“Great evils must be met with great remedies.”
Devotion to St Joseph – Sermon by Fr Bover SJ
“The great remedies for the evils that weigh upon the earth are to be sought in heaven. The great remedies for the immense evils that afflict us (and for the greater evils that threaten us) are these: devotion to the Heart of Jesus Christ; to the Immaculate Virgin, universal Mediatrix of divine grace; and also, as [Benedict XV] teaches, to the glorious Patriarch St Joseph.”
From the Introduction to this Sermon, included in the Appendix below.
Image: Murillo’s Holy Family with a Bird, Wiki Commons
In honour of St Joseph, we are publishing this exclusive translation of a sermon by Fr José María Bover SJ in two parts. This first part will be published in advance of the feast of St Joseph the Worker (1 May 2022), with the second on the traditional date of the feast of his Patronage of the Universal Church, Wednesday in the Second Week after Easter (4 May 2022).
Fr José María Valente Bover SJ was a Spanish theologian and writer. He joined the Jesuits in 1895, and was ordained a priest in 1910. As Professor of Sacred Scripture (1911-1950), he was a specialist in the textual criticism of the New Testament. He wrote a work on the theology of St Paul and collaborated with another writer on a Spanish version of the Bible.
As such, the following sermon represents the thought of a respected theologian, and cannot be written off as pious devotionalism.
The Feast of St Joseph
Fr José María Bover SJ
From Homilías Evangélicas, p. 273-301
Edited by S.D. Wright
ST JOSEPH’S “CLAIMS” ON THE DEVOTION OF THE FAITHFUL
For devotion to St Joseph to spring up spontaneously and fervently in every Christian breast, it is enough to consider the unique “qualifications” held by this exalted Patriarch. It is impossible to enumerate them all, and even more to study them with the breadth and depth they deserve. However, to kindle in our hearts the flame of the most ardent devotion to the kind Patriarch, it will suffice to propose his main “titles” or “claims” for our devotion.
1. HUSBAND OF THE MOTHER OF GOD
The first of these grounds, the root and foundation of all the others, is the eminent dignity of St Joseph as the true spouse of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God.
That St Joseph was really and truly the spouse of Mary is a Catholic doctrine and, according to eminent theologians, a truth of faith which it is not licit to deny or doubt without falling into rashness, or even into manifest heresy. Sacred Scripture repeatedly calls St Joseph “the husband of Mary”, or Mary “the wife of St Joseph”. There is no reason to diminish the propriety of this designation, which is corroborated by the testimony of Catholic tradition.
Of course, the truth of this marriage of St Joseph to the Virgin Mary elevates the virginal bridegroom to the status and dignity of his exalted bride. It is well known that the conjugal bond is so close that it “equates” the spouses as far as possible, [bringing them to the same social level] and elevating the inferior to the status and dignity of the superior.
Now, Mary’s dignity as the true Mother of God rises above all that is great and exalted in heaven and on earth – except, of course, Almighty God himself. St Joseph, therefore, is called to share in this sovereign dignity by virtue of his marriage with the Mother of God. This is what the immortal pontiff Leo XIII teaches, with his usual magnificence:
“In truth, the dignity of the Mother of God is so lofty that naught created can rank above it. But as Joseph has been united to the Blessed Virgin by the ties of marriage, it may not be doubted that he approached nearer than any to the eminent dignity by which the Mother of God surpasses so nobly all created natures.
“For marriage is the most intimate of all unions which from its essence imparts a community of gifts between those that by it are joined together. Thus, in giving Joseph the Blessed Virgin as spouse, God appointed him to be not only her life’s companion, the witness of her maidenhood, the protector of her honour, but also, by virtue of the conjugal tie, a participator in her sublime dignity.”
2. HIS INEFFABLE FATHERHOOD
From this first ground derives another, no less glorious, and certainly more mysterious: namely, St Joseph’s “ineffable paternity” with respect to Jesus Christ. Ineffable, we say, and it is so in all rigour; for so far, no term has been found that adequately expresses this mysterious paternity.
