Msgr. Cox speaks of St. Joseph’s role in a most unusual family

Also recalls Venerable Fr. Tolton’s courageous return to Missouri


In some ways, it had to be awkward to be married to the Blessed Mother, who was conceived without sin, and to help her raise Jesus, the Son of God.

“Joseph was the only sinner in the house!” Monsignor David Cox reminded the people of St. Joseph Parish in Edina on their parish feastday.

“He had to rely on God’s help to overcome the temptations that all of us are subject to by virtue of our being human,” the priest stated. “He was able to do that with great virtue.”

Msgr. Cox is pastor of Mary Immaculate Parish in Kirksville and the Mission of St. Rose of Lima in Novinger. He gave a reflection on St. Joseph during a parish holy hour and reconciliation service that coincided with a retreat for confirmation candidates.

Father Simeon Etonu, pastor of the Edina parish, St. John Parish in Memphis and the St. Aloysius Mission in Baring and chaplain of the Kirksville Newman Center, organized the event.

Msgr. Cox’s remarks were given in the context of the Church-wide Year of St. Joseph declared by Pope Francis and the fifth anniversary of “The Joy of Love,” the pope’s apostolic exhortation on love in the family.

“The Holy Family was by no means an ordinary family,” Msgr. Cox said of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. “But it was a family united in love.”

He preached from the same sanctuary from which Venerable Father Augustus Tolton, a former slave who became the Roman Catholic Church’s first African American priest, preached a sermon on St. Joseph on the same date in 1889.

To do so, Fr. Tolton had to cross back into Missouri, from where he and his family had escaped from slavery when he was a child.

“It was like St. Patrick going back to Ireland! To the people who enslaved him,” Msgr. Cox noted. “Only a saint can have that kind of forgiveness in their heart.”

Msgr. Cox talked about the intensely personal relationship St. Joseph had as the foster father of Jesus.

“He lived in that house with the Son of God,” the priest stated. “And that house would have been filled with holiness and prayer, because of Mary and Joseph being in the presence of God in such a unique way.”

“And they would have been constantly growing closer to God because of their growing relationship of Jesus — with Him physically present to them, with a human body,” said Msgr. Cox.

Drawing on Chapter 2 of Luke’s gospel, he spoke of the significance of St. Joseph saying “yes” to God and not being afraid to take Mary as his wife.

“He had to be a man of prayer to do that,” said Msgr. Cox. “Mary was with child, and they were not married yet.”

Joseph had planned to quietly cancel their betrothal, without exposing her to public shame.

“But he had that dream, and he had to be a man of God to say, ‘This is a dream sent by God and not just a happenstance or wishful thinking,’” said Msgr. Cox.

It would have been difficult for Mary to raise Jesus alone, without a provider and protector for the family and a strong role model for Him.

“Because of Mary’s ‘yes,’ the Savior came into the world,” said Msgr. Cox. “And because of Joseph’s ‘yes,’ the Savior was able to be raised by a mother and a father.”

Scripture does not record any of Joseph’s words, but certainly doesn’t mean he never spoke.

“We do know of one word he said,” said Msgr. Cox. “We know the angel told him through the dream that he was to give the Son of God the name Jesus. So he would have spoken Jesus’s name on the eighth day.”

More dreams followed, along with more obedience.

“He was always listening, even in his sleep, to the voice of God,” said Msgr. Cox.

Joseph was willing to leave everything behind and flee into Egypt and the unknown in order to protect the Son of God and His mother.

Msgr. Cox surmised that Joseph was younger than he is often depicted in classical art.

“The flight into Egypt was a strenuous journey,” he noted. “Likewise, I think God would have wanted a strong and vigorous role model for His Son.”

In any case, the Holy Family’s relationship was unique in all the world.

“Jesus is the Son of God,” said Msgr. Cox. “Joseph is not his biological father. Yet, in every other way, Joseph is the father to Jesus. We know that he provided family, provided protection, was the safeguard of the home and taught Jesus a trade.”

He was spouse to Mary as well, but in way people do not generally think of.

“They loved each other but did not have the physical expression of love that most marriages have,” said Msgr. Cox. “She remained a virgin and he remained chaste in that relationship.”

Msgr. Cox spoke of when Mary and Joseph found the child Jesus among the teachers in the Temple, after searching for Him for three days.

It must have been hard for them to hear Jesus say, “Didn’t you know I was to be in My Father’s house?”

“Joseph had been a father figure to Him,” the priest noted. “But they were aware that He was the Son of God. They both knew the day would come for Jesus to do what God intended Him to do.”

That’s the last time Joseph is mentioned in Scripture, indicating that he probably died before Jesus began His public ministry.

“Tradition holds that Joseph died in the arms of Mary and Jesus,” said Msgr. Cox. “For that reason, he is honored as the patron saint of a happy death.”

That moment would have been the crowning of his ultimate “yes” to God.

“And now he’s also patron of the Universal Church,” said Msgr. Cox. “He’s been given the task not only to watch over the Holy Family but out watch over the whole family of the Church.”

After Msgr. Cox’s reflection, parishioner Natalie Clark sang the song she composed called “Joseph,” accompanied on guitar by her father, Jim Clark.

Msgr. Cox and Fr. Etonu then heard people’s confessions.

Msgr. Cox said he started to realize that Venerable Fr. Tolton, whom the Church is seriously considering naming a saint, had preached on the same subject, on the same feastday in that same church.

“I was standing in a very holy place where a venerable person stood, on this same day over 120 years ago, likely preaching to the ancestors of some of the people who were in the church with me,” he said.

“It was a very humbling experience to be able to do that.”