So often when we see St. Joseph depicted in sacred art it is either by himself or in the background with Mary and Jesus. Both of these types of depictions have their own place and purpose but today I want to focus on some others that emphasize important aspects of St. Joseph’s life within the Holy Family.
First, I want to emphasize his role as a protector of the family.
Here we have Joseph teaching Jesus how to be a carpenter. Even though Joseph was aware of Jesus’ divine origin, he knew it was essential to teach Jesus the meaning of work. This shows that Joseph did not have any sense of being entitled, like so many men today. When the angel appeared to him to explain Mary’s pregnancy and the birth of Jesus, Joseph did not say, “OK, I’ll raise God’s Son as my own; but God is going to have to pay all the bills.” I am sure, when looking at my own life and family and how God has provided for us, that Divine Providence provided what was needed, whether it be work in order to earn money or unexpected gifts when times were hard. But that doesn’t change the fact that Joseph fully took on his responsibility as the head of the household and taught his adopted child to do likewise.
Lastly, I want to emphasize Joseph as nurturing father and lover of his family.
In the first of these last two pictures we see another example of Joseph as protector because his arms are encompassing both Mary and Jesus at the same time, indicating that he will not allow anyone to harm them. But in regards to this last point of lover of the family, notice that he is embracing both Mary and Jesus with his arms. In addition, Mary and Joseph are resting their heads on one another.
Finally, in the last picture, we have an example of fatherly nurturing. I think some men might be put off by the term nurture because it seems so feminine or may be regarding as the mother's job. (I say this because the term causes me to cringe a little.) But I think the reason for that is because we do not have a right understanding of nurturing. Both parents nurture their children – but in different ways. Here in this picture we have Joseph and Jesus playing with the family dog. (I do not know the symbolism of the bird in Jesus’ hand, but that is not my focus.) Whether or not people in Nazareth in the time of Christ actually had pet dogs does not matter. What matters is that in our time, and I presume at the time this picture was painted, the image of father and son playing with a dog is very masculine. Notice too, that this is something just for Joseph and Jesus because Mary is in the background doing her own thing. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, while she is admiring the two of them playing together, it appears that she has a look of approval on her face, as if she is saying to Joseph, “Thank you for teaching my Son how to be a man.”