Thursday, March 19, 2015


It began in the Middle Ages, when a severe drought blighted the peninsula. No rain fell for days—weeks, months—on end. People died of famine, countless numbers, families were torn asunder. What could they do?

Joseph by Guido Reni
They prayed. Italians from all ranks of society prayed. They prayed to God for rain; they prayed to St. Joseph to intercede with God on their behalf. In return, they vowed that, if God blessed them with rain, they would honor God and St. Joseph with a special feast.

It was only a matter of days, when—by miracle?—the skies opened, the rains came and fed the earth. The earth flourished and crops were planted. More rain came. The crops blossomed and thrived. The people were fed. With the harvest, the people made a magnificent feast. The moment became known as the Tavola di San Giuseppe, the Table of St. Joseph.

The miracle was never forgotten. In the many centuries since, people continue to pray to St. Joseph for ‘favors.’ Such favors can not be for personal gain or benefit. They need to be for another…the cure of ill loved, the return of a loved one from war. On this day, St. Joseph’s day being March 19, those whose favor has been granted, use this day—in Italy celebrated by festivals and feasts in every corner of the country and many parts of the world—to give thanks.

Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary, was a benevolent, generous man. Matthew’s gospel describes Joseph as ‘a just man.’ In Biblical times, the greatest compliment one man could bestow on another was to call him or her a tsaddik, a person of justice and virtue. Joseph was just such a man. He is known as the foster father of Jesus. Though there are differing theories of Joseph’s genealogy, it is most often supposed that he came from Nazareth and later made his way to Bethlehem for an unspecified time, two years being the best guess. There he obeys the direction of an angel to marry Mary.


After the birth of Jesus, the angel comes once more, telling Joseph of the peril the child is in, to take him to Galilee. His love and care of the baby Jesus could not have been more tender, more 'fatherly.'  In Galilee they settled. And there Joseph died on July 20, in the AD 18, at the age of 38. As Jesus had reached the age of 18, there is no doubt Joseph had been witness to the growing prophet that was ‘his son.’

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