man and Son of God. To be the Messiah, Jesus had to be rooted in the Jewish tradition as a Son of Abraham and a Son of David. To be our Saviour, Jesus had also to be Son of God. Thus, St. Joseph’s role in the birth of Jesus was just as important as was the role of Mary.
Thank you all so much, once again, for your continuing generous support of the annual Novena to St. Joseph. Your support and your prayers do very much help the work of the Mill Hill Missionaries, both at home and abroad.
Through this Novena of 2023, may St. Joseph’s example inspire us to bearers of Christ’s light and love to a troubled world.
MHM Novena Director
For further information, downloads, Novena Masses click HERE