I remember as a schoolboy writing in the top right-hand corner of every exercise book the initials J.M.J. - Jesus, Mary and Joseph. This continued even into secondary education, and when we were no longer required to do so, it remained a habit – hidden but nonetheless real.
And that is true of St Joseph himself I believe. For many centuries the Church, and faithful, were concerned with Creedal matters, and St Joseph, whilst acknowledged in love, was, if not ignored, not given proper attention. That ‘hiddenness’ was referred to by Pope Francis when he said, “St Joseph reminds us that those in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation”. (Patris Corde)
Those words of the Pope should give us pause and great comfort as we live our daily lives quietly, without apparent recognition by the world, even sometimes by those around us. We just ‘get on and do it’, whatever that ‘it’ may be.
And so it was with St Joseph. Being chosen, by God, to be His Son’s foster parent puts him above all others, except Jesus and Mary. God could have chosen many great men in Biblical history: Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon … , but he chose Joseph. Surely this alone confirms St Joseph’s status.
Joseph, a quiet, humble worker, was chosen to be the fatherly protector and guide of Jesus. His heart, known to God, must have been gentle, kind, obedient, tolerant, loving and honourable. He must also have been very self-aware and strong in his convictions. The life chosen for him was not going to be easy. After their engagement he finds Mary, his betrothed, to be pregnant, with all the initial pain and shame that was involved. After marriage he was responsible for looking after Mary and Jesus. That involved an escape to Egypt, a return to Nazareth and then a period of years quietly and conscientiously providing the stable, moral, financial, prayerful leadership that the father of the household needed to do.
St Joseph is a timeless example of how true fatherhood should look therefore to us, and to all ages.
That he was prayerful, open to God’s calling is reflected in his acceptance of God’s will. He needed to lead his little family in prayer especially every Friday, to support Mary in her teaching Jesus his Jewish prayers and customs, explaining them and bringing them alive.
St Joseph will have shown Jesus the value of work. The way to not only make things as well as possible but to be humble and accept responsibility for mistakes, deal with clients fairly, accepting misfortune without rancour or a questioning of belief in an all seeing and caring God.
He would have shown Jesus how to show love and respect to Mary, and other women, valuing and cherishing their lives for the gifts they receive. How the complementarity of a husband and wife is so precious. Lives shared to the benefit of both, the value of honesty of communication so that all matters, great or small, can be shared, problems identified and resolved, or accepted as beyond their ability and ultimately placed with God.
St Joseph would have shown Jesus the art of living in a man’s world, both of commerce and religion, and respecting differences and disagreements. Of ways to remain true to God’s values, in debate and discussion without rancour. Of not trying to beat the other into submission or belittling them. To listen to what was being said, identifying the problems posed, by whom and why it is proposed, and responding honestly.
Even if Jesus felt he was unfairly treated at any time, to look to the other, and through the other, and to reflect the reality that the ‘other’ was created in the God’s image.
Pope Francis has chosen this year of dedication to St Joseph I am sure, so that we may all, but especially fathers, and men generally, reflect on his quiet authority, responsibility to others, love, selfless giving, honest work ethic, self-control; the example we need to put God back into the centre of our lives and homes.
With St Joseph we can renew the family, society and the Church. Now is the time to “Go to Joseph”.
You can find out more about St Joseph on the Bishops' Conference website.