God the Father chose St. Joseph to be the foster father and guardian of Jesus. He was the protector and provider for the Holy Family, for Jesus as a child and as He grew into manhood. One example that portrays the difficulties and trials that Joseph underwent to guard Jesus and Mary was their long journey fleeing to Egypt to escape death by Herod’s soldiers. They came to a land that was totally unfamiliar to them, seeking to earn a living in a country in which they did not speak the language.
St. Joseph’s role of guardian of the Redeemer is mightily important to us, for we needed a redeemer to restore what was lost by the original sin of our first parents. Before we look more closely at the role of St. Joseph as guardian for us, let’s recall what Jesus accomplished as our redeemer.
The redemption that Jesus came into this world to accomplish was our reconciliation with God. This was necessary because Adam and Eve rejected our Heavenly Father’s goodness and profound love for them. By freely choosing against God, our first parents separated themselves from Him by losing the life of grace for themselves and us. Grace is a free and undeserved gift from God. Union with Him is achieved through an active participation in His own life.
From the moment Adam and Eve sinned, they and all of us stood in need of a redeemer because we could not recover our relationship with God. The Redeemer, in the person of Jesus Christ, was promised by God at the time of the fall. (Gn 3:15) This promise was never forgotten until it was fulfilled with the birth of Christ. God Himself became man to suffer and die for sinners, accomplished by the sorrowful passion and the bitter agony and death of Christ on the cross. Such was the tremendous price of our redemption! Jesus merited for us the gift of our reunion with the Blessed Trinity, and we participate in this union through our reception of grace through prayer and the sacraments.
We see that because Christ was truly God and truly man and without sin, He could sacrifice His life in love for the redemption of all mankind. Thus Christ’s death was an act of the purest love, for His death and resurrection allows us to choose to be free by cooperating with the power of His grace within us and living a life filled with peace and joy as He intended.
Since we belong to Christ and His Church through baptism, and Jesus was under the protection of St. Joseph, it follows fittingly that St. Joseph is our guardian, too. His role is to watch over us and protect us, and, therefore, St. Joseph can rightfully be called the “guardian of the redeemed.”
We can see one example of how St. Joseph is meant to be our guardian through the life of St. André Bessette. Born in 1845 in Quebec and given the name Alfred, he was orphaned by the time he was 12. He could barely read and write, was sickly most of his life and had to work to support himself. Alfred persevered with courage because throughout his life, he was deeply devoted to God and St. Joseph and always believed that St. Joseph would “guard” him.
Alfred was encouraged by his pastor to enter a Holy Cross congregation but was rejected because of his poor health. With the assistance of the archbishop of Montreal, Alfred did receive entrance into the Holy Cross novitiate on Dec. 27, 1870, and was allowed to make his religious profession, taking the name André.
Given his frail health and lack of a formal education, Brother André was assigned as doorkeeper of Notre Dame College in Montreal. He continued this assignment as a professed brother. Among his many duties, he greeted visitors and tended to their needs, always asking for St. Joseph’s intercession and encouraging the visitors to become devoted to St. Joseph, as well. Many people began to experience physical healings after praying with Brother André, and his reputation as a healer began to spread. So many people flocked to see him that the congregation allowed him to see sick people at a trolley station across the street. Through it all, Brother André remained humble because he knew the real source of these miraculous cures was God, through St. Joseph’s intercession. When people tried to give him credit for healings, he said, “No, no. I am just St. Joseph’s little dog.”
His desire to increase devotion to St. Joseph inspired him to found a shrine to his favorite saint across the street from Notre Dame College. He saved the money he earned from giving haircuts at five cents apiece, eventually earning the $200 he needed to construct a simple structure. This shrine opened in 1904, and, in 1909, Brother André was released from his duties as doorkeeper and assigned full-time as the caretaker of the Oratory of St. Joseph.
Brother André died on Jan. 6, 1937, at the age of 91. During the week his body lay in state outside of St. Joseph’s Oratory, an estimated one million people braved the bitter Montreal winter to pay their respects to a simple man who was willing to accept God’s mission of healing and who had a deep devotion and love for St. Joseph. The Oratory that he built in honor of St. Joseph was solemnly dedicated in 1955 and raised to the rank of a minor basilica. Brother André was canonized a saint in 2010. The basilica was eventually completed and remains a major pilgrimage site, attracting more than two million visitors a year. The side chapels are filled with the crutches of people healed through St. André’s prayers to God and the intercession of St. Joseph.
“St. Joseph’s role is to watch over us and protect us, and therefore can rightfully be called the “guardian of the redeemed.”
St. Joseph is meant to be our spiritual father and guardian, whatever our age or state in life, our health or level of education. St. Peter Julian Eymard, one of my favorite saints, helps us to understand the importance of our dedication to St. Joseph by these words: “Devotion to St. Joseph is one of the choicest graces that God can give to a soul, for it is tantamount to revealing the entire treasury of our Lord’s graces. When God wishes to raise a soul to greater heights, He unites it to St. Joseph by giving it a strong love for the good saint.”
We can develop or deepen our devotion to St. Joseph in simple ways, such as praying the Memorare to St. Joseph:
Remember, O most pure Spouse of the Virgin Mary, my noble protector Saint Joseph, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I come to you, my spiritual father, and fervently commend myself to you. Despise not my petitions, O Guardian of the Redeemer, but in your goodness hear and answer me. Amen.
We are blessed in the Diocese of La Crosse to be a bit ahead of the game as Bishop Callahan announced the Year of St. Joseph on May 1, 2020. This important year will now be extended as Pope Francis declared the Year of St. Joseph for the Universal Church to be celebrated from Dec. 8, 2020, through Dec. 8, 2021. Let us “Go to Joseph” (diolc.org/year-of-st-joseph) during this important year, asking for his intercession for our many needs!
ANN LANKFORD, Director of the Office for Catechesis and Evangelization
Published in April 2021 Catholic Life Issue