Three Sermons by Father Francis X. Weninger, S.J., on the Feast of Saint Joseph




"There was not found the like to Him."--Eccl. 44.

"Out of many hearts thoughts shall be revealed," thus spoke Simeon in the temple to Mary, the mother of the divine Child. Nineteen centuries have passed away since that hour, and how wonderfully have the predictions of Simeon and that of Mary herself, which she so solemnly made from Jerusalem's height, been verified. "Henceforth all generations shall call me blessed." Every Catholic heart feels, in the love and devotion of a child of God, the most tender veneration to Mary, and a confidence which has never yet been disappointed; and the same is true of the holy father St. Joseph, who, with Mary, the mother of the divine Child, presented himself before Simeon. To Joseph, also, Simeon could direct those words: "But on you, also, the hearts of men shall be revealed."

It is true that the faithful experience, in regard to the different saints, different sentiments of love and devotion, and have for this or that saint a greater veneration, or a greater confidence in his power. There is, however, one saint, of whom it can be asserted, that the entire body of the faithful unite in entertaining a particular veneration for him, and that saint is the great St. Joseph.

To prove the truth of this, you may ask your own hearts: "Do you not feel a special reverence for St. Joseph? and do you not cherish the utmost confidence in his intercession?" There can be but one answer, and that is, yes; but still I doubt whether you have considered and reflected upon the justice of the reasons which prove that St. Joseph is not only a great and mighty saint, but that his intercession is, after that of Mary, the most powerful in heaven.

Let me place clearly before your eyes today that this is the case. St. Joseph, after Mary, the greatest of all the saints, raised highest in Heaven, next to Mary, will be the theme of my sermon for his feast today. O Mary, bless the words which issue from my lips for the glorification of your virginal spouse, the great St. Joseph! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater glory of God!

I say: Honor St. Joseph more than any one of the other saints; for he is not only a great saint, but he is also, next to Mary, the holiest of them all, and, therefore, his intercession is the most powerful. Certainly it is not becoming for us, as St. Alphonsus Liguori, with other doctors of the Church, admonishes us, to attempt to estimate the greatness of the saints, according to our own pleasure and predilection, and in this way maintain a preference for one above the other. There can be saints, who, beyond a doubt, exteriorly accomplished many more astonishing and glorious deeds; but God sees the heart of His unknown servants, and what they accomplished before Him will not be known by the world till the day of judgment, which will reveal it all.

However, as the same St. Alphonsus and other equally unquestionable authorities teach, we may, in regard to the holy Apostles, assert without hesitation that they are elevated in heaven above all the choirs of saints, nearest to Christ. The reason of this assertion lies in the position which they held upon earth in the kingdom of God.

For what determines the degree of our future glorification in heaven? First, the degree of election, which was bestowed upon us on earth in the kingdom of God; secondly, the measure of grace, corresponding to this calling; thirdly, the zeal and fidelity with which we made use of them. Let us apply what I have said to St. Joseph.

Christ spent an entire night in prayer, and selected twelve from among the whole human race to be with Him. These twelve formed His Apostolic Court. And as Christ departed this world, He directed to them these words: "As My Father has sent Me, I also send you. Whosoever hears you, hears Me. Whosoever honors you, honors Me. Go forth into the whole world, and preach the gospel to all nations. Whatsoever you bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven. I have elected you." By these words Christ refers to the most glorious calling of the Apostles in the kingdom of Christ upon earth,--a calling which elevated the Apostles above all the rest of the human race, and by which undoubtedly they will be forever distinguished in heaven by the most resplendent glory.

"You will sit with Me on twelve thrones;" thus Christ Himself assures us. But however glorious was the calling of the Apostles in comparison to that of other men, how immeasurably higher still was that of St. Joseph!

Joseph, by the side of Christ here on earth, was to represent the place of the heavenly Father, as the foster-father of Jesus, the virginal spouse and husband of the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Queen of heaven and earth. He stood in this relation already at the manger, when Jesus entered into the world, and remained not only three years, as the Apostles did, by His side, but during nearly thirty years.

The Apostles walked with Christ, surrounded by a multitude of people; Jesus seldom spoke to any one of them. Joseph abode with Jesus alone, and conversed with Him at pleasure at any time, as his fosterfather was entitled to do.

Christ confided to the Apostles the establishment of His Church. To St. Joseph was assigned the care of Him who is the Founder of that Church. In this position, as the foster-father of Christ, it was fitting that St. Joseph should lead so holy a life that, according to the common family life, it might, could such a thing have been possible, have served as a model even for the Child Jesus Himself. St. Joseph had to lead such a life of perfection that Christ, as the foster-Son, could not but feel obliged to honor it with child-like reverence.

