I remember once being amused to hear that a 19th century Franciscan theologian (whose name I cannot recall) wrote a six-volume set called “The Life of St. Joseph.” How could one possibly get enough material to fill six volumes? We know so little about Joseph from Scripture. He seems to have been the strong, silent type. Not a word of his is recorded, but his actions have much to say, especially to men.
On this feast of St. Joseph, we do well to ponder him as a model for manhood, for husbands and fathers.
- Joseph is a man who obeys God and clings to his wife. Joseph was betrothed to Mary. This is more than being engaged; it means they were actually married. It was common at the time for couples to marry at a young age. Once betrothed they lived an additional year in their parents’ household while they became more acquainted and prepared for life together. At a certain point it was discovered that Mary was pregnant, though not by Joseph. Scripture describes Joseph as “a just man.” This does not mean that Joseph was fair and a nice guy (though I presume he was); it means that he was a follower of the Law. He based his life on the Jewish Law that God gave through Moses, as interpreted by the rabbis. The Law said that if a man discovered that his betrothed was not a virgin, he should divorce her and not “sully” his home. As a follower of the Law, Joseph was prepared to follow its requirements. However, he did not wish to expose Mary to its full force, which would have permitted her to be stoned. Hence, he chose to follow the Law by filing a divorce decree without publicly accusing her. He would remain quiet as to his reason for the divorce and Mary would escape possible stoning. To fail to divorce Mary would expose Joseph to cultural ramifications. Just men didn’t marry women guilty of fornication or adultery. To ignore this might have harmed not only Joseph’s standing in the community but also that of his family of origin. You know the rest of the story: Joseph is told in a dream that he should not be afraid because Mary has committed no sin. Matthew records, When Joseph awoke, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife (Matt 1:24). Now a man obeys God even if it is not popular, even if he has to suffer for it. Joseph is told to cling to his wife; he may suffer for it, but he “obeys God rather than men.” It takes a strong man to do this, especially when we consider the culture in which Joseph lived, and that he lived in a small town no less. Joseph model of strong manhood has something to say to the men of our day. In current Catholic wedding vows, a man promises to cling to his wife for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Our culture often pressures men to bail out when there is trouble. Joseph shows the proper way by obeying God over the pressures of the prevailing culture, even if he will personally suffer for it.
- Joseph is a man whose vocation is more important to him than his career. In Bethlehem, Joseph is warned by an angel in a dream, Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him (Matt 2:13). Joseph may well have had much to lose in this flight. Back in Nazareth he had a business, a career if you will. He had business prospects, business partners, and contacts. Fleeing to a distant land might mean that others would take away his business. But Joseph was a father and husband before he was a businessman. His child was threatened and his first obligation was to Jesus and Mary. His vocation outweighed his career. Today, too many parents make their careers and livelihood paramount, relegating their children to day care; Joseph demonstrates different priorities. It is true that many parents feel they have no choice but to work, but it is also true that many demand a standard of living that requires extra income to maintain. Perhaps a smaller house and fewer amenities would permit their children to have a childhood without day care. Joseph shows the way for parents: vocation has priority over career. For fathers especially, Joseph shows that a man is a husband and father before he is a businessman.
- Joseph is a man who protects his family. Joseph models a protective instinct that too many men lack today. Like Jesus, our children are exposed to many dangers. In the United Sates there aren’t a lot of physical dangers to fear, but moral dangers surely abound. Fathers, what are your children watching on television? What are they looking at on the Internet? Who are their friends? What do your children think about important moral issues? Are you preparing them to face the moral challenges and temptations of life? Are you and your wife teaching them the faith? Are you just a passive father, minimally involved in the raising of your children? A man protects his children from harm, physical, moral, and spiritual. Joseph demonstrates this aspect of manhood.
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