St. Patrick gets all the attention in the middle of March, but today is another feast day that you might want to begin commemorating. March 19 is the feast day of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. He is certainly well-remembered for the grace and grit he exhibited under the extraordinary circumstances of Jesus’ conception and birth! But, we don’t know that much more about him, as he quickly disappears from the gospel stories in Matthew and Luke.
We do know that the gospels call Joseph a “tekton,” a builder. Early Christians believed that he was a carpenter with a shop in Nazareth that made items such as plows and ox-yokes. Since there is no mention of Joseph after Luke’s account of the family’s visit to the Temple when Jesus was twelve, it is presumed that he died sometime after that visit but before Jesus began his ministry. But some biblical scholars have supposed that he had a strong impact on his son: after all, Jesus addressed God with the word, “Abba” (Father, or even Papa) – a word that he likely first used for Joseph!
There are many celebrations around the world for St. Joseph’s Day. In Sicily, La Festa di San Giuseppe is particularly celebrated, as Joseph is often regarded as their patron saint. Legend has it that in the midst of a drought and a famine in the Middle Ages, Sicilians prayed to St. Joseph for rain, promising in return to honor him with a banquet. When the rain came, the feasting began as well. Since Joseph’s feast day comes in the midst of Lent, it is a meatless celebration, but nevertheless many foods have become traditions. These include fava beans, pastries such as zeppoli, as well as sweet dishes filled with figs. It is also a custom to give food to the needy. And in Italy, March 19 is Father’s Day!
So I invite you to honor Joseph today. You could donate to the Soup Kitchen. You could say a prayer, in thanksgiving for St. Joseph, and for your own father or father figures. And you could even enjoy a Fig Newton as well!