Such was not the case with the Apostles. They were frail men, whom Christ found it sometimes necessary to reprove; where, as any thing like this, can never be thought of in regard of St. Joseph. Therefore, St. Joseph must surely have so lived that no shadow of imperfection ever fell upon him; yes, so as to leave not the slightest reason for us to think that Jesus could ever have evinced the least desire to say: "This or that man would have been more worthy than you to be My foster-father." No; the testimony which Holy Scripture gave to St. Joseph, "He was a just man," literally proves itself. He was holy, and no other saint ever attained to as great a degree of sanctity.

The same is consequently true of his relations with Mary. The man is the head of the family, and should, therefore, in his situation, live, so as to be a pattern to his wife. But it was fitting that Mary also should honor St. Joseph, and that he should live so that, could such a thing again have been possible, Mary, who is the mirror of justice, might have taken example from him, and had reason to admire the sanctity of her earthly spouse.

What a saint, therefore, was St. Joseph among the saints! I remarked secondly: The degree of glory in heaven, depends on the measure of graces which are imparted to the Christian here on earth, on account of his state in life; therefore, a fuller measure of grace was meted out to the Apostles than to other saints; since Christ elected them for an office which was above that of all others. They were to become the heralds of faith, the foundation and pillars of glory, surrounding the throne of Jesus Christ in heaven.

If this be so, how great must not have been that measure of grace which was imparted to St. Joseph, whose office far surpassed that of the Apostles, as we have just now considered!

The means to increase grace in our hearts is, above all, prayer; therefore, even the Apostles admonish the faithful to pray for it. How effective, therefore, must the prayer of St. Joseph have been, of him who lived in the closest proximity to Jesus and Mary; prayed with them, and to whom they surely never refused a petition. Not only that; but it was he for whom Jesus, as his foster-Son, and Mary, as his virginal spouse, were obliged to pray.

O Joseph, thrice happy saint! St. Bernardine of Sienna is right, when he draws from this single reason the conclusion that Joseph was the greatest of all the saints on earth, and is now abiding nearest to Mary in heaven, and, after her, nearest the throne of the Source of all graces!

Finally, the degree of glory in heaven depends on the fidelity with which a soul uses the graces imparted to her for her blessed end. Such was the case with the Apostles. They lived so that they all with perfect justice could cry out to the faithful, with St. Paul: "Be ye my imitators, as I am an imitator of Christ."

Still, how much more does this hold good of our holy father St. Joseph, who had the example and pattern of Christ, during thirty years before his eyes, and, therefore, the opportunity of earning daily, yes, hourly, merits of the highest degree of recompense in heaven. The Apostles cared for the salvation of souls, which were once slaves of the devil. St. Joseph had to provide for Jesus and Mary!

What is done for a dearly beloved child, a father will reward more richly than he will benefits conferred upon a number of others. How precious in the eyes of God, therefore, were the works of St. Joseph, for they all related to Jesus and Mary, for whom he worked and lived. Yes, next to Mary, we dare and must call out to St. Joseph: "Others have gathered riches, but thou dost surpass them all." Thus St. Joseph lived up to his latest breath. At the thought of God the Judge, St. Peter and Paul, and with them all the saints, seemed to tremble, but such was not the case with St. Joseph. Even without a particular revelation he could entertain no doubt of his salvation. Jesus and Mary were in duty bound, on account of his relation to them, to pray for him, and St. Joseph expired in their arms.

Besides this, a tradition exists in the Church which asserts that St. Joseph is already united with His glorified body in heaven; and would it not be most appropriate that he, as the third person of the holy family, should, like Jesus and Mary, be thus glorified above all the choirs of saints? And it is an incontrovertible fact that no relics of the great saint have ever been found.

Honor, therefore, St. Joseph as the greatest of saints, above all the other celestial inhabitants of heaven. Christ, indeed, speaks of St. John as the greatest of all born of a woman; but as it is evident that he and his blessed Mother are exceptions to this, we may believe that St. Joseph, for the reason above mentioned, is likewise not included. His place in heaven, as it was on earth, is by the side of Jesus the King of all saints, and by Mary their Queen, and his glory therefore outshines that of the most glorious. Therefore, children of the Church, honor him as the greatest, the dearest, the most powerful of the saints, and recommend yourselves to his protection now and at the hour of your death. Amen!


"Go to Joseph."--Gen. xli. 