St Joseph is often called the adoptive father, the nurturing father, the putative father, or the legal father of Jesus; but such appellations are at least deficient, if not inaccurate.
That of foster-father is improper; for adoption falls on a recipient from outside the family – but Jesus was by no means and at no time a stranger to St Joseph.
That of nurturing father expresses only an office of paternity: it says nothing about paternity itself.
That of putative father is merely negative: it only means that St Joseph is not the natural father of Jesus.
That of legal father, derived from the Levitical law, is closer to the truth; but it is still far from the truth and propriety with which St Joseph is called the father of Jesus Christ.
Some have called this paternity matrimonial; and it could be called legally natural (as opposed to “physically” natural).
But whatever the word may be, what is most interesting is the reality, which has still not been adequately expressed, despite all these various terms. In general, it can be affirmed that St Joseph, even without his physical co-operation, possesses the prerogatives and rights of paternity. More particularly, it should be noted:
- That Jesus is born of the wife of St Joseph;
- That he is born “under the shadow” of the chaste marriage of St Joseph and the Virgin Mary, and by virtue of it;
- That this marriage itself was providentially ordained for this birth;
- That he is born without any other earthly father, as the one who was to be called the Son of God;
- That he is born, and always was to be born, virginally: for which St Joseph’s conjugal virginity was not merely a negative condition of his birth, but essential and positive.
For this reason, the significance of St Joseph’s lack of physical co-operation is considerably reduced or attenuated. This assistance is not replaced by that of another man, but is miraculously supplied by the Holy Ghost – who, by intervening supernaturally, does not deprive St Joseph of any of the rights to the fruit of his marriage with the Virgin Mary, which naturally belonged to him.
Consequently, St Joseph’s paternity, as derived from the very nature of marriage (that is, from the natural law itself) could be called – if the expression were not offensive – “natural paternity”: not, it is true, physically, but juridically natural.
In short, Jesus is the fruit precisely of the marriage of St Joseph with the Virgin Mary; he is the fruit of Joseph’s wife, precisely as his wife; he is the fruit precisely of Mary’s virginity – which, by virtue of the marriage, was the “property” of St Joseph. And the supernatural intervention of the Holy Ghost elevates and dignifies the nature of this marriage, but it does not destroy it.
Such is, in fact, the opinion of the Holy Fathers and theologians who have most deeply scrutinised the mystery of this ineffable paternity. It will be sufficient to quote some of the most illustrious. St Augustine writes:
“By virtue of this faithful marriage, both deserved to be called ‘parents of Christ’, so that not only Mary is his mother, but also Joseph is his father, as the husband of his mother: he is father both spiritually and not carnally.”
And in another place he adds:
“What the Holy Ghost worked, he worked for both of them… The Holy Ghost, resting in the righteousness of both of them, gave the Son to both of them… For Joseph is all the more truly a father, the more chastely he is a father… Therefore, the Lord was not born of Joseph, although this was commonly thought: and yet, for the piety and love of Joseph, a son was born of the Virgin Mary”.
The Angelic Doctor meant the same thing in these remarkable words:
“This marriage was specially ordained by God so that this offspring might be had in it”.
We can therefore conclude with the eminent Suarez:
“Since the Blessed Virgin was the true mother of Christ, St Joseph (her true Spouse) could not fail to share in the quality of father”.
Perhaps no one has developed this thought more magnificently than St Francis de Sales and Bossuet.
3. HIS ELEVATION TO THE ORDER OF HYPOSTATIC UNION.
The effect or result of the two preceding grounds is the elevation of St Joseph to the order of hypostatic union.
To understand this exalted prerogative of the glorious patriarch, it must be presupposed that, in the present supernatural economy, there are two radically different orders:
- That of hypostatic union, proper to Jesus Christ, the natural Son of God, and
- That of simple sanctifying grace, common to the angels and men who are adopted sons of God.
