The 7 Sorrows and Joys of St. Joseph

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The 7 sorrows and 7 joys of St. Joseph are a great way to venerate him on his solemnity today. It allows us to reflect on his holy example while protecting Jesus and Mary as head of the Holy Family.

His life was had both profound sorrows and uncontainable joys, just like our own. These traditional 8 sorrows and joys are a great way to meditate upon his life.

Dream of St. Joseph by Gerard Seghers (c. 1625-1630)
Dream of St. Joseph by Gerard Seghers (c. 1625-1630)

1st Sorrow and Joy: The Doubt of St. Joseph and the Message of the Angel

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit – Matthew 1:18

Upon discovering Mary’s mysterious pregnancy, he faced anguish and confusion. The news shattered his plans and tested his faith. How could the woman he loved, dedicated to purity, be with child? As a just man, St. Joseph decided to quietly opt out of his marriage to Mary in his confusion.

But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-21

But then, God sends an angel in a dream to bring him the truth: God wants him and Mary to play an important role in saving the world. He understands his new mission with clarity and conviction.

Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst (1622)
Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst (1622)

2nd Sorrow and Joy: The Poverty of Jesus’ Birth and The Birth of Jesus

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. – Luke 2:4-7

St. Joseph loved Jesus and Mary, but encountered a great struggle. Bringing them to Bethlehem in obedience to the census, he found himself in a terrible situation: his wife is ready to give birth, and they have nowhere to stay. Fortunately, he finds somewhere: a lowly manger.

But at the birth of Jesus, his sorrow turned into joy. Despite the messy circumstances leading up this moment, how happy must he have been to finally be with his new baby boy! And not just any boy, but the savior of the world. This joy and awe would only grow during the visits from the magi and the shepherds.

Circumcision of Christ by Peter Paul Rubens (1605)
Circumcision of Christ by Peter Paul Rubens (1605)

3rd Sorrow and Joy: The Circumcision and the Holy Name of Jesus

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. – Luke 2:21

Taking the newborn Jesus to the Temple offered both a sorrow and a joy. The circumcision is the first shedding of Christ’s (and therefore God’s) blood. It foreshadows His future suffering and death on the Cross for all of humanity.

But also at the circumcision, his parents give Him his name: Jesus, or “God saves.” This most holy name will become the name by which all are saved:

“that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:10-11

Simeon's Song of Priase by Rembrandt (1631)
Simeon’s Song of Priase by Rembrandt (1631)

4th Sorrow and Joy: The Prophecy of Simeon and Effects of the Redemption

and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.” – Luke 2:34-35

Simeon was a man filled with the Holy Spirit, promised to see the Savior before has passed away of his old age. Upon seeing Jesus, he gives them this prophecy:

  • Many will rise, but also fall
  • Jesus will be a sign that is contradicted
  • A sword will pierce Mary’s soul

This prophecy would be a painful one that Joseph and Mary would have to hold in their hearts for the rest of their son’s life.

But, Simeon reinforces the great redemption that Jesus will bring to the world, even if He will be contradicted. Jesus will be the way to eternal life for humanity.

The Flight into Egypt by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1923)
The Flight into Egypt by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1923)

5th Sorrow and Joy: The Flight into Egypt and the Overthrow of the Idols in Egypt

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. – Matthew 2:13-15

St. Joseph gets sudden news that things will get even harder for his family. He learns that King Herod is sending assassins to kill his son, and that only an arduous escape to Egypt will save him. Without any hesitation, he does what he has to do for his family.

There is a private revelation in the Church that says that when the Holy Family reached Egypt, their idols fell down before the baby Jesus. This would have reinforced Christ’s power and importance in Joseph’s mind, providing consolation to keep persevering as his father.

The Return from Egypt by James Tissot (1866-1894)
The Return from Egypt by James Tissot (1866-1894)

6th Sorrow and Joy: The Return from Egypt and Life with Jesus and Mary in Nazareth

But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archela′us reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” – Matthew 2:19-23

Life in Egypt, a completely foreign land, would not have been easy for Joseph and Mary. Then when the time came to make the arduous journey back to Israel, Joseph finds out that there is still danger in their original home. Thus, he chooses to dwell in a small town to raise Jesus in obscurity.

But once settled there, he had the deep grace to live life with Jesus and Mary. This unity would have been the perfect model for family life for all families. St. Joseph must have lived in great joy in Nazareth.

Jesus Among the Doctors at the Temple by Paolo Veronese (c. 1560)
Jesus Among the Doctors at the Temple by Paolo Veronese (c. 1560)

7th Sorrow and Joy: Losing of Jesus in the Temple and Finding Jesus in the Temple

but supposing him to be in the company they went a day’s journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him. – Luke 2:44-45

This passage from Luke doesn’t describe the complete anxiety and panic that Joseph and Mary would have experienced, thinking they had lost Jesus. This anguish continued for three full days before they finally found Jesus again:

And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. – Luke 2:48-51

Despite the confusion, St. Joseph would have experienced great relief and joy to be reunited with his son. They returned to their peaceful home in Nazareth, where tradition says that Joseph experienced a happy death in the arms of Jesus and Mary.

Trevor Jin
Trevor Jin
Trevor creates content for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) in Denver, CO. Before that he served as a FOCUS missionary.