After a recent meeting of the 'Men of St. Joseph' at my parish, it dawned on me that I have never written a post about St. Joseph. Can you imagine that? I write a blog about how my faith affects me as a husband and father, and I have never written of our Lord's earthly father. With this strange omission in my mind, I set out to write a few words about our model of earthly fatherhood; the man that God chose as foster father of his only begotten son.....
So I sought out words of wisdom from St. Joseph. I hoped to weave poetic prose about his advice to Jesus, and all of us, so I went to the bible, to the gospels, and I looked up the sage advice from St. Joseph's mouth. I checked in Matthew's gospel and there I found.....not a word from Joseph.
Well okay, surely in the gospel according to Mark, Joseph imparts some brilliant verbiage for us...ummm nope. Not a word...
Luke's gospel has the infancy narrative, the circumcision, the presentation in the temple and Jesus getting lost in the temple, but still, not a word from Joseph.
John talks of the beginning, with the Word, and then talks about the Word coming to dwell among us, but his first story of Christ is the wedding at Cana, when he started his ministry. Joseph isn't even around then, and many scholars think he had died by the time Jesus started to teach.
So what can we learn from the 'silent' Saint Joseph? Obviously we won't be studying him in any kind of public speaking program, or sharing his deep observations on the origins of men's souls. No, we won't learn much from what Joseph said because it isn't recorded. I mean, we can assume he could speak. He had to tell Mary he wasn't going to divorce her. He had to go to the innkeepers asking for a room. He had his own contracting business. And it's possible that he had a few choice words for pre-teen Jesus when they finally found him in the temple. But his words are lost to history. Still, I think there is much we can learn from Jesus' earthly foster father.
The first thing that I am struck by when I think of what we can learn from Joseph, is his trust in God. I'm sure that by the time the angel is coming to him to tell him he needs to return his family to Nazareth, they had a pretty good rapport going, so it's not surprising that he was comfortable listening by then. But I think of when he had the first dream, telling him that Mary was pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit and that it would be okay to take her into his home. I can imagine that would be a tough pill to swallow considering he had just been gracious enough to keep quiet, and not to make an accusation that would lead to her stoning. Now he's being told that he should willingly make himself the laughing stock of his friends and the talk of all the local gossips for the rest of his life. I know I would have thought, 'that's all well and good for you up in Heaven, God, but I'm the one who has to live with the consequences of this choice down here on Earth. You don't know how brutal this place can be!' Maybe Joseph had some doubts, but at the end of the day, he trusted in God and did what He asked.
The second thing we can take away from what we know of Joseph in the gospels, is that he was a courageous man of action. In Matthew's gospel, it does not say,'The angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream and told him to take his wife and the child and flee to Egypt. And.... after freaking out about how cold and dangerous it would be, whining and complaining about how God doesn't give him enough time on these things and spending a couple of hours in his man-cave, Joseph took them and went to Egypt.'.
It simply says, "Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt." (Mt. 2:14). He does what he needs to do to keep his new family safe, without hesitation. Strangely enough, God just offered me an incredibly ironic illustration of my imperfections in this department. Literally moments after typing that last sentence, I heard my 16-month-old start to cry through the baby monitor and I walked off to her room grousing about how I'm 'never going to get this blog post done and I've only been trying to finish it for two weeks, grumble, grumble,grumble...' For the record, I know I need to work on my tendency to whine and complain...
Well anyways, back to St. Joseph...
The third lesson that St. Joseph can teach us as Christian husbands and fathers, is that we need to support our wives. I know a few men from my generation who have fallen in love with a woman and taken on the responsibility of her children as well. I know men from a few generations back who did the same thing in a time when I know it was more difficult. In many ways, these men are examples to me of what the term 'heroic love' means. I've seen them pour themselves out to support and be a father to a child simply because they know that child is a part of the woman they love. How daunting must that proposition have been in ancient times? Think of that for a moment and then add that the child in the 'package deal' you're getting, is the only begotten Son of God. That's a ton of pressure. But the woman Joseph loved had a calling, and he poured himself out to support her in fulfilling that purpose. He got them safely from place to place for the protection of the newborn king. It was Joseph going out in faraway lands to find work to support them. To use a sports analogy, God was the coach, calling in the plays, and Joseph was the quarterback on the field executing them and making them work.
Looking at the gospels this way and thinking about what we can learn from St. Joseph as a model for us as husbands and fathers, led me to do something that I haven't done seriously in a long time. I actually made a new year's resolution. As I was putting together the ideas for this post, Advent was winding up, Christmas was coming, and the year 2011 was ending. So I was thinking about the Holy Family with Joseph as the husband and father and considering how my family, more specifically, how I 'measured up'. And what I took from the gospels was a thought about the old saying, "If you're going to talk the talk, you'd better walk the walk!". I realized that, by the gospels' report, Joseph didn't even bother 'talking the talk', he just got right on to walking! What I realized is that there are many ways I was / am JUST talking the talk.
For example, there is my Wednesday fast with the 'Men of E5'. I eat nothing but bread and water every Wednesday of the month, one Wednesday for my wife, one for each of my daughters, and one for all women who are exploited, used and abused by men in our society. I have been doing this for a while now. But I realized that while I was putting forth the effort to make this sacrifice for the women in my life, I was ignoring the real sacrifices that the fast represented. I would complain to my wife about work constantly. I would avoid working overtime, even though we could use the money. When I came from work, I would be content to sit while my wife washed dishes, did laundry or took care of our girls. In some ways, I was actually disengaging from the three most important ladies in my life; the three ladies that I professed to be fasting for every Wednesday. Change takes time, and although I am by no means perfect on all of these fronts yet, I feel like there has been some improvement, and I think that my wife feels there has been too. If she doesn't, then I guess I just need to try harder.
Another thing that this 'walk the walk' perspective has provided me in these early stages, is that it helps to clarify a lot of things for me. I am certain that I have a clearer picture of things in my life I can take credit for, things I need to take blame for, things I never should have taken blame for, and things I need to let go. You see, when you're looking for the chance to 'walk the walk' then you're going to identify the things for which you can take action as well as the things you have no control over. I'm sure that halfway to Egypt, Joseph wasn't bemoaning the decision he had made twenty years ago to drop out of that hieroglyphics program at the local college, because if he hadn't made that decision twenty years ago, it would make it so much easier to find carpentry work in Egypt. He figured out what needed to happen for his family, took what he had at his disposal, and made it happen.
I, for one, still need to work on that.