St. Joseph, a Witness to Fulfillment of the Promise
John Paul II
Homily on the Solemnity of St. Joseph
March 19, 1982
1. Dear Brothers
I am here with you today to venerate St. Joseph on the day when
the entire Church venerates him. She venerates him as he
deserves, that admirable "just man", husband before the law of
Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth, Mother of the Son of God.
At the same time, the Church venerates Joseph of Nazareth as a
"craftsman", as a man of work, perhaps a carpenter by trade. He
was the one and only--among all the men of work on earth-- at
whose workbench there appeared every day Jesus Christ, Son of
God and Son of man. It was Joseph himself who had him learn the
work of his profession, who started him on his way in it, who
taught him to overcome the difficulties and the resistance of
the "material" element and to draw out of shapeless matter the
works of human handicraft. It is he, Joseph of Nazareth, who
once for all linked the Son of God to human work. Thanks to him,
the same Christ belongs also to the world of work and gives
witness to its very high dignity in the eyes of God.
Livorno is a great work environment. And it is here that we wish
to give veneration to St. Joseph. In this way we wish to express
that the world entrusted to man as a task by the Creator, always
and in every place on earth and in the midst of every society
and nation, is "the world of work". "World of work" means at the
same time "human world". It is precisely on this "world" that
the Council spoke in the Constitution on the Church in the
Modern World, entitled Gaudium et Spes, which indicates the
world, that is the "human world" (which in principal measure is
"the world of work") as the place of the Church and as the
object of its pastoral task.
The Church is in this world. It is sent to this world, because
"God so loved the world that he sent his only-begotten Son" (Jn
3:16). And that happened and was fulfilled in the course of
thirty years in Joseph's house in Nazareth. Therefore, today we
venerate in St. Joseph that world to which Christ and the Church
have been sent.
Involved in the mystery of the Church
2. And at the same time, this "just man" remains involved in the
mystery of the Church with his whole life and vocation. We know
his "hidden" life and his "silent" vocation. We know it
sufficiently from the Gospel. But in the Gospel we do not read
any word spoken by St. Joseph of Nazareth. Instead we are
witnesses of the events which tell how deeply God himself
incorporated St. Joseph's vocation in the mystery of the Church.
Today's liturgical readings particularly give testimony of this.
The mystery of the Church, that is, the reality of the Church,
is already born in some way from the promise that God made to
Abraham, and at the same time from that faith with which Abraham
responded to God's call. Rightly, in, St. Joseph's day, we read
the following sentences from the Letter to the Romans: The
promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they should inherit
the world, did not come through the law, but through the
righteousness of faith. That is why it depends on faith, in
order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to
all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law, but
also to those who share the faith of Abraham" (Rom 4:13, 16).
And further on, the Apostle writes of the same Abraham: he "is
the father of us all, as it is written: "I have made you the
father of many nations; he is our father in the presence of God
in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into
existence the things that do not exist" (ROM 4:16-17).
Hand in hand with faith there is hope. Abraham is "father" of
our faith and of our hope. "In hope he believed against hope,
that he should become the father of many nations" (ROM 4:18).
And St. Paul continues: "That is why his faith was reckoned to
him as righteousness" (ROM 4:22).
Joseph, a just man
3. It is fitting that we reread these words of the liturgy of
today's feast. We reread them thinking of St. Joseph of
Nazareth, who was a "just man", to whom was accredited "as
justice" the fact that he believed in the God who "gives life to
the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist".
These words, written about Abraham, we reread today thinking of
St. Joseph of Nazareth, who "had faith, hoping against every
hope". That happened at the decisive moment for the history of
salvation when God, the Eternal Father, fulfilling the promise
made to Abraham, "sent his Son into the world", It is precisely
then that the faith of Joseph of Nazareth is manifested, and it
is manifested in the measure of Abraham's faith. It is
manifested more greatly then the Word of the Living God, as made
flesh in Mary, Joseph's spouse, who at the announcement of the
angel "was found to be with child through the work of the Holy
Spirit". And this occurred, as Matthew the Evangelist writes,
after Mary's marriage to Joseph, but "before they came to live
So then St. Joseph's faith was to he manifested in the presence
of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. At that
precise time Joseph of Nazareth passed the great test of his
faith, as Abraham had passed it. It is then that Joseph the just
man" believed in God as the one who "calls into existence the
things that do not exist".
