Elizabeth vs. Joseph

On the last day of a full (in some ways endless?) week, the Saintly Sixteen heads back to the Biblical quadrant for a showdown between Elizabeth and Joseph. To get here, Elizabeth got past Andrew while Joseph bested Joshua. Reminder before you start complaining: No one said any of this was fair. It's called Lent MADNESS, after all!

Yesterday, Herman of Alaska became the first saint to make the Elate Eight, easily defeating Thomas More 68% to 32%

We'll see everybody first thing Monday morning as the Saintly Sixteen continues with a matchup between Brother Lawrence and Margery Kempe. Have a great weekend, everyone, and stay safe out there!

Elizabeth (biblical figure, mother of John the Baptist, wife of Zechariah) doesn’t have a treasure trove of legendary stories about her.

There are a few in the non-canonical infancy gospels. In one story, she has to escape Herod’s marauding soldiers with the baby John, and so she begs the mountains above to come to her aid. Miraculously they split open, revealing a cave, and provide shelter for her and the infant for years. An angel of the Lord stands guard over them until the danger has passed.

If you’re reading the above and wondering where Zechariah is, he was murdered in that story. (The Infancy Gospels are DARK, man.) In the Infancy Gospel of James, Zechariah is martyred in the Temple by some furious soldiers when he refuses to tell them where his wife and child are. The other priests arrive in the morning to find his blood turned to stone, and the walls of the Temple crying out news of what has occurred. They then cast lots, and appoint Simeon to take his place--who acclaims the Baby Jesus the salvation of Israel in Luke. (The Infancy Gospels also like to tie up loose ends.)

St. Hippolytus suggests that she and Mary, mother of Jesus were sisters, in an echo of the relationship that Jacob had with Leah and Rachel.

Now, it should be said that others besides orthodox Christians also honor Elizabeth. The Mandeans, who hail John the Baptist as the true Messiah, and still exist in tiny minorities in Iraq, Syria and New Jersey (look, all religious minorities end up in New Jersey), are big fans. According to their Gospel of John the Baptizer, Elizabeth was 88 when she conceived John, and found him in the basin of the River Jordan. We also are told that she and Zachariah survive into the public years of John’s ministry. At one point, John returns home after a long absence, and Elizabeth is so thrilled to meet him, she rushes outside without her veil. Because of this lapse, Zachariah wants to divorce her, but John talks him out of it.

Again, in these legends we see a picture of a woman who is brave, compassionate, and so caring that she is honored among many religious traditions, not just one.

--Megan Castellan


Despite the current pandemic, the feast of St. Joseph was heralded and celebrated yesterday (March 19), with pastries and special foods (as much as was available).

In many ways and to many people, Joseph is considered a man for all ages. While his words were never recorded, his actions speak volumes.

What is known about the life of Joseph is limited. The Gospels tell of a man dedicated to caring for his wife Mary and her son Jesus, and dedicated to upholding and teaching the traditions of his faith. A deeply observant Jew, he silently witnessed the religious and societal milestones of Jesus’ life.

What is known about the impact of Joseph is not silent. Images and representations of his life surround us. He made an indelible mark on the world culture and society in such facets as religion and educational institutions. Prayers are often offered to Joseph for a holy death. His influence is indisputable and undeniable, as evident through the heralding of his life by important religious and spiritual leaders.

Pope Francis considers Joseph a solid model, “a man of dreams, but not a dreamer. He wasn’t abstract. A dreamer is something different. It’s someone who believes… goes off… has his head in the clouds, and doesn’t have his feet on the ground. Joseph had his feet on the ground. But he was open-minded.”

Early church leader St. Gregory of Nazianzus in the 300s likened Joseph to the sun. “The Lord has arrayed Joseph, like with a sun, in all which the saints possess together in regard to light and splendor.”

In the Middle Ages, St. Thomas Aquinas addressed Joseph as the patron for everyone: “Some Saints are privileged to extend to us their patronage with particular efficacy in certain needs, but not in others; but our holy patron St. Joseph has the power to assist us in all cases, in every necessity, in every undertaking.”

