Concerning the death of St. Joseph

“Let me die as did glorious St. Joseph, accompanied by Jesus and Mary, pronouncing those sweetest of names, which I hope to extol for all eternity.”

This is the very end of a fine piece about the death of St. Joseph today at The Catholic Thing.

The writer, Michael Pakaluk opines on the reason why St. Joseph disappears from view in the Gospels.  He supposes, as many have, that by the time the Lord began His earthly, public ministry, St. Joseph had already died.   There is some internal indirect evidence for this in the Gospels and Pakaluk goes over a few points.  No one is bound to believe this theory one way or the other.

Pakaluk also dips into the question of the age of St. Joseph.  There is a long tradition of depicting St. Joseph as an old man, which supposedly explains how the Lord could have “brothers” (perhaps from an earlier marriage).  Positing that Joseph was elderly at the time of his marriage to Mary also was thought to be a safeguard of her virginity.   I side with St. Jerome in holding that Joseph was a young man, capable, for example, of moving swiftly to get his wife and child out of danger and into exile, will that that would have meant.

If Joseph was a younger man, then, if he did die before the Lord’s public ministry began, he died young.

How does that fit with the divine plan for our salvation?

Pakaluk suggests that St. Joseph understood how his continued presence in the Lord’s life would raise problems for people accepting the Lord as God, born of the virgin in fulfillment of prophecy.  Hence, he willingly departed, as it were.    There are a couple of other ideas as well.

I heard one not too long ago which caught my intention.  It was fitting that St. Joseph not be present for the Lord’s Passion because His fatherly and manly impulses would not have allowed him to stay quiet and inactive as he watched his Son suffer.

St. Joseph, magnificent saint and intercessor, has lately been very good to me.   I recently was impelled to entrust my material cares to his guidance.  What subsequently happened leaves me in no doubt at all that Joseph did, in fact, put his hand on my challenges and guide their outcome.



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  1. ChrisP says:

    I made the Act of Consecration to St Joseph on May13 this yr. I suspect it has changed not just my life but the immediate sphere around me as well. He has already achieved so much for me, I can never repay him fully. But I will repay at least some.

    I thank him every day.

    He is the most magnificent of Saints, intercessors and Defenders bar Our Lady.

    Ite ad Joseph!

  2. Sportsfan says:

    The idea that St. Joseph was a widower (and possibly the biological father of one or more children) before the betrothal with Our Lady doesn’t detract from him at all imho.
    This topic intrigues me and makes me all the more focus on getting to heaven to find the answer.
    Also the title “Terror of Demons” intrigues me. Why are demons terrified of St. Joseph? They seem to be able to find and exploit the weak link. Was St. Joseph an apparent weak link, only to be found to be a great source of misery to them?

  3. Dustin F, OCDS says:

    It is also possible that the reality lies somewhere between the extremes regarding the theories. A 40-year-old or 45 year-old St. Joseph would have been “old” compared to a teenage Mary, but he would have been in the prime years of ancient conceptions of “manhood” and would still have had the strength to guide the journey to Egypt. He would have been at least 60 years old by the time Jesus was beyond adolescence, and could well have died from any number of causes by the time Jesus entered his public ministry.

    Don’t many saints believe that St. Joseph was one of the saints raised from the dead at Jesus’ resurrection (Matt. 27:52-53), and that he would have been assumed into heaven at some point shortly thereafter? We don’t have much detail there, but I can hardly think of anyone more worthy.

  4. Charivari Rob says:

    My view is somewhat similar to Dustin F.
    Joseph wasn’t so much “old” as he was older than Mary.

    Ten or fifteen years (or a little more) older than the teenage Mary. Not uncommon, even 19 or 20 centuries later.
    From such an age he could have lived a full life and died before Jesus’ public ministry, having reached an age for a man (~50-55) that no contemporary would characterize as dying “unusually young”.

  5. I agree with Dustin. I’ve heard much speculation on the age of St. Joseph, and my thoughts run along the same lines. Even if he were 35, he’d have been much older than Mary, and perhaps even old for his time, but still young enough to do the things he did. When we say he was possibly “older” it doesn’t have to mean he was 90, in a wheelchair, impotent, and half-dead. He may simply have been old enough to have acquired some of the natural wisdom and maturity of age, which would have been valuable to Mary and Jesus. We have to be careful of seeing things in extremist terms, especially in this age of extremism. That said, it still may be that Joseph was of roughly the same age as Mary. If God gave him the grace, he could have done whatever God needed him to do.

  6. marybiscuit says:

    I want to chime in here because I read Fr Calloway’s book this winter, as my family prepared for our consecration, and I didn’t like the reflection on the topic of St Joseph being a young man. I prefer to hold the tradition that he was old.

    My main reason for disagreeing with this was this- doesn’t it diminish God’s miraculous work to explain in human terms (he must have been young!)how St Joseph could have met the physical demands of his call? What if we did that for Sarah’s pregnancy with Isaac, and explained with our limited human understanding the many other examples of God’s works of wonder? It is too human and boring imho. I also agree with ‘Dustin’ and think that St Joseph likely was substantially older than Mary- but not an elderly man.

