For the Love of St. Joseph II

During my wilderness years, I fell for theories about mystical kingdoms in Tibet or where Jesus really was from age 12 to age 30. But what if Tibet’s only kingdom was destroyed when the Chinese invaded? What if Jesus did nothing from 12 to 30 except stay home in Nazareth, near Joseph and Mary?

Since this is a Catholic blog and since we’re five weeks from the feast day of St. Joseph, my patron, I’m going to stick to the second question.

In the what-did-Jesus-do department, I somehow thought that the gnostics might have it right: That He maybe studied with some esoteric school somewhere, like, say, the Essenes. I didn’t really know who the Essenes were, but if there were such a thing as a universal mystical brotherhood, operating in, like, say, Tibet, then it made sense for Jesus to have been in touch with, oh, say, some sort of correspondence school or some such affiliated with said brotherhood.

But what if the Church is right? (A question I never seriously asked until being received into the Church two years ago.) What if Jesus, Mary, and Joseph returned from Egypt to Nazareth and, with the exception of Passover visits to the rabbinate in the city, they just stayed home? What if the world really is as simple and straightforward as it seems? What does this say about St. Joseph? Or about the importance of the family in the divine plan?

I thought about this question yesterday, as I wrestled with a heavy cold, pondered a personal fatherhood question, and read Redemptoris Custos, John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation on the Person and Mission of Saint Joseph in the Life of Christ and of the Church. There’s nothing that will bring theological questions about fatherhood into sharper focus than tossing and turning in sick-bay while thinking about a grown child who is not answering a friendly e-mail.

Who was St. Joseph? What was his life like? And if it was really like I think it was, and Immaculate Mary was Jesus’s mother, what other teachers did Jesus need? Especially if He, Jesus, was the Son of God? I will leave detailed discussion of Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer) until next week and finish here with a couple of my own personal and entirely noncanonical thoughts about Joseph.

Mary may have been born immaculate, without stain of sin, but there’s nothing in Church doctrine that says the same of Joseph. Joseph was a JAG, just a guy, a carpenter. Descended from David, yes, and probably devoutly Jewish. Old? Young? Certain veins of tradition argue that he must have been old, because a widower. But what was old in that time? Thirty? Forty? I give Joseph credit for being young enough to pack his family off to Egypt under cover of night, young enough that when he settled back in at Nazareth, the demands of chastity while living with a beautiful young woman were significant.

This guy kept his mouth shut and worked and cared for his family. I’m guessing that an adolescent Jesus may have been a handful, and who’s to say that even Mary didn’t have her moments, no matter how immaculate? Joseph kept his mouth shut and worked and cared for his family and died in total anonymity and (this is my addition) never resented it for a moment. To quote once only from Redemptoris Custos, “Joseph was in daily contact with the mystery ‘hidden from ages past,’ and which ‘dwelt’ under his roof. This explains, for example, why St. Teresa of Jesus, the great reformer of the Carmelites, promoted the renewal of veneration to St. Joseph in Western Christianity.”

This gives me my next step on the path to understanding St. Joseph better. I’m going to dedicate the weekend to reading Shirley du Boulay’s biography of Teresa of Avila, which has been staring out of the bookshelf at me for far too long.

And I am going to keep my mouth shut as I wait for my beloved daughter to get back to me.

Footnote: Any reader who has come this far might conceivably be interested in why St. Joseph is my patron, which is to say, how he nosed out St. Thomas More in the homestretch

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I have always asked St. Joseph to interced for my husband and my son and son-in-law, all three of them being fathers themselves.I can see why St. Joseph nosed out St. Thomas More in your case.Good post, looking forward to the rest of this.Hopefully your daughter will get back to you soon 😉

  • Warren Jewell

    Just how many of Christ's statements were said just as Saint Joseph taught Him? And, never let us forget that Saint Joseph was so beloved of God, he died in God's own arms. Think of dying in the arms of God, Who is also one's so beloved Son . . .I have a prayer book just to Saint Joseph, and, of course, [SENIOR MOMENT ALERT!] can't put my finger on it right now. However, the great lady saint of the Church, one of our Saint Teresas (whose name 'Teresa' comes from the Greek for 'harvester', as of graces, I presume) so depended upon Saint Joseph, she found going to him infallibly effective.O, most giving, gentle Saint Joseph, forget not we men – Dads, priests, Granddads, etc. – who so need your prayers. Above all, guide us to humility. I cannot help but ask this in the Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God and of you. Amen.

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks, DG, and as for you, Warren: What is the source of the story that Saint Joseph died in God's arms? I would love to know.As for Teresa of Avila, Big Terry, I am reading her biography now and have come to the extreme illness she began suffering when she was 23. She credited her survival to St. Joseph, to whom she committed herself from then on. Her reformed Carmelite convent in Avila was named St. Joseph's.

  • Mary P.

    Webster, I thought this line was a good one – "who’s to say that even Mary didn’t have her moments, no matter how immaculate?" Well, if she was, then that would give all married guys something to identify with But what if she wasn't? What if she was always as beautiful inside as out, all the time? Only my husband could identify with that (… NOT!)Sorry, couldn't resist! But really, I'm glad you're feeling better. And back on track…

  • Warren Jewell

    Webster – simply the concatenation of 1. Saint Joseph dying (it is presumed) while Jesus was yet in the family home, and 2. that as Who He is, Jesus, Son of God as well as Mary, gratefully – and, oh, SO lovingly – held His foster father as he died.I guess that makes it my story, but it is more the story of the Holy Family, and all that love.And, Mary P., and wives, et al, husbands depend upon their wives to 'train them up in the way they must go' in marriage and, especially, in family. In a way a woman starts out as a mother, too, what with Lost'n'Confused about. 🙂 My wife always said that if a woman is desperately exasperated with her husband, it is her fault for not giving him adequate training. 😉

  • Mary P.

    Warren, I believe it was Ruth Graham (wife of Billy Graham, evangelist) who was asked if she'd ever considered divorce. She replied, "Divorce? Never. Murder? Yes."My husband is actually a good man. And after 30 years, he's almost completely trained.

  • Ferde

    It seems to me, based on the 5th Joyful Mystery, that Jesus didn't need much instruction as He was growing up. He wrote the instructions, after all. The Gospel says 'He was subject to them." and so fulfilled the requirements of the Commandment. His revelation in the synagogue, "This Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." tells me He was accustomed to reading to the assembly and was a prominent member of the group. But still, 'Isn't he the carpenter's son?' They didn't think He was anybody special. JAG living His life. Joseph taught Him carpentry. What did He teach Joseph? Some Catholics believe Joseph is one of the most powerful saints at the Throne of God. I believe it, too.I have a thing I've been talking to the Lord about. It now occurs to be I should be talking to St. Joseph. It starts right now.