St. Teresa of Avila in the 1500s spoke to Joseph’s connection with God: “Though thou hast recourse to many saints as thine intercessors, go specially to St. Joseph, for he has great power with God. Those who give themselves to prayer should in a special manner have always a devotion to St. Joseph; for I know not how any man can think of the Queen of the angels, during the time that she suffered so much with the Infant Jesus, without giving thanks to St. Joseph for the services he rendered them then.”

At the end of the 1800s, Pope Leo XIII spoke of Joseph’s character: “He was both the true and chaste spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the foster-father of the Word Incarnate. For these two reasons, St. Joseph shines among all mankind and approaches nearer than any other saint to the holiness of the Mother of God.”

Framing him as a man for all times, Pope John Paul II said: “Saint Joseph was a just man, a tireless worker, the upright guardian of those entrusted to his care. May he always guard, protect and enlighten families.”

Although words uttered by Joseph have not survived the centuries, his influence is timeless.

--Neva Rae Fox


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Joseph: Giovanni Battisti Gaulli, called Baciccio “St. Joseph and the Infant Christ” c. 1670-1685. Oil on canvas.
Elizabeth: Orthodox icon of Saint Elizabeth, Mother of Saint John the Baptist.


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118 comments on “Elizabeth vs. Joseph”

    1. Completely unfair! The names of 2 of my grandparents and I am named for both! Well, Joseph is very understanding of why I am going with Elizabeth today but both are special to me!

    2. "Messiah-detecting uterus." I'll never be able to unthink that. Never! (^v^)

  1. Go St. Joe! Let's continue the celebration of St Joseph's Day (yesterday) with a positive nod for his strength and silent witness.

    1. I especially remember that, prompted by God in a dream, he took drastic and effective action (taking the Holy Family to Egypt as refugees, away from murderous King Herod) when they faced a life-threatening situation. May we all take courage from his example in this pandemic. Though "Egypt" for us may be our homes. May sheltering in place be as effective for many people.

  2. It seems strange that no other mention of Joseph is in the Gospels.
    What kind of father was he to Jesus growing up?
    What was he thinking and feeling as Jesus began his rebellious mission?
    Fascinating to imagine.
    Joseph gets the vote today

    1. I was thinking about that too, Janene.

      Today I thought that he must have been a very loving father, because Jesus taught us to call God "Abba."

      (One could argue the other side, but I'm thinking today that the tenderness of Jesus' address to God suggests that he had a father who was loving and approachable.)

      At the very least, Joseph and his wife raised an amazing and holy Child.

      I love your question about how rebellious Jesus may have seemed, though, and how a devout parent might have handled that.

    2. I think Joseph does show up in the Gospels, sotto voce, in passages like Jesus's parable of the prodigal son. Joseph, more than anyone, showed Jesus what a good father can be like, and Jesus drew on that experience of a father in his teaching. Imho.

      1. Oh, I love your interpretation of Joseph’ influence on Jesus by referring to the parable of the Prodigal Son. What a lovely and loving reflection. Thank you so much. Joseph is my choice for the second time this year’s Lent Madness and for all my life. My beloved Uncle Joe, one of the finest people I have ever known, was named for Joseph. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    3. Joseph must have been broad-minded not only about Jesus' ministry but also about Mary's pregnancy. True, he did hear from an angel in a dream, but he still went against deep religious and cultural beliefs to stay with and marry her.

    4. Joseph is actually mentioned in the first chapters of Matthew and Luke. Mary is mentioned a lot more, but of course she is - after all, she's Mom! In Joseph's defense, he signed up to become a new father (again!) when he was over 90, and he did lead Mary and the baby Jesus to safety in Egypt, and then back home - not a mean feat for a man of his advanced age! Apocryphal sources indicate that Joseph died before Jesus began his public ministry - he is considered the patron of a happy death because Jesus and Mary took such good care of him during his last days - truly the mark of a good Son!

    5. This is such a beautiful illustration of Joseph and baby Jesus, Joseph looks so dedicated and caring. Even though little is written about him, we know that he must have had unshakable faith. I voted for Joshua the first time but Joseph this time. Yep, I am on a roll, both rounds in the minority.

    6. I've also been thinking about where Joseph was, but don't agree that Joseph's absence calls us to read him into the ministry of Jesus. Jesus' ministry taught us to deemphasize the nuclear family (or even eliminate that social unit) and replace it with the ecclesia. Christians are meant to see the Church as their family in a very radical sense...even as a replacement of their parents and siblings. I think Joseph (and Mary to some extent) is absent because we are not meant to think of the earthly family as terribly important. I know that's not a popular idea in our current cultural context, but it's what the Gospels teach us. I've provided a link below to a very short article that outlines this argument with sources.