When our thoughts dwell upon the saints in heaven, the feeling which predominates in our hearts is admiration of their sanctity and glory. Our first duty, therefore, is to show them the veneration due to them, as the glorified children and servants of God; and among them all, who is so justly entitled to every honor from us as St. Joseph? If every saint has a claim upon our veneration, how much more is this true of him, the holiest of all the saints, whom we have already contemplated, body and soul, by the side of Jesus and Mary on his heavenly throne?

We are, however, accustomed to manifest the sentiments of our veneration toward the saints by offering prayers in their honor, by singing hymns in praise of their virtues, and by saying special litanies to them. But more than all do we show our reverence and esteem by seeking refuge in their intercession in all our needs.

In this regard, each one can follow the impulse of his own devotion, and seek the protection of whatever saint in whose intercession he has the most confidence. But how great soever may be our esteem for the ability of the different saints to aid us, it is, above all, St. Joseph, in whom we may, with the greatest assurance of being heard, confide and hope.

Beloved in Christ, listen to my reasons for saying this, and reflect upon them during the course of your whole lives. O Mary, grant that we may ever confide in the power of the great St. Joseph to hear and help us! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater glory of God!

If I wish today to animate your courage and my own so that it may never falter--to fly to St. Joseph in all our needs--nothing can serve so well for this as the declaration of a saint who is held in the highest esteem in the Church of God.

St. Teresa says: "I do not remember to have asked St. Joseph for any thing which he did not grant me." This is a very powerful proof, coming as it does from a saint who certainly never was guilty of exaggeration. What St. Teresa contributed on her part that caused St. Joseph always to grant her petitions, was, no doubt, the unbounded confidence with which she never failed to approach him; and also that her requests were always made in view of her wonderful vow, viz: "Ever to do what was most perfect." Let us imitate her example; and, filled with gratitude, we shall give that honor to St. Joseph which is justly due. As to the confidence which St. Teresa placed in him, I am not astonished at its extent; but rather inclined to wonder that it is not shared to a greater degree by all the faithful. In view of this, I deem it advisable to consider briefly with you the reasons wherefore she entertained it, for her motives for doing so exist for all the children of the Catholic Church.

We employ, with hope and trust, the intercession of the saints, because they are already with Christ, behold God face to face, and are intimately united with Him. Our confidence increases in proportion to the reasons we have for believing that they are exalted above all other saints, and particularly glorified before God according to their calling in His kingdom here on earth.

Secondly, the greater the merit through which they, while on earth, attained greater holiness by God's grace, the more firm will be our confidence in them, especially when they are saints whom our Lord, in different countries and in some special time of need, has appointed intercessors for the children of the Church.

In regard to the degree of glory to which St. Joseph is elevated in heaven, we behold him by the side of Jesus, in company with the Blessed Virgin Mary. This exaltation points, at the same time, to the degree of his union with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in the Most Holy Trinity. How indeed could God the Father refuse to hear the prayer of him whom He appointed to be His representative here on earth? In like manner how could God the Son deny him a request, since He was subject to him on earth as his foster-Son? And how could God the Holy Ghost remain deaf to any prayer of his, since He made him protector and spouse of her whom we have the right to designate as spouse of that Divine Spirit? Besides, St. Joseph stands at the side of Jesus, who is at the same time Man, with Mary, His mother. Let him but give the faintest sign, and Mary surely will not refuse to unite her prayer with his that Jesus will grant the petition; for Jesus is almighty, and, through this union with the Saviour and His mother, St. Joseph becomes, so to say, almighty himself.

As I said before, our confidence in the intercession of the saints is increased in proportion to the number of merits they gathered in the service of God, who deigns to glance at them, as we are assured in the Holy Scripture itself by the example of Moses, Job, and Jeremias the prophet.

But, in regard to St. Joseph, the merits of all the other saints are not to be compared to his, for his entire life was spent in the most tender solicitude for Jesus and Mary themselves; and, therefore, each of his works, toils, labors, and affections were of immeasurable value.

Certainly we know of no achievement, individually, which the saints performed, and therefore we are not allowed to exalt one above the other; but, in the case of St. Joseph, he stands pre-eminent above the rest, for the Scripture calls him perfect, just. He was, like Mary, a true mirror of perfection--without a blemish. How great, therefore, must be the pleasure with which the Most Holy Trinity contemplates him and grants all that he asks!

I repeat, that our assurance of being heard by the saints is more certain in regard to those who have performed wonderful things for God, in particular places, and whom He has glorified in times of need as special intercessors.

In regard to the calling of St. Joseph, it was most high and holy, and should be appreciated by all the faithful; for he fostered and protected the Lord and Creator of the world, to whom nothing is impossible.