To the first, in addition to Jesus Christ, belongs also the Virgin Mary, as the natural mother of the Son of God. Indeed, this divine maternity establishes intimate relations between the Virgin and all the persons of the august Trinity, precisely in order to bring about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ – which is brought about by the hypostatic or personal union of the Son of God with human nature. By this maternity, the Virgin Mary not only enters into relations with the Son of God, whose Mother she is; but also with the Father, in whose paternity she participates, having with him one and the same Son, unique and common to both; and with the Holy Ghost, of whom she is the Spouse.
For similar reasons, St Joseph also belongs to this order of hypostatic union, although to a lesser degree. The reason is clear. In reality, this order of the hypostatic union is nothing other than the family, both human and divine, of the Son of God – composed of Jesus Christ himself and his divine Mother.
Now, in this family, St Joseph is an essential part:
- As its head;
- As the spouse of the Mother of God; and
- As the father (in the above sense) of Jesus Christ himself.
He is a spouse, whose conjugal rights are assumed, in a certain way, by the Holy Ghost; and he is a father, who has himself visibly assumed the place and authority of the heavenly Father.
The greatest of the other saints, St John the Baptist, and the apostles all belong to that second, “ministerial” order of sanctifying grace: inferior, therefore, in dignity to the glorious patriarch St Joseph.
4. HIS SANCTITY
As the husband of the Mother of God, Father of the Son of God, and elevated to the order of hypostatic union, St Joseph attained the eminent sanctity that corresponds to such sovereign prerogatives.
And insofar as St Joseph exceeds all the saints in dignity with these prerogatives (with just the exception of the Mother of God), so he also incomparably surpasses them all in grace and holiness. St Bernadine of Siena writes:
“There is a general rule concerning all special graces granted to any human being. Whenever the divine favour chooses someone to receive a special grace, or to accept a lofty vocation, God adorns the person chosen with all the gifts of the Spirit needed to fulfil the task at hand.
“This general rule is especially verified in the case of Saint Joseph, the foster-father of our Lord and the husband of the Queen of our world, enthroned above the angels. He was chosen by the eternal Father as the trustworthy guardian and protector of his greatest treasures, namely, his divine Son and Mary, Joseph’s wife. He carried out this vocation with complete fidelity until at last God called him, saying: ‘Good and faithful servant enter into the joy of your Lord.’”
His Holiness Benedict XV rightly wrote:
“With how many and how excellent virtues did St Joseph adorn the humility of his condition and his fortune – above all, those virtues which had to shine in the spouse of Mary Immaculate, and in the putative father of the Lord Jesus.”
It would be easy to accumulate reasons and testimonies to show the glorious Patriarch’s singular and lofty sanctity. But what has been said suffices to demonstrate such an evident truth.
5. HIS PATRONAGE OF THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH.
Another of the singular prerogatives which distinguish St Joseph and make him worthy of the ever-greater devotion of the Christian people is the fact that he has been solemnly constituted and declared, alone among all the saints, as the “Patron of the Universal Church”.
The act of this solemn declaration, which took place in Rome on 8 December 1870, was made known shortly afterwards to the whole Church by the same Pontiff Pius IX in these words:
“In these latter times in which a monstrous and most abominable war has been declared against the Church of Christ, the devotion of the faithful toward St Joseph has grown and progressed to such an extent that from every direction innumerable and fervent petitions have reached us. These were recently renewed during the Sacred Ecumenical Council of the Vatican by groups of the faithful, and, what is more important, by many of our venerable brethren, the cardinals and bishops of the Holy Roman Church.
“In their petitions they begged of us that in these mournful days, as a safeguard against the evils which disturb us on every side, we should more efficaciously implore the compassion of God through the merits and intercession of Saint Joseph, declaring him Patron of the Universal Church. Accordingly, moved by these requests and after having invoked the divine light, we deemed it right that desires in such numbers and of such piety should be granted.
