In his Apostolic Exhortation, “PatrisCorde” (“With a Father’s Heart”), Pope Francis describes Saint Joseph as a beloved father, a tender and loving father, an obedient father, an accepting father; a father who is creatively courageous, a working father, a father in the shadows, dedicated to the interests of Jesus, protector of the Church and the family. These attributes point out and appreciate the spirituality and the importance of Saint Joseph’s mission in the event of the incarnation and life of Jesus as “Minister of Salvation,” as well as his presence in the lives of Christians throughout the Church’s journey. In other words, called by God to help in the mission of Jesus Christ, St. Joseph cooperated with the mystery of Redemption as “Minister of Salvation,” as Pope Saint John Paul II described him in his Apostolic Exhortation, “Redemptoris Custos.” Historically, the phrase “Minister of Salvation” was first used by Saint John Chrysostom, a quintessential early Church Father and Archbishop of Constantinople, in reference to Saint Joseph in his commentaries on Matthew’s gospel.
In revealing this truth, Sacred Scripture attests to the veracity that the person and mission of Saint Joseph and that of our Lord Jesus Christ are closely linked together. Little wonder the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, through the approval of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, rightly introduced seven invocations to the Litany of Saint Joseph, of which one of them is “Minister of Salvation.” That said, how can we understand Saint Joseph properly as “Minister of Salvation” since it is believed that he left the scene before the commencement of the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world? Put differently, how did Saint Joseph participate as a minister in the work of salvation achieved by Christ? As spouse of the Mother of God, Saint Joseph participated in a decisive manner in the event of the incarnation, birth, circumcision, upbringing/education, and consequently, in the redemptive ministry of the Son of God, who is the Salvation of mankind.
This is because: “The Incarnation and Redemption constitute an organic and indissoluble unity, in which ‘the plan of revelation is realized by words and deeds which are intrinsically bound up with each other.’” (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum #2, quoted in “Apostolic Exhortation, “Redemptoris Custos” of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II on the Person and Mission of Saint Joseph in the Life of Christ and of the Church.”) In relation with the antecedent, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC #515), affirms: “From the swaddling clothes of his birth to the vinegar of his Passion and the shroud of his Resurrection, everything in Jesus’ life was a sign of his mystery.” In consonance, CCC #517 states: “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption. Redemption comes to us above all through the blood of his cross, but this mystery is at work throughout Christ’s entire life…” Needless to say, our salvation/redemption already commenced with Christ’s incarnation, birth, circumcision, etc., which St. Joseph already participated in and ministered; this, however, reached its culmination with Christ’s death and resurrection.
Explaining further, the saintly Pontiff, John Paul II expresses: “Therefore he became a unique guardian of the mystery “hidden for ages in God” (Eph 3:9), as did Mary, in that decisive moment which St. Paul calls “the fullness of time,” when “God sent forth his Son, born of woman…to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5)….Together with Mary, Joseph is the first guardian of this divine mystery. Together with Mary, and in relation to Mary, he shares in this final phase of God’s self-revelation in Christ and he does so from the very beginning.”(cf. Redemptoris Custos, #5) As a minister of Salvation, it cannot be denied that it was through the instrumentality of Joseph that Simeon received Christ, the Salvation of mankind. In other words, it was during Joseph’s fatherly role at Christ’s Presentation in the temple that Simeon beheld the Salvation of the world, little wonder he exclaimed: “At last, all-powerful Master, You give leave to Your servant to go in peace, according to Your promise. For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared for all nations, the light to enlighten the Gentiles and give glory to Israel, Your people.” (Luke 2:29-32).
We too are called, like St. Joseph, to present and minister Christ to our fellowmen, especially to the poor and marginalized, the sick and the needy, and all those who are in dire need of Him. Comparing Saint Joseph with a lamp that diffuses its beneficial rays in the house of God, the Church, where he still ministers today as her glorified Patron, Blessed Paul VI affirms in one of his homilies, that Joseph: “Illuminates it with his incomparable example, the one that characterizes the saint who is fortunate among all, for so much communion of life with Jesus and with Mary, that is that of his service to Christ, of his service out of love. This is the secret of Saint Joseph’s greatness, which is well in accord with his humility: having made his life a service, a sacrifice, to the mystery of the Incarnation and to the redemptive mission that is joined to it […] serving Christ was his life, serving him in the deepest humility, in the most complete dedication, serving him with love and for love.”(cf. CONSACRAZIONE EPISCOPALE DI QUATTRO PRESULI DELLA CURIA, OMELIA DI PAOLO VI, Festività di San Giuseppe, Patrono della Chiesa universale Sabato, 19 marzo 1966.)
Following this statement of the Pope, it can be implied that the virtue of humility and the spirit of service to Christ are deeply rooted in Saint Joseph’s spirituality that accorded him such greatness. Therefore, all Christ’s faithful, especially those serving in the ministerial priesthood are called as “ministers of salvation” to emulate St. Joseph with selfless love, humility and service to Christ’s ministry with Saint Joseph as model and guide, always serving the interests of our Lord Jesus Christ. Dear friends in Christ, we are all called in the various positions we find ourselves, either in the common priesthood or the ministerial priesthood to emulate and follow the pious steps of this great man of God – Saint Joseph, who as a minister of salvation, sought always the interests of Jesus. In this vein, Pope St. John Paul II encourages us: “In this way the whole Christian people not only will turn to St. Joseph with greater fervour and invoke his patronage with trust, but also will always keep before their eyes his humble, mature way of serving and of ‘taking part’ in the plan of salvation.”(Redemptoris Custos, #1). O Blessed Saint Joseph and minister of salvation, show yourself a father to us by your intercession and prayers in order that we might be guided on the path that leads to eternal life. Amen.
• Rev. Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri is an Oblate of St. Joseph (OSJ) based in Brazil