When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.[Matthew 1:24-25 NRSV]
MARCH 19, 2022 — Today the Church commemorates Joseph, Guardian of our Lord.
Throughout my dozen or so years on social media, I believe I have recognized this feast day more consistently than any other, except, of course, Christmas and Easter.
Joseph’s role in the life of Jesus is an intriguing one. He was Jesus’ earthly father, but in the gospels, Jesus only acknowledges his heavenly Father. Philip Pfatteicher, in his New Book of Festivals and Commemorations, writes that, “No fully historical account or even a part of Joseph’s life is possible, for he left only a faint imprint on the tradition.” [p. 129]
He goes on to state that although both Matthew and Luke list him in their genealogies in order to trace Joseph’s ancestry through David, John’s gospel only mentions him in passing and Mark’s gospel doesn’t mention him at all.
In reading the two more extensive accounts of Joseph’s life, he was apparently alive when Jesus was born, but is out of the picture by the time of the Crucifixion. Although he was significant in protecting the child Jesus from possible death at the hands of Herod [see Matthew 2:13-20], there is only one reference to Joseph outside of the birth and infancy narratives by others, and not even by name: “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” [Matt. 13:55]
Obviously, if tradition is to be believed Jesus was guided by, and followed his earthly father into his earthly vocation as carpenter. But Joseph’s role in salvation history extends far beyond that.
In a 15th Century sermon, Bernardine of Siena asks: “What then is Joseph’s position in the whole Church of Christ? Is he not a man chosen and set apart? Through him and , yes, under him, Christ was fittingly and honorably introduced into the world. Holy Church in its entirety is indebted to the Virgin Mother because through her it was judged worthy to receive Christ. But after her we undoubtedly owe special gratitude and reverence to St. Joseph.” [Pfatteicher, p. 130-131]
It prompts me to ponder the obscure but influential male figures in all our lives.
I think of my own father, who died unexpectedly when I was only thirteen years old, but whose shadow looms large over nearly every good decision I’ve made as an adult.
I’ve written before that today is Father’s Day in Spain. Some suggest that this day should be known as the Church’s Fathers’ Day as well; or international Father’s Day, for all those who have been blessed by the nurture and guidance of the human person who made it possible for one to be here.
I am mindful that there are many whose fathers are intentionally absent from their lives, and that there are those whose memory of their fathers includes a history of abuse and cruelty.
The National Fatherhood Initiative, for example, point out that, “According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18.4 million children, 1 in 4, live without a biological, step, or adoptive father in the home. Consequently, there is a father factor in nearly all social ills facing America today.”
I can only offer sympathy to those whose experience bears those scars. I don’t pretend to have a solution for those painful wounds, I certainly cannot overlook or dismiss it, and it was not my intent to bring up this topic when I began writing. But since I have unwittingly taken us down this path, I refer you to the debate that was discussed in the New York Times in June of 2013, “What Are Fathers For?” It raises several interesting perspectives by people far better informed on the subject than I am. For the purposes of this brief reflection, I simply ask us to acknowledge those men who have fulfilled their responsibility and have been a positive influence on the life of a young person.
Despite what little we may know about St. Joseph, today we honor and uphold the nurture, guidance, and protection he offered to our Lord.
And we pray:
O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
[from the Book of Common Prayer, p. 239]
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