Published in the National Catholic Register 2022
Fr. Stanley Smolenski
Because of the vast increase of interest and devotion to St. Joseph especially in this third millennium and as the Church was celebrating the holiness of Jesus’ maternal grandparents liturgically on July 26th, the thought came to me about celebrating his paternal grandparents as well,
First a look at the maternal grandparents of Jesus.
Devotion to Sts. Joachim and Anne, the parents of Mary, has a long and interesting history. Their names appear in the 2nd century apocryphal Protoevangelium of St. James and the 3rd century Gospel of the Birth of Mary. The distorted image of Joseph as an old widower with children makes its appearance here. St. Anne was signaled out for veneration in the 4th century Eastern Church and St. Joachim followed in the 8th century.
The Gospel of St. Matthew identifies the father of St. Joseph as Jacob while Luke lists him as Heli. Scholars tend to accept the rationale that was given by a second-century historian, Julius Africanus, a native of Israel, who recorded an account by a member of the family at that time. The discrepancy disappears when studied in the light of the complicated marriage arrangements involving relatives. It results in the same person having two legal identities.
The intercessory power of St. Anne is well established through her great and small shrines. In the 6thcentury there was a Catholic settlement in Britanny, France with a chapel dedicated to her. But it was neglected and disappeared. The village still kept her name Keranna – St. Anne. She appeared to a peasant in 1624 stating that God wanted her venerated there again. Through miraculous signs, an ancient statue of her was discovered and venerated until its destruction in the French Revolution after which a replica replaced the original.
Many of the original settlers in Quebec, Canada came from this area and brought with them their ardent devotion to St. Anne. In 1658 a piece of land was donated for a church. There are a couple of stories how it became a pilgrimage site. One is that a few sailors whose boat was wrecked invoked her and made it safely to shore at that spot. Another is that a construction worker on the original church was cured initiating its miraculous reputation. The present magnificent basilica was built in1872.
As some moved from Canada into especially New England, they brought their devotion to St. Anne into those areas. Some have developed into pilgrimage and miraculous sites. Examples are the fort and chapel dedicated to “the good St. Anne” that was built on Isle la Mott in Vermont in 1666 and remains a pilgrimage site. In 1879 the ailing pastor of the church in Fiskdale, Massachusetts promised toerect a shrine to St. Ann if she obtained his healing. His prayer was heard and he kept his promise. Many parishioners were similarly blessed and the shrine with its numerous canes, crutches and braces witnessing to cures still attracts pilgrims.
The history of devotion to St. Joachim was a confused one which made it difficult to create anything definitive about him. His feast was finally settled to be celebrated on August 16th. Until the Vatican II liturgical reform, St. Anne and St. Joachim had separate feast days. Now they are united on July 26th, the traditional feast of St. Anne.
The paternal grandparents of Jesus
There does not seem to be sufficient information either in scripture nor in the apocrypha to get an image of St. Joseph’s father or mother. There is a full story of St. Joseph based on the approved private revelation to Mother Cecilia Baij, a Benedictine nun at Montefiascone near Rome. It is unique because it is claimed to have been dictated by Jesus himself in 1736. The full virtuous life of his youth reveals the great holiness of Joseph’s parents who formed him according to the Old Testament Hebrew faith as was Mary by Joachim and Anne by which they were prepared to be the virginal parents of the Divine Messiah. Such formation is logical for such a mission in salvation history. Therefore, devotion to Sts. Jacob and Rachel, based on such sources, would be solid, firm and stable. It would be advantageous for someone to draw up such a resume of their holiness.
St. John Paul II speaks with magisterial authority when he places trust in mystical graces, such as in his Eucharistic Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum Domine - Stay with us Lord – par. 18: “Let us deepen through adoration our personal and communal contemplation, drawing upon aids to prayer inspired by the words of God and the experience of so many mystics, old and new.” It is to be noted that he includes the communal as well as the personal dimension.
This is because the Church recognizes a theology of the heart, not academic, but contemplative; that is, the theological knowledge embedded in the infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith. Here we are focusing on the heroic sanctity of very prominent contributors to salvation history.
So called “private revelations” are meant to be remedial. They do not change nor add to public revelation but only bring out something of its neglected or forgotten elements which are of particular importance in a given period. But since they are corrective, they should not be ignored without suffering the consequences.
An excellent example of this is Fatima where Our Lady requested a collegial consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart to prevent a worldwide political catastrophe. Not having been done as directed, we suffered the evils of the Communist philosophy of man and life. When done by St. John Paul II with all the bishops of the Church, the Communist empire self-imploded in five years without any foreign military intervention. Ironically, it was accomplished by the proletariat of each nation itself.
By such an understanding of private revelation, the paternal grandparents of Jesus could be not only the objects of personal devotion but eventually developed into a liturgical appreciation as the parents of Mary are presently. Thus, the childhood family of St. Joseph would be added to the roster of holy families. This would also terminate the image of Jesus as a “momma’s boy” produced unconsciously by art since the paternal presence would be emphasized as well as the maternal.
This means that their great intercessory power is yet to be discovered and promulgated, as is that of Sts. Joachim and Anne.
There was an upsurge of interest in St. Joseph in the latter part of the 19th century but was not allowed to develop. Yet, there seems to be no stopping to the current interest in him. There is an approved apparition in Brazil in 2018 promoting devotion to St. Joseph’s holy childhood. There was an apparition of St. Joseph in America in the 1950’s, approved for private devotion, requesting a liturgical feast in honor of his holy fatherhood. It would not be surprising to see his Assumption into heaven, believed by several prominent saints, to be similarly honored. The doctor of the church, St. Francis de Sales, expressed it quite simply, “St. Joseph is in heaven, body and soul; there is no doubt about that.” (Fr. D. Calloway, Gems of St. Joseph, p.134)
Some interesting questions arise. On p. 266 of his erudite study Theological Dimensions of the Liturgy, Dom Cyprian Vagaggini OSB writes of the christification or paschalization of the world.
In his conference of November 17, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the diocese of Leige in the 13th century as an exemplary Eucharistic diocese, a veritable “Upper Room”. Would this, then, not have been the Eucharistification of that diocese? Will that be the result of the Eucharistic renewal in which the Church in America has recently entered?
Fr. Donald Calloway MIC, in his presentation of St. Maximilian Kolbe in Champions of the Rosary, speaks of the Saint’s desire to “marianize” the Church (p. 252). Although St. John Paul II does not use that term, it is obvious from all his marian documents, that he was of the same mentality. For instance, he states in par. 58 of Ecclesia de Eucharistia, “In the Eucharist the Church is completely united to Christ and his sacrifice, and makes her own the spirit of Mary.”
A question arises: Is the Holy Spirit initiating a trend today to similarly “josephize” the Church?
Already, at the 15th century Council of Constance, Jean Gerson, Rector of the University of Paris, had presented an admirable analysis of St. Joseph’s important participation in salvation history. He introduced the term Earthly Trinity and so earned himself the title of Father of Josephology.
This, then, would certainly make our third millennium the Millennium of St. Joseph as this unique appreciation of his increases steadily in our time. As the first millennium was Christo-centric based in the ecumenical councils defining the mystery of Christ’s divinity and humanity, and the second millennium delved into Mary’s participation in salvation history through devotions, theological insights, apparitions and dogmas, so Joseph’s place is emerging revealing the full truth about the Earthly Trinity. And a reason for devotion to the grandparents of Jesus.