  7. Chrisc says:

    Mary, my 2 cents. It seems that generally if the church is highlighting the virginity of Mary, as in the first 3 centuries (Protoevangelium of James for instance), the emphasis was on Joseph as guardian and protector. Thus he is depicted as old, as in the Greek tradition. After this, the church turns to understand the motherhood of Mary and by relation the fatherhood of Joseph to Jesus and the spousal nature of Mary and Joseph’s union. Naturally, these focus on a reciprocity, which while not demanding numerically equal ages, tends toward Joseph and Mary being more similar in age.

  8. TonyO says:

    One of the main drivers for the thesis he was “older” is the fact that St. Joseph was, during his marriage to Mary, entirely continent and chaste, and this is very difficult for young men. If one assumes that Joseph was NOT a “young man”, then you relieve him of at least some of the burden of that continence.

    If you assume, further, that he had already been married, and was a widower, then you pile onto the picture more capacity for continence: many a widower (even a young man) seemingly CAN manage to be chaste in his state of no-longer-married, and this will be less difficult if he is no longer in his teens or early twenties. Such forces are on a continuum, but one can well imagine a man of 25 or 30, having been married for 5 or 10 years, surviving the death of his young wife, and living chastely and soberly for another 5 years before marrying Mary. One can (with some effort) imagine him accepting the challenge to live continently within the new marriage, with God’s grace. If one then posits that he ALSO had sons in his first marriage, we “kill two birds with one stone” by giving a basis for the dozen or so gospel passages that refer to Jesus’ brothers, WITHOUT granting any implied sense of Mary having other children than Jesus.

    But as Mary and Chrise say above, none of this need imply that Joseph was an OLD man. A man of even 30 would have been twice Mary’s age, and a man of 35, once married and then chaste for several years after becoming a widower, would have been a stable and respected “elder” in the community, in that he would not be classed among the “young men” in the first bloom of youth or with a young bride. He would more naturally be classed with the “older men” of middle age or above. “Older” would be taken in relative terms.

    On the other hand, nothing is impossible with God, and God can readily take a young man and through grace make him chaste even in a continent marriage with a young bride, if He decides it is needed.

    The one thing that gives me pause about the latter picture is this: the Gospel records that Mary responds to Gabriel with her comment about “I do not know man”. Yet she was betrothed. Tradition (but no New Testament passage) has it that Mary had vowed lifelong virginity to God…but she was betrothed. Out of justice for the man, she could not INTEND lifelong virginity while ALSO intending to marry, without telling him beforehand and getting his consent to it. Before being surprised by the angelic announcement of her impending motherhood of God, she could have no clear discernment that her husband would have a role in salvation history in which he could legitimately aspire to an unsurpassed assistance of grace to remain continent in marriage, and without such grace arguably no young man could realistically promise to Mary lifelong continence in marriage and expect to fulfill it without sin (e.g. adultery). A man who had lived chastely for years after marriage might notionally do so, though with difficulty. Thus, the picture of Joseph being a widower gives some credence to Mary being (before Gabriel’s visit) already betrothed but planning lifelong virginity, which makes some sense out of her words to Gabriel.

  9. Gil Garza says:

    Anyone with an appreciation of Jewish culture can understand that Joseph would not have been able to live any kind of normal life during his son’s ministry. Whatever fanatic fandom that Jesus experienced by the mobs of people seeking healings, counsel, blessings or even his military leadership to overthrow the Romans would have been multiplied many times by mobs with the father of anyone considered a great rabbi.

    Even today, religious Jews will seek out the fathers of highly regarded rabbis for blessings and counsel, especially at high holidays and events, like weddings. So, just from a practical point of view, the Gospels silence about Joseph during the ministry of Jesus implies his death because if he were alive, he would have been highly sought out.

    Regarding young, observant, faithful Jewish couples who expected Messiah and kept continent because of their faith? There were many such couples described in the Dead Sea Scrolls during the Second Temple period. They sometimes lived in communities such as in the deserts of the Dead Sea. Other times they lived in the world, in cities and villages throughout the Holy Land.

  10. TonyO says:

    Regarding young, observant, faithful Jewish couples who expected Messiah and kept continent because of their faith?

    Gil, this is a beautiful image. But I have to ask: faith about WHAT? As far as I can see from the Old Testament, there is nothing that points to a prophecy that says the Messiah will come from a woman married but a virgin. The Isaiah prophecy just says “a virgin” and that could include unmarried women too. I have never (till now, I guess) heard of claims that the Messiah was expected to come from a continent marriage, and that there were couples living so in the hope of being the couple intended.

  11. TonyO says:

    Furthermore, since (a) children are a blessing of marriage, and (b) Jewish people saw it as a duty to propagate the race and raise up children to God, how would a couple have a sufficient impetus to ignore these ordinary expectations toward not living in continence except by some sort of divine revelation?

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  13. Semper Gumby says:

    Helpful post and comments. Interesting article by Michael Pakaluk at The Catholic Thing: “St. Joseph was certainly not alive when Jesus began his public ministry. This, the tradition has always maintained, for four reasons…” Fr. Calloway discussed above also wrote “Consecration to St. Joseph.”

    The “Ancient Prayer to St. Joseph” is said to date to the 1st century:

    O St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interest and desires.

    O St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.

    O St. Joseph, I never weary of contemplating you, and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him close in my name and kiss His fine head for me and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for me. Amen.

    The Litany of St. Joseph ascribes many titles to St. Joseph, such as Light of the Patriarchs, Model of Artisans and Diligent Protector of Christ.

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