While more could be said about the dumbfounded old carpenter from Nazareth, one begins to worry about beating a dead horse. In spite of the insistence upon the new Josephite devotionalism by theologians, doctors, founders of prelatures, and Roman bishops, his cult has never gained much purchase among the Church Universal. Like pushy salesmen with an excess stock of defective products, the faithful simply aren’t buying what they’re selling.
Devotees to New St. Joseph point to the need for good examples of Christian manliness, especially in respect to family life. True as that may be, it is no excuse to concoct new fables when the story of this saint’s life has already been handed down in our Tradition. The virtus of Old St. Joseph is hardly unmanly, in spite of the occasional mockery by his storytellers. Insisting that Joseph alone can fill our modern lack results in the demotion of great saints like John the Baptist, and tends towards an ignorance of the lives of many other saints who could also serve as examples. It is dangerous to put all of our devotional eggs in a single basket, especially one so poorly woven.
The principle of devotional and doctrinal development is too quickly abused by Josephite devotees, because the development of the Cult of New St. Joseph is entirely inorganic. Mgr. Thompson claims that this cult sprung up under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost: “‘The Spirit breatheth where He will’.... Something analogous may be observed in the wonderful movement and development of devotion to St. Joseph during the last centuries.... Truly the growth is now like that of tropical vegetation in its rapidity” (Life and Glories, 460-1). It might rather be that the internal iconoclasm of the Tridentine era resulted in vacuums that begged to be filled, and they were hastily filled with whatever plaster was sitting ready at hand.
Catholic tradition is based on real memories of real events. Something either is part of that tradition or it is not, just as something either is part of a body or is not. If it is part of that tradition, this is evident in the law of worship and the agreement of the Church Fathers; these are the epistemic bridges between the age of the eyewitnesses and our own....
By looking to liturgical and patristic sources, a religious artist can draw a more complete picture, he can dig deeper, than by looking to magisterial documents only. He may unearth something wonderful. Discovering a tradition that has been lost is thrilling; it is like knocking the dirt from a buried piece of lumber and finding that it can yet raise the dead.That is the point of these short essays on the Virgin’s Betrothed: the thrill of discovering and recovering a lost tradition, and perhaps even building upon it in some small way. Old St. Joseph is more alive and potent than New St. Joseph, a mere upstart pretender to the real saint’s humble throne. Old St. Joseph was neither sanctified in his mother’s womb nor strictly celibate, but he was indeed singled out among many as being worthy to guard the Second Eve from the serpents of her accusers and of Herod. He was not assumed bodily into Heaven, but he preceded his spouse into that blessed realm, and eagerly awaited the glory her own Assumption would bestow upon him and all the saints.
One might suggest that now is not the time to be undermining devotion to New St. Joseph, and by extension to the Holy Family. I think actually that affirming his first (valid and licit) marriage, complete with a houseful of children, is the perfect way to promote family life while a Synod on the Family is in progress. He even shows us the only good way for a second marriage to be procured: with some reluctance and only after the first spouse is dead.
Let us unearth our house-selling statues. Let us be rid of the iconography of earthly trinities and family playtime. Let us paint those brown beards grey. Old St. Joseph is ready to intercede on our behalf, ready to pick any cherries that Our Lady requests of him. He was humble—let him retain a humble yet persistent place in our hearts.
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