St. Joseph, Chaste Guardian of the Virgin

(Read Part 3 – St. Joseph, Pillar of Families)

Part 4 – Catholic Masculinity Series: Following the Model of St Joseph

As we edge closer to the Nativity of Our Lord at Christmas, we do well to contemplate the journey of the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph to Bethlehem.[1] Traditionally, there are two common theories pertaining to the route that Joseph and Mary may have taken.

The first is sometimes called the “Trade Route,” and it is the shortest. This route goes through Samaritan territory and is technically a shorter route; however, it is more undulated in terrain. Furthermore, the tension between the Jews and Samaritans was highly contentious, which meant that travelling along this route would present clear dangers for the Holy Family. The second route is known as the “Jordan Valley Route,” due to the fact that it crosses the valley which bears that name. It is geographically a longer route, but it is generally flatter and was not as distinctly hostile an environment as regards the Jew-Samaritan conflict, although it did present its own dangers.

It is reasonable to believe that the Holy Family chose the second route, even though it too was dangerous. This route also took Mary and Joseph past or through Jericho, which seems in continuity with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In any case, let us meditate upon Joseph and his role in bringing the Virgin through the Jordan Valley Route.

Joseph was tasked with protecting and transporting the Blessed Mother from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census called by Caesar Augustus. While we cannot be sure how the Blessed Mother experienced pain,[2] due to Her special redemption and perfection, it is reasonable to assume that a journey such as this would present discomfort. She was very far along in Her Virginal Pregnancy, and the journey would take place on the back of a beast of burden.

The Jordan Valley is the lowest place on earth, and is the location of the Dead Sea. The prefigurement of this voyage cannot be understated. Our Lady, led by Saint Joseph, carried Our Lord by the lifeless waters of the pit of the earth. This route also took the Holy Family to Jericho, a place known for being rife with robbers and murderers, looking to exploit the innocence of vulnerable travelers. In a sense, this road to Bethlehem prefigured what Our Lord would go through on His Road to the Cross.

Saint Joseph guarded the Most Holy Virgin through this land of death. Envision the criminal threat present around every corner, especially given the shorter days and darker evenings of the winter season. Saint Joseph was perfectly aware of the spiritual forces who writhed in pain at the Virginal Monstrance of Our Lady’s Womb. The priest of the Holy Family processed his Wife and unborn Son amongst the Valley of Death. It is here that King David’s words come alive: “For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me.” (Psalm 22:4) Perhaps Mary contemplated these words, rubbing Her womb the way expectant mothers are wont to do, as She gazed lovingly at Her husband, finding comfort in his masculine countenance, strength, and noble courage.

With each dominating footstep, Saint Joseph sent a warning to the depths of Hell that the Coming of Christ was approaching. Through the dark of night, he led the bestial chariot of Our Lady, Her perfect holiness lighting the way while Joseph marched his family forward through the descending fog of demons. This Chaste Guardian of the Virgin was not a diminutive man, but a conqueror, flanked by the Prince of the Heavenly Host and His Angels. Venerable Mary of Agreda relates the following: “They were accompanied by angels, who were appointed by God Himself, as the servants of Her Majesty during that whole journey. These heavenly squadrons marched along as their retinue in human forms visible to the heavenly Lady.”

At the end of every valley, there is an ascent to be made to climb upwards out of the deep. As they passed by the degenerate city of Jericho, they began their ascent out of the Valley of Death. This was the hardest part of the journey, a steep climb after days of exhaustive trekking through unforgiving weather and terrain. From the Limbo of the Fathers, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David watched as the Light of the Patriarchs showed them the glory soon to come when Christ would descend into the dead in order to raise the holy men of old from the shadows.[3]

We all stand on the shoulders of giants, men who have gone before us to forge our path. Even Jesus Christ, in His human nature, had an example to follow in Saint Joseph. Before Christ’s ascent up to Calvary, came Joseph’s journey up the Bethlehem. Let us not forget to fall in line behind the Guardian of Christ and Mary, as we too climb towards the holy stable so as to adore the Savior and kneel at the manger of the Communion Rail to receive the King of kings!

Saint Joseph, Chaste Guardian of the Virgin, pray for us!

(Read the next article in this series,  Part 5 – St. Joseph, Terror of Demons)

[1] Many Catholics know that the four candles on the Advent wreath represent to us the four millennium that mankind awaited the Messiah. Each Advent candle also honors one of the most important persons that prepares us for the Coming of Christ. The first candle specifically turns our attention to the prophet Isaias, the second to St. John the Baptist, the third (the pink one which was lit this Sunday) turns our focus onto St. Joseph, and the fourth to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Note how with each successive person (candle) we draw nearer to Our Savior.

[2] It is a clear teaching of tradition that Our Lady did not experience labor pains because those specific pains are part of the curse from Original Sin (see Genesis 3:16). It is in effect heretical to suggest that Our Lady would have had labor pains, for it is an implicit denial of Her Immaculate Conception. However, many mystics, such as Ven. Mary of Agreda, indicate that, in general, Our Lord and Our Lady experienced greater physical, mental and spiritual pains than the rest of us on account of Their perfect integrity.

[3] We can extend this typology of the Holy Family even further. From Jericho, They would ascend all the way to Jerusalem on Mount Zion, which serves as an image of the Resurrection, for Jerusalem prefigures the heavenly City of God. The Church Fathers teach that in the Parable of the Good Samaritan the man who descends from Jerusalem to Jericho is Fallen Man in the person of Adam. The thieves that waylay him are Satan and his demons. Even prior to His physical birth, we already see the New Adam reversing, or undoing, this original fall.

From Jerusalem the Holy Family made the short six-mile journey to Bethlehem. Bethlehem means “House of Bread” and it is Our Resurrected Lord Who makes Himself really Present to us in the Holy Eucharist. In those days, St. Joseph and Our Lady placed Him in a manger, the feedbox of animals, and now we His sheep come to His ‘house’ (His churches) to be fed the Bread of Eternal Life.

Bethlehem is also the City of David, from whence comes the King Who Shall Rule Forever. This evokes Christ’s Social Kingship, so neglected today, and His Eternal Reign which shall be ushered by His Second Coming. The primary focus of Advent is in fact to prepare us, not so much to celebrate His Nativity of two-thousand years ago, but to prepare us for His return upon the clouds at the End of Time. Thus, in a mystical sense, the Holy Family’s Journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem prefigures Our Lord’s great Paschal Mystery, from Infancy, to Passion and Cross, to Resurrection, and even unto His Eternal Reign.

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