In fact, God himself, with the power of the Holy Spirit, called
into existence in the womb of the Virgin of Nazareth, Mary,
betrothed to Joseph, the humanity that belonged to the
only-begotten Son of God, the Eternal Word of the Father. He,
God, is the one who calls into existence the things that do not
And Joseph of Nazareth believed in God. He believed just as
Abraham had once done. He believed when God spoke to him with
the word of the angel of the Lord. These are the words he heard:
"Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for
that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will
bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save
his people from their sins" (Mt 1:20-22).
Joseph, who at first "was unwilling to put her to shame,
resolved to send her away quietly" (MT l 19), now "did as the
angel of the Lord had commanded him" (MT 1:24). He took Mary
with him-- and the One who had been begotten in her. Thus he
showed that he was a true descendant of Abraham according to
faith. A privileged descendant. In fact, it was given him to
become the most direct witness, and almost the eyewitness, of
the fulfillment of the promise once given to Abraham and
received through faith. Abraham "in hope believed against
hope"-- and Joseph believed in the same way. He was called by
the voice of God, that the hope of salvation could be fulfilled
in the world.
4. The Church lives on the heritage of Abraham's faith. The
Church arose and exists because the promise once made to Abraham
could be fulfilled in the world. The Church links its
beginning-- the fulfillment of the hope of the world-- also with
the faith of Joseph of Nazareth.
What emanates from his whole figure is faith, the true heritage
of Abraham's faith. His faith is the closest likeness and
comparison with the faith of Mary of Nazareth. Both Mary and
Joseph are united by this marvelous bond. Before men, the bond
was one of marriage. Before God and the Church, it is the
marriage of the Holy Spirit. Through this marriage in faith,
both of them, Mary and Joseph beside her, became witnesses and
dispensers of the mystery through which the created world, and
especially human hearts, become again the dwelling of the Living
Joseph of Nazareth is a just man" because he totally lives by
faith". He is holy because his faith is truly heroic. Sacred
Scripture says little of him little more than what we read in
today's liturgy. It does not record even one word spoken by
Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth. And yet, even without words,
he shows the depth of his faith, his greatness. St. Joseph is a
man of great spirit. He is great in faith, not because he speaks
his own words, but above all because he listens to the word of
the Living God. He listens in silence. And his heart ceaselessly
perseveres in readiness to accept the Truth contained in the
word of the Living God. In order to receive it and fulfill it
with love. Therefore Joseph of Nazareth be comes truly a
marvelous witness of the Divine Mystery. He becomes a provider
for the Tabernacle that God has chosen for himself on earth to
carry out the work of salvation.
5. Looking today with veneration and love at the figure of St.
Joseph, we must with this glance renew our own faith. We see how
the word of the Living God penetrates deeply into the soul of
that man--that just man.
And we, do we know how to listen to the word of God? Do we know
how to absorb it into the depths of our human "I"? Do we open
our conscience in the presence of this word? Or do we instead
stop only at the surface of God's word? Do we close to it a
deeper access to our soul? Do we welcome this word in the
silence of interior readiness, as Joseph of Nazareth? Do we
create conditions for it to act within us and bear fruit? Do we
listen to the word of God? How do we listen to it? Do we read
Sacred Scripture? Do we take part in catechesis?
We need faith so much. Faith is so necessary to the man of our
times, of today's difficult era! A great faith is so necessary!
Precisely today a great faith is necessary to men, to families,
to communities, to the Church. And it is precisely to prepare us
for faith's mature look at the problems of the Church and the
modern world that Divine Providence gave us the Second Vatican
Council, its teaching and its direction. It is necessary that
now, in the individual communities that are also Churches--at
least in the "domestic Churches"--that work on the assimilation
of this teaching continue. We must read, we must listen, and
accept in the silence of interior readiness that word which the
Holy Spirit "speaks to the Church" of our time. I know that the
Diocesan Synod of the Church in Livorno works in this sense.
Today I commend to St. Joseph the fruits of this work.
6. Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife. . .
for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit" (MT
People of God! Church of Livorno! Do not be afraid to take,
together with Joseph of Nazareth, Mary. Do not be afraid to take
Jesus Christ her son into your whole life. Do not be afraid to
take him with a faith like the faith of Joseph. Do not be afraid
to take him under the roofs of your home as Joseph welcomed
Jesus under the roof of his home in Nazareth. Do not be afraid
to take Christ into your daily work. Do not be afraid to take
him into your "world". Then this world will be truly "human". It
will become ever more human. In fact, only the God-Man can make
our "human world" fully "human.