He was given a holy assignment by God. He was chosen to provide care for the Lord Jesus Christ, God incarnate, and to protect and provide for the Blessed Mother Mary. St. Joseph exemplifies what it is like to be a husband and a father. In fact, he is the perfect model for stepfathers in today’s society since he, like all stepfathers, found himself in a position to care for a child that was not his. Yet, he took that responsibility as seriously as he took any other command of God. When we look at the Holy Family, we know Jesus was crucified, resurrected, and ascended back into heaven. Church Tradition teaches Mary was assumed into heaven at the end of her life. But, what about the quiet, hardworking, dedicated protector and provider. What happened to St. Joseph?
The answer to that question is just as “unknown” as the quiet carpenter who tenderly held the hand of the child Jesus. There are some theories and reported visions of what happened to St. Joseph, but let’s start with what we do know.
We know from Scripture that Joseph was with Mary when Jesus was lost during their travels to Jerusalem at Passover. This happened when Jesus was 12 years old, so we know Joseph was with Jesus and alive when the Lord was 12 years old.
“After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astonished, and his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety?’” – (John 2:43-48)
We know from Mary’s response to Jesus that Joseph was with the family during this encounter since she specifies, they were both looking for him. Additionally, this passage tells us Joseph loved Jesus very much and raised him just as if he were biologically his son. Mary refers to Joseph as “your father”, signifying the relationship the family had and how Jesus was raised.
We do not see Joseph again in Scripture and we can surmise that he passed away before Jesus began his ministry. We do not know that for certain, but we do not see him mentioned during the Wedding at Cana, the Last Supper, or any of the other moments throughout Jesus’ ministry. Mary is present and active during Jesus’ ministry, but we never see Joseph. We do know, for a fact, Joseph was dead before Jesus was crucified.
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother’ and from that hour the disciple too her into his home.’” – (John 19:26-27)
It’s important to note that the scene of Jesus dying on the cross is interrupted, in a way, by the mention that Jesus ensures Mary is taken care of after his death. It’s almost like the Lord hits the pause button and says “hold on, I have to get some things straight before I die”. Jesus, being the only child, would have been responsible for providing care for Mary after the death of Joseph since she would have been a widow. Jesus does this very thing as his own death is approaching. He makes arrangements for his mother to be cared for by St. John. There would have been no need to entrust Mary to the care of St. John if Joseph were still alive.
That leaves the question: What happened to St. Joseph and where is his body? The answer is simply that we do not know.
The circumstances surrounding the death and subsequent burial of St. Joseph are not known for certain since his body has never been discovered. Some believe he was assumed into heaven like the Virgin Mary, where many others disagree with that theory. There was, however, one individual who claimed to have experienced a vision of St. Joseph’s burial and believed he was lying in his grave and his body was incorrupt.
Her name is Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, and she was a German mystic, albeit a somewhat controversial character. She is heralded as one of the greatest visionaries in the history of the Church primarily because of her visions regarding St. Joseph and the Holy Family. She frequently is said to have experienced visions of Jesus, Mary, St. Joseph, and many of the Saints. Regarding the burial of St. Joseph, she said:
“Only a few men followed the coffin with Jesus and Mary; but I saw it accompanied by angels and environed with light. Joseph’s remains were afterward removed by the Christians to Bethlehem, and interred. I think I can still see him lying there incorrupt,” Blessed Emmerich said.
Although it would be easy to dismiss her visions of St. Joseph as nothing other than a dream, it is hard to discount her when her visions led to the discovery of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s house located in Ephesus.
She may not have seen the exact location of the body during her vision, but it would only make sense that the Lord would preserve the body of Joseph, the man who raised him, loved him, and taught him. If there were any saint worthy of an incorruptible body, it would be St. Joseph.
Will we one day discover the incorrupt body of St. Joseph? I believe the answer is yes.