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.
- Joseph is a man of work. Scripture refers to Joseph as a “carpenter” (Matt 13:55). The Greek word used, however, is τέκτονος (tekton os), which can mean more than a woodworker. It can also refer to a builder or any craftsman. It seems unlikely that Joseph and Jesus would have worked exclusively in wood, as it was fairly rare in the Holy Land and used more sparingly than it is today. Stone was surely plentiful at that time, so it may be that Joseph worked with stone as well as wood. It was through His work that Joseph supported his family. It is the call of a man to work diligently and to provide for his family responsibly and reliably, and Joseph models this well. St. Paul felt it necessary to rebuke some of the men of his day for their idleness: In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us…. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ that with quietness they earn the bread they eat (2 Thess 3:10-12).
- Joseph is a man who teaches his son. We learn from Scripture that Jesus was a carpenter (Mk 6:3). It is obvious that it was Joseph who taught Him this trade. Consider the hours that they spent together as Joseph patiently handed his trade on to Jesus, teaching Him its methods and intricacies. It is not enough for a father to provide for his children; he must also prepare them for life. He does this through modeling and teaching discipline, moderation, hard work, self-control, and many other life skills. Today it is relatively rare for men to teach a trade to their sons or to other children. In the end, a man prepares his children for life. Joseph models manhood by preparing Jesus for life as a tradesman. Some (e.g., St. Thomas Aquinas) argue that Joseph did not teach Jesus carpentry and that His knowledge was not learned, but I cannot square this with the Scripture that indicates Jesus grew in age, grace, and wisdom (see Lk 2:52). If Jesus can even grow in human wisdom, how much more so in lesser knowledge. At any rate, however much Jesus was taught by Joseph, every father should teach his sons and daughters!
Joseph is a model for manhood. Nothing he ever said was recorded, but his life speaks eloquently. He is referred to as the Guardian and Patron of the Universal Church. He has these titles because he was guardian, protector, and patron (provider) of the Church in its earliest stage: when the Church was just Jesus and Mary. Because the Church is the mystical Body of Christ, in protecting, providing, and preparing Jesus, he was doing that for us, for we are in Christ as members of His body. Men do well to imitate St. Joseph and invoke his patronage in all their endeavors as husbands, fathers, and providers.
St. Joseph, pray for us.