I pray to St. Joseph every single day.
Someone once said to me that St. Joseph actually had it pretty hard in his house. He sat down at the dinner table between the Incarnate Word and the Immaculate Conception; if someone was screwing up in that house, it had to be him.
But in seriousness, Joseph did not have it easy. Very little is known about his life with certainty. There are stories from things like the non-canonical Proto-Gospel of James, but we take those traditions with a grain of salt. The Bible itself doesn’t give us that much information. Was he young? Was he old? Was he popular? Was he charismatic? None of this is in the Scriptures.
The Gospel of Matthew tells us that he was a righteous man. This meant at the very least that he was consciously religious and he kept the law. But it is his action that reveals his character.
Matthew tells us that when he found Mary was with a child not his own, he decided to divorce her quietly. I know some people point to this as a moment of selfishness or weakness. But there is a great deal we can learn about Joseph in this moment.
At this point in the story, Joseph mistakenly believes that Mary is with child by another man. The penalty for adultery could be death. If Joseph wanted to exact his righteous indignation at his tarnished honor, he could expose her to the law. But the fact that he was to divorce her quietly means that he would subject her to trial. Yet Mary would still be pregnant. Who would people think was the father?
Joseph, of course.
By not accusing her of adultery and divorcing her, everyone would assume Joseph got her pregnant. In the eyes of the community he would be a man who had his way with his young bride and kicked her to the curb when he lost his liking of her. His reputation would be forever ruined. But Joseph took on this burden for a woman that was carrying someone else’s child. In other words, Joseph cared more about loving Mary than being loved in return. He would sacrifice even his good name if it meant keeping her safe.
And when God reveals to him the truth, Joseph does not hesitate to answer the call. He leads his family to Bethlehem and then to Egypt and back. I think of the passage from Ephesians: “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved His church.” The marriage analogy is potent on many levels. But I can see that model of manly self-sacrifice in Joseph.
I’ve often wondered why Joseph was chosen. Christ chose to be born of a peasant carpenter. Seeing as how Jesus would grow to be the world’s greatest teacher, I find interesting that he was not born to a scholar or rabbi. Imagine if your destiny was to be a general and you could choose your parents, wouldn’t it make sense to be born to a great military leader?
But Christ chose a carpenter. As far as I can tell from the Scriptures, Jesus did not carpentry work during His public ministry. So why not be born of a scholar?
I don’t know the answer, but perhaps it’s because the most important lessons about the faith are not taught in the classroom, but in the home. I teach religion to high school students, but I don’t think my words have nearly as much impact as the lived example of mom and dad. I think of the words from the song “First Family” by the late Rich Mullins who was singing about his parents: “Never picture perfect, just a plain man and his wife/ who somehow knew the value of hard work, good love, and real life.”
Joseph could not live in academic theory. He had to live in the real world. He had to make ends meet. He had to grind away a living for his family. But most importantly, he had to be the model of manhood for the Lord of the Universe, his son. Even though there is no genetic link between the two, I like to imagine Jesus looking like Joseph, picking up his mannerisms, tone of voice, expressions… all of those million imperceptible footprints our parents leave in our lives.
Jesus learned from Joseph how to put others before you, not in theory, but in a concrete daily dying to self. I imagine St. Joseph’s hands rough and blistered and raw from working the wood of his craft. I imagine Jesus thinking of His foster father’s hands as His own were nailed to the wood of His cross. Jesus was just taking to completion the lesson of Joseph: put others before yourself.
I pray to St. Joseph every day. He is a saint who understands the daily worries of life. He knows the importance that our jobs have and the duty to provide. He understands the role that honest labor has in God’s plan. I prayed to him intently to get my first teaching job and I was very grateful for the four years I had there by his intercession. When I was let go, I didn’t know what I was going to do. But then literally out of nowhere, a man whom I had never met, who was the principle of a school where I had never been, called me. He asked if I was interested in a job. The day we talked was today, the feast of St. Joseph.
And I think of St. Joseph the husband. It must have been difficult to be with the most wonderful woman in the world and not be with her physically. But Joseph, as a righteous man, understood that Mary was Holy and set apart for God. But he was a good and loving spouse. I remember praying to him to help me find someone I could marry if that was God’s plan for me. And he did. He led me to a woman who for the past 2 years became my best friend. And then we started dating. And now we are married.
And the day we started dating was today, the feast of St. Joseph.
I can witness over and over to the wonders St. Joseph has worked in my life. He reminds me that I have a call to be a man of holiness in my job, in my family, and in the way I put others before myself.
St. Joseph, pray for us!
Copyright 2014, W.L. Grayson
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