On March 19, the Catholic Church celebrates the memory of Saint Joseph, husband of Mary and worldly father of Jesus Christ, a just man and an example for our lives.
The main source for the life and acts of Saint Joseph is the Gospel according to Matthew. Although Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus who was born from the Holy Spirit, the Gospel according to Matthew describes the essential role of Joseph as father in the world. As father, as faithful spouse of Mary, as conscientious worker, as observant Jew and as a courageous and God fearing man Joseph is exemplary for every believer.
Joseph son of Jacob in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew is very similar to Joseph son of Jacob in the Book of Genesis. These two men who carry the same name are both exemplary in their obedience to the words and commandments of God. They are dreamers (Joseph receiving important instructions in Matthew 1-2 which guide his steps). Both get into complicated situations with women (the first Joseph with the adulterous wife of Potiphar and the second Joseph with the Virgin Mary) who turn their lives upside down. Both save the lives of their families by descending into Egypt. However, the most interesting similarity is that both are fathers who are not fathers.
In chapter 48 of Genesis, when Jacob, father of Joseph and his brothers, is already in Egypt and approaching the end of his life, he receives a visit from his son Joseph accompanied by his two sons Ephraim and Mannaseh. Jacob says to Joseph during the visit: "Therefore your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are now mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are." (Genesis 48:5). By his words, Jacob takes from his son his sons and makes them his brothers/ He is indeed the biological father but his sons become the sons of his father.
In the Gospel of Matthew, the situation is a reverse one. Jesus is not born from Joseph according to the body. Jesus' origin is from God - the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary and the power of the Most High overshadows her and the son to be born will be holy and will be called Son of God (cf. Luke 1:35). Despite this, Joseph fulfills the role of a real father at every level. He is commanded to name the child, naming being a very important role of the father. He is the child's protector in a hostile world (especially in the face of Herod's plots to destroy the child). Joseph is not the biological father but because of his faithfulness and his obedience he becomes the real father.
Christian tradition added many stories to fill the void about what we do not know about Joseph. However, essential to the feast is that we pray that we might be faithful like him, observing the word of God and attentive to it always. Most importantly, that we too might protect the greatest of God's gifts that is given to us in Jesus Christ.