Recent I received two books for review that really fit together hand and glove.
One book I read last year was The Sign of the Times by the late Fr. Gilsdorf. I so loved that book and it was one of my favorites of the year. The success of the release of that book got the publisher to also release Go to Joseph a little book that he had written and never published. It is a power packed short book as Fr. Gilsdorf goes through the scriptures in reference to Saint Joseph. The silence of Joseph is well known since we never have any of Joseph words in scripture, but only his decisions fully aligned with the Holy Spirit and that he was a just man. Scripture does not even record his death and after Jesus’ visit to the Temple at age 12 we hear no more details about Joseph. Fortunately this does not mean that we don’t know anything about this great saint.
Fr. Gilsdorf as an excellent scripture scholar nudges out what can be known about St. Joseph. He does not include any of the apocryphal legends that were written later and has a critical view of what was referenced there. Those sources present Joseph as a older widower and Church art has mainly shown Joseph as an older man. This was done mainly to protect the virginity of Mary, but it seems to me to be almost a sort of slander to St. Joseph and a diminishment of his sanctity. Fr. Gilsdorf expects he was probably a man of 18 or 19 when betrothed to Mary which would fit with the cultural evidence of the time.
Throughout this book he goes through the reflections available apart from scripture where they apply. Devotion to St. Joseph is a relatively new thing in the Church that developed over time and really didn’t pick up any steam till the 1500’s. The book provides a handy time line in regard to this. It is hard to imagine that there were not churches dedicated to St. Joseph in the first millennium of the Church and the mention of St. Joseph by the Church Fathers is very limited.
This book also doubles as a source of apologetics concerning St. Joseph and the Perpetual Virginity of Mary.
What Fr. Gilsdorf has done is to give is a short to-the-point life of St. Joseph that tried to avoid speculation and stick to what we can know. So it is as easy but highly worthwhile read. The last part of the book contains prayers to St. Joseph and other appendices. Julie at Happy Catholic was also quite impressed.
The next book up is the The Mystery of Joseph
by the late Fr. Marie-Dominque Philippe, OP who died in 2006 and was the founder of the Community of St. John. Whenever I receive a book by Zacheus Press I know I am in for something special. This book was no exception and I can even say one of the finest books I have ever read. Fr. Philippe truly takes an awe-inspiring look at St. Joseph and plums the depth of mystery to give us a theological view of St. Joseph. I was truly stunned as a read this book and really seeing St. Joseph for the first time as a real person. I had wondered why many in the Church had called St. Joseph the greatest saint after Mary, something I wonder no more about. Sure I understood that Joseph was a just man and that while he had authority over the Holy Family no doubt he was also formed in perfection by Mary and Jesus.
Fr Philippe makes the same assumptions that Fr. Gilsdorf did in regards to Joseph and also leads us through the scriptures in the life of this saint. Both authors write about Mary’s vow of consecration to God that makes so much sense in scripture in regards to the Annunciation and her reply. Fr. Philippe calls this the first secret that St. Joseph carried in his heart. The following chapters on the dreams that Joseph received and his thoughts concerning Mary are pure gold with just so much to reflect and contemplate on.
The radical holiness of St. Joseph becomes so apparent that you wonder how you ever could have missed it. Like all saints his holiness starts in obedience and is illuminated by love. So often it seems the chaste relationship of Joseph and Mary is presented as something not fully a marriage. Something second rate when the opposite is true. This books shows the deepness of their love for each other and the sacrifice of St Joseph when he sees that Mary has her own path in relation to God that is wholly hers to pursue without his permission. We all have our own paths towards Christ and we make a major mistake when we have a problem when spouses are not lock-step in the exact spiritual journey. We can learn a lot from St. Joseph in this regard from his humility and love of his wife and God.
I am sure I do an injustice in describing this book. It is so theologically rich that I can only point to how good it is and not give the description that I would desire. The first half of the book following the scripture of itself is reason to read this book. The essays that come after add an equally rich dessert, especially the last essay on St. Joseph St. Mary, and St. John.
These two books just dove-tail so nicely together. One gives us a scripture scholar/apologetic/Church history view of St. Joseph and the other attempts and succeeds into diving into the mystery of St. Joseph. These two men’s view of St. Joseph also fit in perfectly together.