Very justly, therefore, the holy fathers behold, in the person of the Egyptian Joseph, a figure of St. Joseph. The former was called, by the king, savior, helper. He watched over the granaries and storehouses in which the grain was preserved for the daily bread; but St. Joseph of the New Law cared for the bread which was one day to serve as a nourishment for the nations of the whole universe.

Pharaoh said to the people: "If you want help, go to Joseph;" and our heavenly Father, the King of kings, says: "If you need help, go to Joseph; I will hear his prayers for you." What God once said to the three friends of Job--"Go ye to Job, he will pray for you, and I will hear his prayers"--is most true in regard to St. Joseph,--in all necessities of soul and body there is no exception. Child of the Church, when the dark clouds of grief overshadow your soul, go to Joseph; he is, through Jesus Christ, the consoler of the afflicted. When you are tempted, go to Joseph; call upon him, and the temptations will vanish, or you will victoriously conquer. And if you should yield to the tempter's voice, and fall into sin, still go to Joseph; he will obtain for you the grace of true repentance and conversion.

Are you in good dispositions, but weak and tepid? Look up to Joseph, think of the glorious example of his sanctity, and he will obtain for you the grace of zeal. Are you afflicted with sickness? Go to Joseph, for he, too, is the health of the sick. If a St. Francis Xavier appeared to the suffering Marcellus, during his sickness, and said, "Invoke me, for you must know that I have influence in heaven," still more forcibly can the great saint, whom we devoutly, honor today, declare the same.

Yes, even in your temporal necessities call upon him with confidence, but with the reservation that what you petition for will surely tend to your spiritual benefit; and through his powerful intercession your prayer will not fail to obtain a hearing.

And, more than all, since the Head of the Church Himself has most solemnly dedicated St. Joseph as the patron of the "universal Church," we should, with the utmost faith, seek his gracious assistance. If we have done so during life, then he will surely assist us at the hour of death. Then let us pray daily for this grace, that we, like St. Joseph, may yield up our spirits in the arms of Jesus and Mary; and that, beholding him in heaven, we may eternally thank him for the graces which, through his intercession, we obtained on earth. Amen!


"Whose name was Joseph, of the house of David."--Luke i, 27.

Who could even think of the glorious St. Joseph, and not feel his heart instantly filled with the deepest veneration and admiration for him, and without being at once impelled to have recourse, with the greatest confidence, to his gracious intercession? Divine Providence has distinguished him in so wonderful a manner above all the other saints, even above the whole celestial choir of angels, by elevating him to the dignity of foster-father of Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, and virginal spouse of the Queen of all saints, that his mediation with the Source of all grace can not fail to be most powerful.

The exceptional graces which have been conferred upon him show us in a moment that the glory and power which surround St. Joseph in heaven, must be, indeed, great beyond conception. But, beloved in Christ, it is not sufficient to admire the heroic lives of the saints, nor even to feel that their intercession is most powerful, for there is one point in the veneration of the saints of much greater importance, and that is, that we are zealous in imitating their virtues. It is this disposition and determination of mind which tend to develop and directly test the greater part of the veneration which we profess to cherish for the saints, and it is particularly in this regard that our confidence will show itself most pleasing to God, as well as to the dear foster-father of the little infant Jesus.

The very name of this great saint contains a lesson in itself as to the manner in which our endeavors to imitate him should proceed, for the signification of Joseph is "The Increasing." And truly, from his wonderful virtue, he is fully entitled to it, for the light of his sanctity grew more and more brilliant, until at last it merged into the glory of the eternal day. This meaning will intimate to us the importance of striving ever to advance in our journey along the way of perfection, that we may resemble the more closely our patron, St. Joseph, who is also the patron of the universal Church.

What our progress in virtue particularly depends upon shall be made plain to you today by a careful consideration of the virtues which distinguished St. Joseph, and which in the course of my sermon I will place before your eyes. O Mary, obtain for us the grace to go on in the way of perfection with a zeal similar to that of him who was appointed by God to assist thee in the guardianship of thy divine Son. I speak in the holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!

"Walk before Me, and be perfect." Thus runs the word of the Lord to Abraham, the father of the faithful. "Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect," is the injunction of Christ to all the children of men. These words of the Lord indicate at the same time the condition in which we must be to satisfy this command, or, as it may be called, this challenge to the human race. We must strive in every action of our lives to do always the most holy and divine will, even in matters which appear to us of trifling import; and not only must we avoid evil, but practise with continually increasing zeal the duties of our state of life, never for a moment losing sight of the goal we wish to reach--perfection.

It is of his own endeavors that St. Paul speaks when he says: "Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting the things that are behind, and stretching forth myself to those that are before, I pursue towards the mark." In a greater or less degree every child of the Church is interested in becoming better and better, after a true Catholic knowledge has so penetrated his heart that he appreciates the duty which rests upon him to advance as far as he can in the path of virtue.

