The esteem that Saint Joseph had for Our Lady, his espoused, was immeasurable. That is a given. Who can deny it but the most virulent heretic?
He respected her so much that he received her as his spouse along with her vow of virginity. Both Mary and Joseph were inspired by God to make this vow. It was their gift to each other. And this is why Our Lady questioned the angel when the angel told her she was to be the mother of the Son of the Most High. “How shall this be for I know not man?” And the angel said: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). She was to be the Virgin Mother prophesied by Isaias: “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call his name Emmanuel” (7:14).
Let us make no mistake about this! Our Lady was indeed married to Saint Joseph at the time she conceived Our Lord.
And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary (Luke 1:26-27, my emphasis).
When, therefore, Saint Joseph later saw that his espoused was with child before their second espousal he considered that he should bow out and put Mary away privately. Not that he doubted her virtue (God forbid), but that he felt unworthy to be part of such a great mystery. Hence the angel came to assure him saying: “Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 1:20, my emphasis).
Notice that the words of the angel were “fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife” rather than “do not be indignant.”
There were two parts to marriage in the Old Testament. The first bound husband and wife legally. Jesus received His title Son of David, His Kingship, from Joseph, His foster father. The second was when the husband took his wife into his home and consummated the marriage. Joseph took Mary into his home in Nazareth as his ever-Virgin Spouse in an unconsummated marriage. As we read above in the Gospel of Matthew.
Note, therefore, that Mary is called his “wife” before he takes her into his home.
Now I would like to highlight this “hidden virtue” of Saint Joseph that I use in my title. What is it?
There were two parts to the angel’s message to Mary in Nazareth. The first was the revelation of the Incarnation awaiting Mary’s consent. The second was the miracle of her cousin’s pregnancy, for Elizabeth was beyond the age of child-bearing, in fact she was “barren”. At the time Our Lady told Saint Joseph only the second part of the revelation. The first part was made known to him in his sleep by an apparition of an angel.
What then was this hidden virtue of Saint Joseph?
It was his trust in Mary. On her word, and her word alone, he made the three day trip to Zachary and Elizabeth’s house in Ain Karim south of Jerusalem. It was enough for Joseph to hear the word of his espoused and respond with enthusiastic support. “You, my beloved, have this word from an angel? And I, unworthy as I am, have it from you. Let us go as you wish.”
And so he left his work behind and they immediately went to Ain Karim so that Mary could assist her cousin Elizabeth.
After spending a few days with Zachary, Joseph returned himself to Nazareth according to the visionary Maria d’Agreda in her Mystical City of God, Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Then, after three months, he returned to Ain Karim upon the birth of John the Baptist. Mary and Joseph then went home to Nazareth.