CHAPTER XX. THE DEATH OF JOSEPH
As for Joseph, he contemplated Jesus with respect and dread, notwithstanding the affectionate intercourse which was habitual between them. For he felt—did this most just and righteous man—that his foster-Child was indeed the Son of the God of heaven, and often he covered his face in His presence, as did Moses near the burning bush of Oreb. But he was upright of heart and God loved him as one of His most faithful servants.
"And," he thought often, "if I cannot look, without fear, on the divinity concealed under human guise . . . how, how shall I be able to appear before my Creator when He shall call me hence?"
Jesus did not abandon him who had watched beside His cradle, under whose authority His infancy had been passed, and to whom He loved with a tender and filial affection. The hour was at hand, indeed, when Joseph was about to leave this world, and as that hour drew near, Jesus, the Son of God, was at his side. By voice, and glance, and touch He encouraged the soul of His adopted father, so that death lost all its terrors.
"How lovely is this passing!" exclaimed Joseph. "What joys are mine! The heavens open! Those heavens have been rent asunder to rain down the Word made flesh, and how heaven and earth are united by an indissoluble tie. It is the Christ, the living God, who unites them. The angels, the thrones, the dominations encompass us, for the King of glory is present. His feet are upon the earth, but His forehead touches the heavens. I shall be able to go from Him to His Father forever. O Death, where is thy victory? O Death, where is thy sting?" (1 Corinthians xv, 55.)
And Joseph looked from the face of Jesus toward heaven, from heaven toward Jesus. Life was quitting its earthly tenement, but sorrow and dread had no part in this dissolution. The holy Virgin, anointing, according to the custom, the limbs of the dying man with perfumed oil, could not restrain her tears. She was bidding farewell to one who had been her prop and stay, the companion of her days, good and bad, the faithful friend, the sharer of her glory and her grief. Nevertheless, wiping the tears from her loving eyes, she murmured:
"Go forth, my beloved spouse and friend! Enjoy happiness in the bosom of Abraham. Thy day is finished. It is full as the day of the diligent vine-dresser. Rejoice, dear Joseph, son of Jacob, son of David. God calls thee to Himself. Go! Receive thy recompense . . . and let us sorrow who lose in thee a dear friend, and one whose speech was affectionate and wise. But, Joseph, we shall meet again—since we have lived in the same hope and rejoiced therein."
The other Mary and her sons, and Salome and her children surrounded the couch of the dying man who had been so long their dear and trusted friend.
"The Lord has conducted the just through the right ways and showed him the kingdom of God," they sang. "He has exalted him like a cedar in Libanus. Courage! Enter upon the road to eternal life. Return to the heavenly city where thy name is enrolled, for thou hast been chosen to be one of its inhabitants."
And Jesus, pointing toward Joseph, said:
"Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God." (St. Matthew v, 8.)
The eyes of Jesus were suffused with tears, for suffering human nature ever awoke a response in His gentle heart.
Joseph breathed his last in the arms of Jesus and Mary, with those he loved about him—and this death, filled with all kinds of consolation, was the reward of a life so humble and so hidden that we know it only through the light which has been shed upon it by Mary and Jesus. Before he —the just one—was chosen to be their support and guide, he lived in obscurity. His mission accomplished, he died in obscurity; like those stars which only shine when they approach the sun, and are lost, apparently, when they no longer reflect its rays.
But while this planet swings within its orbit the name of Joseph shall be held in reverence. St. Joseph, guardian of the Holy Family, pray . . . pray for us!