A review of Father Marie-Dominique Philippe’s “The Mystery of Joseph”

by Joshua Gow | Religion teacher at Shanley/Sullivan School

“In each of these chapters, there is something good for every one of us, some nugget for spiritual growth, a virtue to grow in, or a piece of the spiritual life for us to emulate.” –Joshua Gow

In our current age, the Church is compelled more than ever to turn to the guidance and patronage of Joseph, epitomized a few years ago when Pope Francis made the permanent addition of Joseph to the Eucharistic prayers. In this movement, bibliophiles like me find ourselves scouring the shelves for a good book to become better acquainted with this holy man who has been occupying so much attention in the Church.

Upon my first glance, many of these titles provided information on the life Joseph and his patronages, but the substance was lacking. Then, enter a small tome written by the noted Dominican and founder of the Community of St. John, Father Marie-Dominique Philippe.

Part of the difficulty with Joseph is the lack of detail on his life. His importance is not doubted or questioned, as he plays a vital role in the economy of salvation, but information on this man is hard to come by. In the entirety of Scripture, only a dozen or so verses actually pertain to Joseph, and no direct quotes are attributed to him.

In the first part of his book, Father Philippe dives into the little recorded details on St. Joseph, using Scripture and writings from the early Church Fathers, and develops a story of Joseph’s life. It is amazing how Father Philippe is able to tease so much information out of the little recorded on Joseph, and to paint such a brilliant picture of this man! Within this account, we can see elements of Joseph’s character and evidence of the virtues for which he is famous.

Father Philippe highlights Joseph’s relationship in this part, and how his own actions shaped the Holy Family. He additionally highlights the important role Joseph plays in the early life of Jesus. In examining these relationships, Father Philippe delves deeply into Joseph’s psyche, examining how he must have felt and what was driving him to action. While it may not be a perfect account of what actually happened, the examinations are profitable for anyone looking to dive deeper into his relationship with Jesus and Mary.

After completing a thorough explanation and examination of Joseph’s life and role in the Holy Family, the first part of this work comes to a close. The second part consists of a series of lectures Father Philippe gave on Joseph and his qualities. Some of these are loosely related to the person of Joseph himself, but all are profitable for growth in some way.

The chapter on Joseph and his authority of service provided a good reflection for me as a father, and I would imagine it would be good for priests as well. Additionally, the chapter on Joseph as the prototype of the monastic life was very fruitful, and reinvigorates the idea that we all are called, in some way, to live a monastic life.

In each of these chapters, there is something good for every one of us, some nugget for spiritual growth, a virtue to grow in, or a piece of the spiritual life for us to emulate. In short, the second part of the book really takes many of the good and holy characteristics of Joseph and presents them to us in a way to digest piece by piece and emulate in our lives.

Father Philippe’s work on Joseph is a short one, but it’s one that you will be reading over again to dive deeper into its meaning. It is easy to get lost in the pages and bring different elements to prayer, and learn more about ourselves and this mysterious and pivotal saint for our times. For all those looking for a book to dive deeper into the person and mystery of Joseph, this is it.