  3. I'm going with the father of Jesus again. At this point in the competition, I can't think what would trump that other than being the mother of Jesus.

    1. This brings to my mind an interesting “what if”. What if, during Lent Madness, all the saints in the brackets are watching over us who participate, and “pulling for” themselves, or one another, from their heavenly place? I kind of love the imagery that evokes in my mind!

  4. Maurice Sendak illustrated a tale from the Golden Legend in which a mother sends her children into the woods to hide from advancing armies during the Hundred Years War. They are cared for by St. Joseph. Time flows differently- the children come and visit the mother as she is dying of old age. The illustrations are beautiful. I couldn't read the book to my kids because the story always made me cry. St Joseph is the humble but faithful protector of families.

  5. My birthday was yesterday, so I'm voting for my birthday feast day dude. My name is Laura, but my very Catholic aunt insisted on calling me Mary Jo when I was born for months, as I should have been named for the Blessed Mother and my feast day patron. My mother stuck with Laura, but those who know the story like to wish "Mary Jo" a happy birthday each year. But a toast to Elizabeth, my middle name. It was a tough call. ( I also have a daughter, Elizabeth.) Hoping another Elizabeth makes it further.

  6. I made my bracket and I am sticking to Elizabeth, but in my heart, I am voting for Joseph today.

  7. Strong and supportive relatives; faithful fathers. We need them both. But the fathers top it today.

  8. It's another impossible choice. In honor of the Mandeans of New Jersey, I cast my vote for Elizabeth!

    1. Not just New Jersey. There seeMs to be a 2500 strong colony of Mandan in Worcester, Massachusetts

    1. The story of adolescent Jesus evading his parents and staying in the Temple demonstrates that he was human as well as God. I can just imagine Mary and Joseph saying to each other "I thought he was with YOU!" "I thought he was with YOU!"

    2. Thank you for sharing! I just sent this to my son, Joseph, who is traveling to his home in Texas from California, if they let him. Love Joseph in this painting and I know my Joe will as well!

    3. Joseph’s posture and both their gestures say it all! Plus it’s a gorgeous icon.

    4. Papa Joseph looks more than a bit perturbed there. It reminds me of my husband's "pater familias" face that indicates he intends to lay down the law with our daughter.

    5. When I , the first in my family went away to Penn, we did not have cell phones, or even the money to pay for a phone in my dorm room. My family brought me to Philly from South Jersey for the first time late one Sunday afternoon. The next day a new student picnic was held across the campus in a field by a different dorm. I went to it with some of my new housemates. I looked up to see my father Joseph and one of my siblings walking towards me. Dad brought me a box of clothes that had inadvertently been left behind, as well as a message. He said that my mother Mary had worried about me and wondered how I slept the night before. He had driven back to Philadelphia, an hour each way, just to check on me. I see his face on this icon pointing to my mom saying that I should have found a way to call them to say that I was okay. I probably was a little bit put out too that I had to leave my new friends to go back to the dorm with them to put the box away too. But now, 40 years later, I miss the man whose love for me caused him to track me down across campus- I still don’t know how!- just to check up on me! And to say, for the first time, “Remember to call your mother!” Sort of sounds like another story, doesn’t it? And my brother Christopher follows in our father’s footsteps with his girls...

  9. Indeed, a tough choice, today. I am leaning toward Joseph, as his story above seems more believable than the one reported about Elizabeth. But I'm also angry at him because of those damn pastries! I've given desserts for Lent (and to help me lose weight), and a friend who runs an Italian deli just posted pictures of them onInstagram yesterday. But I'm remainng firm, so God, please show some progress on my weekly weigh-in. In the end, one of my favorite storieis in the Bible is when John the Baptist leaps in Elizabeth's womb, so I'll vote for her!

  10. Such a hard choice today. The portrait of Joseph swung my vote. My daughter used to pull her dad's beard just like that (30 years ago...). Daddies rule.

