The Purity of St. Joseph

June 1, 2021 • 12 min

From St. Joseph’s Life, Virtues, Privileges, Power, page 203

This is part of an Anthology of the Saints on Friendship, Love, and Marriage.

Section V.

The purity of St. Joseph.

St. Stephen, the first martyr, was canonised by the Holy Ghost. “And they stoned Stephen,” says the sacred text, “invoking and saying: Lord Jesus receive my spirit. And falling on his knees, he cried with a loud voice, saying: Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep in the Lord” (Acts, vii. 58). The same Divine Spirit of truth and wisdom pronounces on the sanctity of St. Joseph, by styling him a “just man” (Matt. i. 19). The word “just” comprehends all virtues in the most eminent degree. St. John Chrysostom says: “Just, here means perfect in every virtue.” 1 “No description,” writes a client of our Saint, “can be more honourable, no eulogy more comprehensive; because this word just, according to commentators on Holy Writ, means that St. Joseph possessed all virtues in the degree of perfection” (Vallejo, p. 276).

St. Francis of Sales writes: “If the lily, by being exposed for a few days only to the heat of the sun, acquires its dazzling whiteness, who can conceive the extraordinary degree of purity to which St. Joseph was exalted, by being exposed, as he was, day and night, for so many years to the rays of the Sun of Justice, and of that mystical moon which derives all her splendour from Him?” We are at a loss to know what virtue to begin with, but the above suggests the purity of St. Joseph.

In the Old and New Testament we have countless texts and examples to show how dear purity is to God. Saints excelled in different virtues; but purity is common to all. No soul shall ever enter heaven until she is purer than the sunbeam, and whiter than the virgin snow. Precious in the sight of God is the lily of holy purity. “No price is worthy of a continent soul” (Ecclus. xxv. 20). The chaste Susanna is held up to the admiration of the world; she preferred to die rather than sin in the sight of the Lord. The chaste souls are likened to the Angels. “At the resurrection,” says our Blessed Lord, “they shall neither marry nor be married; but shall be as the Angels of God in heaven” (Matt. xxii. 30). The Angels are pure by nature; but the chaste are pure by grace. Hence, St. Bernard asserts, that a chaste man differs from an Angel only in felicity, but not in virtue.

Our Divine Lord loves the chaste souls, and feeds among the lilies, the emblems of purity. “I am the flower of the field and the lily of the valley. As the lily among the thorns, so my love among the daughters. … My beloved to me, and I to him, who feedeth among the lilies.” (Cant, ii.)

The mystery of the Incarnation, and all its surroundings, prove to demonstration how dear to Jesus is the holy virtue of purity. St. John the Baptist, the Precursor of our Blessed Lord, was a chaste virgin. St. Peter was head of the Church; yet the favourite disciple, the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” was St. John the Evangelist. This virgin disciple was privileged, at the Last Supper, to recline his head on the bosom of his Divine Saviour. “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter, therefore, beckoned to him, and said to him: Who is it of whom he speaketh? He, therefore, leaning on the breast of Jesus, saith to him: Lord, who is it?” (John, xiii. 23.) When dying upon the cross, to whom did our Blessed Lord entrust what was dearest to Him on earth—His Blessed Mother? He gave charge of His Virgin Mother to the virgin disciple, St. John the Evangelist. “Now,” says the Gospel, “there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother, and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he saith to his disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour the disciple took her to his own” (John, xix. 25).

St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and other Fathers, assign virgin purity as the cause of this special love of Jesus for St. John. This can hardly be doubted; for the Church, in the Divine Office on the Feast of St. John, says that “Jesus loved him more tenderly than the other Apostles; for his special prerogative of chastity made him worthy of this preference, because when called to the Apostolate he was a virgin, and a virgin he remained all his life.”

The confessors are high in heaven; they wore chains on earth for the love of Jesus. The martyrs, with the palm branch in their hands, are higher still; they washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb; they sealed their faith with their blood; they sacrificed their lives for the love of Jesus. Higher and higher still, is another band or choir of Saints. Who are they? They are the spotless virgins! In heaven above, the Saints sing various hymns and canticles in praise of the Almighty. There is one special canticle which confessors or martyrs dare not pronounce, and which virgin lips alone are privileged to sing. Let us cite the inspired words of the Evangelist: “I saw the Lamb upon Mount Sion, and one hundred and forty-four thousand with him, singing, as it were, a new song, and which none else can sing but only these hundred and forty-four thousand which he had redeemed from the earth. These are such as were never defiled with women; they are virgins who follow the Lamb wheresoever he goes” (Apoc. xiv. 1-3). Such and so great are the special privileges awarded by God in heaven above to the pure and chaste. “Blessed,” says the Redeemer, “are the clean of heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. v. 8).