“Hence, by a special decree of Our Congregation of Sacred Rites (which we ordered to be proclaimed during high mass in our patriarchal basilicas, the Lateran, Vatican and Liberian, on December 8, of the past year 1870, the holy day of the immaculate conception of his spouse) we solemnly declared the blessed patriarch Joseph patron of the universal church, and we ordered that his feast occurring on the 19th of March should henceforth be celebrated in the whole world under the rite of a double of the first class, yet without an octave on account of Lent.”
This universal patronage is not a purely extrinsic prerogative, freely granted to St Joseph just by the positive disposition of the Church. Rather, it has very deep roots in the very high dignity of the glorious Patriarch – or rather, in the very mystery of the Incarnation of the Word. The immortal pontiff Leo XIII, as usual, profoundly expounds the mystery of this patronage when he writes:
“The special motives for which St Joseph has been proclaimed Patron of the Church, and from which the Church looks for singular benefit from his patronage and protection, are that Joseph was the spouse of Mary and that he was reputed the Father of Jesus Christ. […] From this two-fold dignity flowed the obligation which nature lays upon the head of families, so that Joseph became the guardian, the administrator, and the legal defender of the divine house whose chief he was. […]
“Now the divine house which Joseph ruled with the authority of a father, contained within its limits the scarce-born Church. From the same fact that the most holy Virgin is the mother of Jesus Christ is she the mother of all Christians whom she bore on Mount Calvary amid the supreme throes of the Redemption; Jesus Christ is, in a manner, the first-born of Christians, who by the adoption and Redemption are his brothers.
“And for such reasons the Blessed Patriarch looks upon the multitude of Christians who make up the Church as confided specially to his trust – this limitless family spread over the earth, over which, because he is the spouse of Mary and the father of Jesus Christ he holds, as it were, a paternal authority. It is, then, natural and worthy that as the Blessed Joseph ministered to all the needs of the family at Nazareth and girt it about with his protection, he should now cover with the cloak of his heavenly patronage and defend the Church of Jesus Christ.”
In other words: as Mary’s spiritual motherhood towards Christians is but a certain complement and prolongation of her natural motherhood towards Jesus, so too the fatherhood which St Joseph exercised towards the natural Christ extends proportionately to the mystical Christ, that is, to the mystical body of Jesus Christ, which is the Church.
It is right, then, that the paternal authority and vigilance which St Joseph exercised over the sacred family, the primitive nucleus of the Church, should also extend over the whole universal Church, marvellously born and developed from that nucleus.
St Joseph – Pray For Us!
In the next part, we will hear Fr Bover’s account of the logical consequences of St Joseph’s prerogatives recounted here, and what he teaches will be the fruit of a growing devotion to the Spouse of the Mother of God.
Devotion to St Joseph – Sermon by Fr Bover SJ
At the bottom of this page are two appendices: the first is an extract on devotion to St Joseph from the Sacrae Theologiae Summa (NB: we earn commissions from this link), a theology manual for priests and seminarians; the second is the introduction to this first part, which I removed from the main body due to it being very bound to the time in which it was written.
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Always read the footnotes – sometimes containing hidden gems. See here for the full WM Review Reading List.
247. Scholium 4. On the cult of St Joseph. We saw above that St Joseph is the husband of Mary, who remains a virgin (n. 77f.), and also truly the father of Jesus, although the foster-father (n. 114). The question can also be raised whether St Joseph pertains to the hypostatic order. A special connection between him and the realization of the hypostatic union can hardly be denied. Suarez suggested that there are certain ministries, which touch on the hypostatic order, and that St Joseph is in that order, although on the lowest level. Many theologians after Suarez agreed with this. Some of them hold that St Joseph pertains to that order intrinsically. But it is said better and more generally that he pertains to it only extrinsically, morally and mediately.