Today I have not in view those every-day Christians who are satisfied with fulfilling the most general obligations which devolve upon them in daily life. I speak to souls who complain that, with all their care to become more pleasing to God, they remain always the same, and, to their utter discouragement, make no progress whatever; who have, indeed, reason to say of themselves: "Instead of advancing, we go back--we know it too well, and, alas! others remark it also, especially those who are constantly with us. How can we help it?" In answer I will call your attention to those virtues which appeared most conspicuously in the life of St. Joseph, which shine forth with the greatest splendor, and are to be called his characteristic virtues.

In the first place, St. Joseph had a most profound esteem for the dignity of his calling. Like St. John the Baptist, he was most deeply impressed with the holiness of the office, which enabled him to walk worthily by the side of Jesus and Mary, and the greatness of the obligation which rested upon him to fulfill its duties in a fitting manner.

The great point wherein so many Christians are deficient, is a want of appreciation of the fact that God has created us for His kingdom; and that where Christ is, there is His kingdom; therefore all upon earth that prevents us from following Him is naught but vanity of vanities, and never sufficient to satisfy our hearts.

The generality of Christians seem to place worldly happiness above all; their principal care is but to possess and to enjoy for as many years as they can. Hence their carelessness in all that relates to their eternal salvation, on the one hand, and, on the other, their excessive care for the things of earth.

Show me a Christian with a will full of sincerity in the service of God, perfectly satisfied to embrace the state of life which God has marked out for him, and he will surely walk before the Lord, and make rapid progress in perfection.

St. Joseph lived in retirement and silence--a hidden life. He lived in the deepest recollection of spirit, keeping God ever in view. And here we perceive one of the principal obstacles which stands in the path of so many who fain would think that they are seeking the most rapid way to perfection.

The constant turmoil in which they live is not conducive to a holy life. They shrink from that solitude wherein the Holy Ghost would speak to their hearts. They are given to much conversing, and that, where neither duty nor Christian charity demands it, is a great source of tepidity and lukewarmness. It sets a most pernicious example, which in many instances destroys whatever efforts are made for the sanctification of souls.

To this is added an excessive fondness for pleasure. What was at once the solace, the joy, and the recreation of St. Joseph, was his intercourse with Jesus and Mary; and this will impart to us a very important lesson. Christ our Lord is the model of all perfection, and after Him ranks Mary as the most faithful imitator of the splendor of those virtues which adorned her Son. For thirty years St. Joseph had this immaculate Mother and her divine Son daily before his eyes. He lived with Jesus and Mary, which circumstance gave him occasion to regulate his life in accordance with their example; and this he did with an assiduity and a fidelity proportionate to his knowledge of and love for them, and the ardor of his desire to resemble them daily more and more.

But, alas! how far removed are men in general from thus knowing and loving Christ and His blessed Mother! Happy the Christian whose heart is inflamed with intense fervor for this dear Mother who was so tenderly cherished by our Saviour; he will continually contemplate the example of her virtues, and fly to her refuge in every spiritual necessity. Such a one leads, indeed, a holy and zealous life; for love for Mary can not exist where there is no love for Christ.

Then, by frequent reception of and intimate union with Him in the Most Holy Sacrament, he will acquire a love of prayer, and a deeper knowledge of Jesus and the life which is hidden with Christ in God. This will open for him an inexhaustible source of grace for the sanctification of his life, and replenish his heart with an ardent love of the cross, and with perfect resignation to the most holy will of God.

In the holy life of the great St. Joseph these dispositions shine most brilliantly forth. God tries His elect by adversity and tribulations, and the dear saint whose festival we celebrate today was no exception to the universal decree. Trials fell to the lot of St. Joseph, and he bowed in submission to the divine will; he remained silent, speaking not even to the angel who spoke to him.

What a heavenly model of silence for all who are really in earnest in their wish to advance in virtue! What resignation, what love of the cross, distinguished this great saint! I declare to you, most beloved in Christ, that the spirit of shrinking from the cross, from self-denial, which we find in so many Christians, is one of the principal causes of the little progress they make in virtue. Oh, what joy it is to meet one who has a tender devotion to the cross through the love of Christ, who finds therein a balm for every ill, and who, when the hand of the Lord is heavy upon him, is willing to give himself to God without reserve!

Therefore, O St. Joseph! we pray thee obtain for us grace and strength to imitate those virtues which shone with such brilliant luster in thy life, and we shall, no doubt, if consistent, reach the height of Christian perfection.--Amen!