Happy Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary!
I really wanted to make it to mass today for the solemnity of St. Joseph, but I didn’t realize that masses are not celebrated after 8:30am on the weekdays in Kansas City! I thought surely there would be, but nada. (My fault for not planning ahead.)
So, instead we will do the mass readings here at home to celebrate.
And why celebrate??
Because Joseph was AWESOME! St. Joseph is one of our great models of religious fidelity, for he was a man who “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.”
If we go back to the time of Mary and Joseph and examine what we find in the Gospels readings, we come across something that could’ve become similar to what we find in today’s novellas. Here we have a young girl (~14) and man who are betrothed. The young girl comes to the man and explains that she is with child, and the man, (most likely angry and surely hurt) decides to divorce the young woman, leaving her alone and pregnant (Mt 1:16-24). How scandalous!
Now, what seems to be the makings for a great television story, turns out to be the makings of one of the greatest stories ever told.
In order to understand more clearly how St. Joseph was feeling when Mary told him she was with child, we first need to go back and understand some of the Jewish customs. When reading or hearing the word “betrothal”, one might be inclined to compare it to our modern day engagements. However, Jewish custom was a bit different than this. In the Jewish faith, there were 2 stages to the marriage process: the betrothal stage, and the period where the two would come together. This is important to distinguish and understand because in the betrothal stage, man and woman exchanged vows, making the union both legal and covenantal. Though the two were not living together, the man and woman were legally and covenantally married. Another key thing to understand about this stage is that the two would not have consummated the marriage at this point. It is in the later stage when the two would come together, live with one another, and have a consummated marriage.
In understanding this, we can see that Mary’s news would have been all the more confusing and hurtful to Joseph. As far as he understood, Mary was not merely unfaithful to an engagement period, but rather had committed adultery. Moreover, they had made a covenantal bond together, and Mary’s pregnancy was an indicator that she had turned completely turned her back on him. They were bound to one another but had not yet consummated their marriage, and yet Mary was with child? How can this be?
If this were a story that we were hearing or watching unfold today, we would probably see Joseph publicly shaming Mary—enacting sweet revenge on his unfaithful spouse. But again, this is not an ordinary story and we know that Joseph decided to quietly divorce her. Though he found Mary’s pregnancy to be an unacceptable thing, he still did not want to “expose her to shame”.
If we stopped the story right there, we could already walk away seeing that, clearly, Joseph was a good and righteous man. Here we find a young man, faithfully committed to his wife, who finds out she is bearing a child that he knows for sure is not his, yet he doesn’t lash out in anger. He doesn’t bring her to the forefront of gossip, slander, and possibly even stoning. Rather, he chose to quietly break the bond to save her from shame. In doing so he would have had to swallow a lot of pride, ultimately being forgiving enough to let her walk away unscathed.
This would be a good story in and of itself, but the story does not end here. We read in Scripture that while he intended to quietly divorce Mary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
I don’t know about you, but if I were to have this dream I think I might wake up and rationalize and decide for myself the best thing to do, because dreams are just dreams, right? Yet, here we have Joseph who, upon waking up, “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took his wife into his home.” He did not take a day to ponder what this meant. He did not try to rationalize away the message that was brought to him in his sleep by following the lead of his feelings instead. Rather, he quickly and obediently followed the will of the Lord. Though he may not have fully understood what it meant that this child would “save people from their sins” or that “through the Holy Spirit” this child was conceived, he chose to submit to the Lord’s plan and have faith.
What an incredible man. For him to have felt unjustly treated, angered and hurt by the one person he was committed to for life, he so easily put aside his own feelings and was obedient and faithful to what the Lord told him. He didn’t do this begrudgingly, but rather we see that Joseph actually heard the Lord, believed that Mary had conceived through the Spirit, and from this point on lived out his life as a faithful leader of his family. He took care of Mary, and he made sure that she was always safe. He ensured that his son met all the Jewish religious customs at the necessary time, and he lived as a great example, being a holy and righteous man.
Recently I was listening to one of Jason Evert’s talks, and he spoke about St. Joseph. After hearing what he had to say, the image of St. Joseph in my mind was further transformed, and it added to my understanding of how cool he was.
Jason spoke of how everyone’s idea of Jesus’ foster father is usually a frail, white haired old man who obediently, prudently, and righteously followed wherever he was called (see picture above). While Joseph’s righteousness was surely a remarkable trait, the idea that he was a “frail old man” couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Jason describes the badassery of Joseph (the one the Church refers to as both the “Terror of Demons”, and the “Guardian of the Virgin”) pointing out that the long walk Joseph takes his family on (from Nazareth to Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth) would have been about 600 miles long; a walk no frail old man could endure. He also points out that he was not some old rosey cheeked man, but rather a “man’s man”. He explained that God would not have put a 70 year old man in charge of guarding a teenage virgin and baby, but rather a “tekton”. “Tekton” was the ancient Greek term for Joseph’s craft; he was not merely a carpenter who sanded out tables, but rather a construction worker, lumberjack, and a carpenter all rolled into one! Tektons would carry wooden beams through the streets, and knock down trees with their own bare hands and ax. They would build houses with their hands and work with masonry and stone. They were manlymen.
[Jesus was also a tekton, and Jason points out how his practice of carrying wooden beams would have prepared him for his walk to Calvary.]
He was a strong man, a leader, a man’s man. He was a righteous man, and a faithful husband. These are all the things that make St. Joseph so cool and so worthy of being emulated. He too was just a man, but he was a man who put the Lord first, and followed wherever the Lord called him, trying his best to live an upright life.
Take a minute today in thanksgiving for his faithfulness and obedience. Be thankful that our men have a strong example to follow as they lead their families in the faith, as husbands and fathers.
And also, watch this video and proceed in having an awesome and “happy” day!