From this of course comes the special dignity of St Joseph, to which there necessarily also corresponds a special devotion. Such devotion, which some theologians have called a cult of the highest dulia, can best be called with recent authors a cult of “protodulia.” This is a special and singular devotion, but one still within the limits of dulia.
And surely the dignity of St Joseph is wholly singular, and if it in no way approaches the infinite dignity of the Mother of God, still it comes closer to it than the dignity of all the other Saints, since it is closely connected with the hypostatic order, although in an extrinsic way. Certainly, this demands a cult and veneration which surpasses the ordinary veneration of the other Saints.
INTRODUCTION: GREAT EVIL, GREAT REMEDIES
“Now the generation of Christ was in this wise. When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost. Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately.
“But while he thought on these things, behold the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus. For he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
“And Joseph rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife. And he knew her not till she brought forth her first born son: and he called his name Jesus.” Matthew 1.18-25
The occasion for this devotion was proposed not so many years ago by his Holiness Pope Benedict XV in his Motu proprio Bonum sane of 25 July 1920.
In this document, devoted to commemorating Pius IX’s solemn proclamation of the universal patronage of St Joseph, the sovereign Pontiff Benedict XV gladly acknowledged the marvellous progress made by the devotion of the Christian people to the glorious Patriarch during the fifty years which had elapsed since that memorable date. He added, however, that the ever-increasing calamities which oppressed the whole human race (after the great war in particular), called for an even greater increase of such a salutary devotion:
“In considering,” he said, “the distressing situation afflicting mankind, the need for this devotion to be promoted much more earnestly among the peoples and to be spread much more widely becomes apparent.”
With these grave words, the great Pontiff of Peace proclaimed a principle which has always governed the Catholic Church: that great evils must be met with great remedies.
The great remedies for the evils that weigh upon the earth are to be sought in heaven. The great remedies for the immense evils that afflict us (and for the greater evils that threaten us) are these: devotion to the Heart of Jesus Christ; to the Immaculate Virgin, universal Mediatrix of divine grace; and also, as the same Pontiff teaches, to the glorious Patriarch St Joseph.
His Holiness Pope Pius XI, in approving and blessing the general intention which the Apostleship of Prayer recommended to all its members during March 1928, renewed the recommendation of his Illustrious Predecessor: that the devotion of the faithful to the most chaste Spouse of the Virgin Mother of God must be intensified and extended more and more each day, to put a dam against this overwhelming invasion of calamities and dangers. In order to support such holy wishes of the Roman Pontiff, it is only right that the Apostleship of Prayer should work with all its might to promote a devotion so much its own, and so closely related to its characteristic devotion to the Sacred Heart of the Divine Saviour.
Translated and edited by S.D. Wright.
 Leo XIII, Encyclical Quamquam Pluries, 1889 n. 3. Available at https://www.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_15081889_quamquam-pluries.html
 De nupt. et concup. lib. 1, cap. 11. ML 44, 421
 Serm. 51, ch. 20. ML 38, 350-351
 In. 4, dist. 30, q. 2; a. 2, ad 4
 De myster. vit. Christi, dip. 8, sect. 1, n. 4
 St Bernardine of Siena, Sermon 1 on St Joseph. Available at https://catholicsstrivingforholiness.org/march-19-solemnity-of-st-joseph-a-sermon-by-st-bernardine-of-siena/
 Benedict XV, Bonum Sane.
 Pius IX, Apostolic Letter Inclytum Patriarcham, 1871, available at https://osjusa.org/st-joseph/magisterium/inclytum-patriarcham/
 Leo XIII, Encyclical Quamquam Pluries, 1889, n. 3, available at https://www.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_15081889_quamquam-pluries.html
 Benedict XV, Motu proprio Bonum sane, 1920. Translations our own. Available in Italian at https://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xv/it/motu_proprio/documents/hf_ben-xv_motu-proprio_19200725_bonum-sane.html