But the example of the Blessed Virgin preaches far more eloquently than the examples we have adduced, how dear and precious in the sight of God is the holy virtue of purity. The purity of the Blessed Virgin is as high above any Saint, or that of all the Saints put together, as the heavens are above the earth. 2 Not only did Mary, countless times, carry in her arms, and as many times more fondly press to her bosom, the Infant Saviour. Not only did Mary bear in her chaste womb for nine months the Incarnate Son of God, but the very blood, out of which the Sacred Body of Jesus was formed by the Holy Ghost, the Precious Blood, by which all mankind was redeemed on Mount Calvary, had its source in the Heart of Mary Immaculate. Such being the relation between Mary and Jesus, the relation of a mother to a son, no wonder that her privileges should be unique that she should be conceived without sin, and that the smallest stain of actual sin should never sully her soul. No wonder that she should be the purest, the most perfect, the most immaculate, the most holy soul, that the Almighty has ever created, or ever will create: of course we do not include the soul of our Blessed Saviour. When Mary Immaculate stood before her Maker, radiant in beauty, purity, and perfection, God, pleased, so to speak, with the work of His hands, deigned to salute her, saying: “Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is no spot in thee” (Can. iv. 7). “Thou art beautiful, O my love, sweet and comely as Jerusalem. … One is my dove, my perfect one is but one. She is the only one.” (Can. vi.)

The Blessed Virgin, as we have said above, was the purest, the most perfect, the most immaculate soul the Almighty ever created. Next to Mary in purity, dignity, and sanctity, is St. Joseph. In the first place, St. Joseph was chosen by heaven to be the spouse of the Blessed Virgin. Now God was so jealous of Mary’s purity, that He would give no one to her as a real husband, as Joseph was, but the purest and holiest of men. From among all the sons of Israel, God chose St. Joseph to be the guardian and protector of the virtue of the Immaculate Mother of the Redeemer of the world; and hence, for this end, the Almighty showered upon him the choicest, the richest, and the most precious graces of heaven. To be chosen, and to be worthy to be the husband of Mary Immaculate, is in itself sufficient to prove the supereminent virtue and purity of our Saint. The title, “husband of Mary,” fades away into insignificance compared to the title, “reputed father” of Jesus. The gleam of purity shining upon St. Joseph, from his relation with Mary, is lost in the meridian splendour of the virtue necessary for him from his relation with Jesus, the Eternal Son of Justice, Purity, and Sanctity itself. None but the clean and pure of heart can see God. St. Joseph not only saw his God, but lived, walked, and worked in His visible Divine presence. If purity obtained for St. John the Evangelist the privilege of reclining his head on the bosom of his Saviour, what must be the purity of St. Joseph, who countless times bore in his arms the Saviour of the world, and pressed to his bosom the Divine Babe? If one ray of God’s pure love is sufficient, as it is, to purify and sanctify the soul of man, what must be the purity of St. Joseph, upon whose soul shone for years, in their full effulgence, the rays of the Eternal Sun of Justice? Let the honeyed pen of St. Francis of Sales express it. “St. Joseph,” says the Saint, “surpassed the Angels and Saints in purity. For if, being exposed for a few days only to the heat of the material sun, the lily acquires its dazzling whiteness, who can conceive the extraordinary degree of purity to which St. Joseph was exalted, exposed as he was, day and night, for so many years to the rays of the Sun of Justice, and of that mystical Moon which derives her splendours from Him?”

Venerable Maria of Jesus of Agreda writes: “In the virtue of purity, he was more elevated than the highest Seraphim. … By this perfection and by his angelic integrity, he was prepared to be the spouse of the purest of creatures and to live in her society.”

O Jesus, make us pure and chaste. O Jesus, help us when tempted against holy purity. O Mary Immaculate! obtain for us purity of body and soul.

“Guardian of virgins, and holy father Joseph, to whose faithful care Jesus Christ, innocence itself, and Mary, Virgin of virgins, were committed, I pray and beseech thee, by these dear privileges, Jesus and Mary, that being preserved from all uncleanness, I may, with a spotless mind, pure heart, and chaste body, ever most chastely serve Jesus and Mary all the days of my life.”

1 Justum hic in omni virtute dicit perfectum. (Hom, xii. n. Matt. i. 19).

2 Suarez, Tomus xix., Ques. xxxviii., Art. iv., Sec. iv.

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