This is a continuation of our series recognizing the Year of St. Joseph.
St. Joseph as a father
It is Father’s Day here in the United States, so it seems fitting to reflect on St. Joseph in his role as the earthly father to Jesus. Since the Church has elevated him to sainthood, it is easy to think of him as the perfect father, and setting a standard for holiness that all men should strive to achieve.
That does not jibe with anything I know about fathers. Or carpenters. Or men in general.
Don’t worry. I am not about to go off about my unresolved Daddy Issues, or launch into a list of grievances I have against contractors who do shoddy work, or start man-bashing. Rather, I want to tone down the blinding light from St. Joseph’s halo a bit, so that we can see him in a way that is relatable.
We don’t have much to go on. Scripture is light on the details of Joseph’s life. My guess is that it is because his life was rather ordinary. Aside from raising the Son of God, I think St. Joseph was, well, just an Average Joe. He worked, paid his taxes, went to Temple… lather, rinse, repeat.
What we do know about St. Joseph
We can assume Joseph was a Good Guy.
Imagine what it must have been like for him to have his teenage fiancé come to him with the news that she was pregnant. He hadn’t yet had the visit from the angel to tell him all about the Holy Spirit, and Mary being chosen to bear the Christ, and all. He knew it wasn’t his baby, though. What could have been running through his mind? He must have felt hurt, betrayed, angry. He could have let her be cast out of the community, and even stoned to death. Instead, to save her life and the life of that baby, he arranged to send her away quietly. That’s a good guy right there. Scripture calls him righteous.
We know Joseph was a faithful believer.
When the angel DID come to him in the dream, Joseph believed it was a message from God. He believed that his fiancé was carrying Emmanuel. Joseph believed he had a role to play in staying by Mary’s side, and helping raise the Son of Man. So he went through with the wedding, and became Jesus’ father. That’s faith in action.
It is a safe bet that Joseph was hard working.
He was a carpenter. I know carpenters. My stepfather is a carpenter. My brother is a carpenter. That’s a tough job that requires different skills, strength, and dexterity. I bet Joseph had a perpetual sunburn from working outside. I bet his back hurt. I bet he said a few choice words when he hit his thumb with a hammer or dropped a beam on his shoulder. I also bet that it is because he grew up around folks working in the trades that Jesus was so comfortable with salt-of-the-earth kinds of people, eventually building his earthly ministry with fishermen and the like.
Joseph faced hard, really hard, challenges.
Joseph found himself in dire circumstances that forced him to make really difficult choices. What must it have been like to have wise men come to pay honor to you because of your son? Now picture how you would feel if you were told that your king was trying to kill your son, and that you should flee. Can you imagine having to choose to leave your home, extended family, and steady job to become a refugee?
Joseph made parenting mistakes.
It’s also reasonable to believe that Joseph, like any father I know, blew it repeatedly. When toddler Jesus started learning to speak and said the same things over and over again, I bet sometimes Joseph wished his son would just shush. I bet Joseph raised his voice sometimes, and got frustrated with his growing son. Heck, Joseph LOST Jesus on a family trip. I know that the Bible story has us all believe that Joseph and Mary were just astonished to hear their son speaking at the temple, but I bet that did not even register with them until later. In the panic to find him, his guilt at losing his son, and the relief at finding him, I bet Joseph yelled at Jesus—and hugged him tight–when he first found him.
Seeing yourself in Joseph
Joseph, by virtue of being the only human to be trusted with being a father to God-as-Man, surely deserves sainthood. I think we misunderstand him, and do ourselves a disservice, though, when we take a lofty view of a perfect St. Joseph. This Father’s Day, may you see yourself (or your father) in Joseph’s example of an ordinary man leading an extraordinary life.
May you strive to be righteous, faithful, hardworking, willing to make the hardest decisions for the sake of your family, and persistent despite your failings.