  11. Joseph is the embodiment of a good father, biological or not. In some ways I feel like God chose him to be the earthly father to Jesus *because* Joseph embodies the qualities of a good father - patient, loved the mother, mindful of teaching the church's doctrine, hard working, protective, and allows the child to follow their own path instead of the one they decide should be followed. In honor of all good and faithful fathers, I hold up Joseph.

  12. "The Mandeans, who hail John the Baptist as the true Messiah, and still exist in tiny minorities in Iraq, Syria and New Jersey (look, all religious minorities end up in New Jersey), are big fans." Having lived in New Jersey since 1974, I have yet to meet a Mandean. However, that doesn't mean there aren't any. After all, I've spent quite a lot of my time in New York City, where all my appointments to ministry were located. Anyway, I choose to vote for Joseph, husband of Mary, earthly father figure to Jesus, for his strength and steadfast faith and trust in God as well as his wife. He helped raise Jesus, doing what was necessary to protect him from the beginning.

  13. It was St. Joseph´s feast day yesterday so voted for him. We dissed St. Patrick right before his feast day!! Also, I liked his humility and obedient faithfulness.

  14. The silent Joseph's actions speak volumes. When Jesus taught his disciples to say "Our Father" he must have had an image of fatherhood much like mine. Elizabeth's words were laughter and denial of laughter.

  15. St Joseph is my Patron Saint and has carried me through some really difficult times throughout my live and I will put him, now, on my shoulders and carry him to the end!

  16. The Mandeans, who hail John the Baptist as the true Messiah, and still exist in tiny minorities in Iraq, Syria and New Jersey (look, all religious minorities end up in New Jersey), are big fans.

    I just keep hearing Hamilton lyrics. . . "Everything is legal in New Jersey"
    (To be clear, no shade being thrown at NJ. I'm just a musical theatre junkie who hears lyrics in every part of life.)

  17. What is a father?
    One who, loves, nurtures, guides, educates, and lets go, when the time comes!
    You do not have to be a biological father to father the children put into our charges!
    With that said, I still voted for Elizabeth! Cannot remember anyone else so protected with caring of baby/child John as Elizabeth did! I didn’t matter whether she gave birth to John or found him in the river, she just loved, protected and would have given HER life for HIM!

  18. I have to vote for Joseph who, as a little statue from my sister's Catholic inlaws, presided over the long hoped for selling of our house. I couldn't make myself bury him head down as the tradition goes, so he watched from a high perch. The sale was not quick, but in the end on what proved to be perfect timing. In my 7th decade as an Episcopalian, I'd never had any experience with any kind of rituals involving intercession to saints. However, I must admit that, over several years as this played out, I loved having Joseph holding baby Jesus and a lily keeping an eye on things.

  19. Let's get the Elizabeth's going again, such a tough choice I went with the lady today.

  20. In my bracket, I had Elizabeth going all the way to the final four. Still, thinking that Joseph was the dog today, I voted for him. Now looking at the statistics, I guess I was wrong!

  21. The beautiful painting of Joseph touches my heart and is very comforting. And, many statues of St. Joseph passed through my real estate office over the years. Some of those statues were actually buried, but many resided on mantels. Joseph has my vote today.

  22. What a tough choice! I have always deeply admired Elizabeth as a strong, compassionate woman of unwavering faith and the mother of John. But Joseph's humble obedience really speaks to me (to marry a pregnant fiance, to drop everything and flee to Egypt, to do his best to raise the Messiah . . .). I'm fine with whatever the results may be, but Joseph gets my vote today.

    1. I agree--Joseph had the more difficult task in society. Elizabeth received much rejoicing, carrying a child so late in her life, but Joseph had a lot of hard work and fleeing to do to value and keep his precious adopted son safe.

  23. Too bad Zechariah isn't up for the Golden Halo. Talk about getting the short end of the stick! Regardless, when it comes to Elizabeth versus Joseph, Joseph wins hands down for me. I don't need to hear miraculous stories about hills opening up to reveal secret caves, blood turning to stone, and other such malarkey. I just need to know that Joseph was an honourable, decent, compassionate, and loving man who raised our Lord and Saviour as his own. (Besides, as a Canadian, I could lose probably my citizenship if I don't vote for my country's patron saint.)

  24. voted for Joseph, even though I'm Elizabeth. Always liked him.

    And I totally miss Oliver this year, he would be telling us how to vote in cases like this