March 19, 2016 Saturday: St. Joseph
If there was ever a man with the occasion to feel like a third wheel or an unnecessary addition to the real action, it would have been Joseph, for the Incarnation was very pointedly achieved apart from his biological involvement.
Joseph was a man of few words because he was a man of action, a man's man from a long line of patriarchal family men (Matt. 1). The head of the family - making decisions, executing the plan - was his rightful place, one he learned from his own capable father.
But Mary presented a very 'unorthodox" problem. She claimed a "special" plan from God and had already begun executing it. Without telling him anything about it, she had already said "yes" and was already pregnant. Joseph had no idea how to properly deal with Mary's astonishing motherhood. Of course, he sought an answer to the disturbing question, but more than that he sought a way out of what was, for him, a difficult situation.
The fact that he would be asked to play the seemingly "tag along" role in the whole cosmic drama, and was only informed after the fact, must have gone against the grain for Joseph. If all of "it" were true, wouldn't God have used His own established family structure to inform Joseph first, ahead of time? Wasn't he capable of hearing God himself? Why would God displace him in such a way?
If he trusted, Joseph would have to "sacrifice" his manhood by pursuing Mary into this deliberate displacement in what would amount to a stunning reversal of Adam and Eve. At the dawn of salvation, the New Eve could, then, lead Joseph to Life.
If he followed her, it would mean a redemption of the whole sordid Eden affair in which a New Adam would emerge, but Joseph had to have felt slighted, humbled, silenced at the presence of this Word in his wife. He had to have balked at the sheer preposterousness of the claim.
And the skepticism would only get worse as her pregnancy became obviously untimely and began to mock his manhood. Why would God humiliate Joseph by the very masculinity through which He would ultimately work?
Indeed, the whole episode seemed designed to prove to him how marginal his role was. Certainly the God who flung forth the universe with a Word could build a better home for Mary and the Baby than he could.
His carpenter's wage was surely all but unimportant, as the God who trapped the ram in the thicket and covered the wilderness floor with manna would need no help providing for them. And his strength, superior in every way to a woman and baby's, well, of what use was it for the "Lord of Armies" who conquered the Egyptian military by drowning, and leveled Jericho with pots and torches and a bare handful of bellowing men?
The Measure of a Man
The truth is, God was teaching Joseph what every woman must also learn, often through her relationship with her husband: humility. No, God surely does not need the Josephs of this world in an absolute sense, but they image God in their daily grind, in their calluses and sweat, in the heroic execution of their sacrificial duties and fatherhood.
God chooses them specifically for their masculinity to do this, because they are the tangible proof of His own profound humility against a matchless strength. They image His interest in the roles of fatherhood and family and the profound importance He places on them, so that simply being a man is a particular gift with a particular authority.
Joseph's fatherly authority was eternally fixed from the moment the angel directed him to name the baby. As "name-givers" ancient fathers declared the legality of their fatherhood, and through speaking the name Joseph also became a prophet, proclaiming Jesus' mission as Savior.
It must have humbled Mary to be, first an instrument, then a receiver of Joseph's humility lesson, as she and Jesus would be the ones for whom he would sacrifice so utterly and repeatedly. But together in mutual deference to one another, his holy manliness and her delicate femininity, would rest the mysterious union in which God would place His only Son. In this way, God showed the world where he wishes for children to live and grow up, and the conditions under which they can flourish.
Although it was arguably his greatest humiliation, Joseph's union and presence with Mary despite her publicly perceived betrayal protected and defended her as much or more than their flight to Egypt. It roared in the Scriptural silence attributed to him of his love for her and his confidence in her purity and integrity, despite appearances, more loudly than any recorded word ever could.
This degree of loyalty takes the kind of grit only real men possess. From the beginning, Joseph accepted the indescribable gift of human fatherhood over Jesus, whose own "submission" or obedience to Joseph in their Nazareth home, should be understood as a sharing in the work of Joseph (Redemptoris Custos, Guardian of the Redeemer, John Paul II).
And while there, surely Jesus learned from watching Joseph how to father and shepherd, how to cut to the heart of a matter as pithily as possible, to lead and be responsible for a group, how to be silent before God and hear Him speak. It stands to reason that Joseph taught him how to measure twice and cut once, how to marry the joints of seemingly disparate personality pieces so that they fit and worked seamlessly, the importance of every jot and tittle and creative detail, and that spiritual formation is true craftsmanship and cannot be hurried.
That such holiness could come from his family is a testament to the man Joseph. Certainly he sometimes felt marginalized in his own family, yet he was the leader of The iconic family unit, and capable of it specifically for his manhood.
In the Heart of God's Will
Though Joseph may have been embarrassed that his wife and child slept in a barn, he was under a star that led foreign sages to them who laid riches at their feet. Though he may have felt he was running from the murderous king rather than actively defending his family, Joseph was a protector of the womb.
It was to assure fatherly protection for Jesus that God chose Joseph to be Mary's spouse; it was under his leadership to Egypt the Scriptures could be fulfilled: "'Out of Egypt have I called my son'" (Matt. 2:15).
Though his offering of turtledoves may have embarrassed him for their smallness, they brought them all under the aged eye of Simeon who saw Joseph's sacrifices and their consolation of all Israel.
Joseph's willingness and openness to the whole extraordinary Plan made him the keeper of salvation, the guardian, the watcher, the eye of God, until it could mature. When the time had come, Joseph left Mary in the hands of the Son he raised with her, so that He could rise to the head of the human family as was His destiny from the foundation of the world.
Joseph lived for his family, pouring himself out for them completely, and then faded from the story: "He must increase and I must decrease" (Jn. 3:30). And so we find the key to Joseph's silence: contemplation and interior greatness.
"St. Joseph is the model of those humble ones that Christianity raises up to great destinies;...he is the proof that in order to be a good and genuine follower of Christ, there is no need of great things-it is enough to have the common, simple and human virtues, but they need to be true and authentic," (Insegnamenti, Discourse, Paul VI).
Into Joseph's capable, callused hands were entrusted God's most precious treasures. He was called by God to serve us all through the exercise of his fatherhood. Mary and Jesus needed Joseph. If it had not been true, God would not have given him to them.
He is, therefore, God's absolute affirmation of men who are authentically themselves, engaging the world in those wonderful ways that are uniquely masculine, taking their places as heads of families, and providing dignity and keeping godly order in home and society through the work of their hands and other noble labor.
Every woman blessed with a Joseph "gets" how powerful understatement is. She wonders at him. She respects him. She is moved to profound thankfulness for the glory of his true strength, and she deeply appreciates how he articulates it so beautifully without the noise of words.