Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Husband of Mary

The girl whom he was to marry was pregnant and the baby was not his. He could have spoken to others. He could have dumped her. He didn’t.

He could have had his revenge. It would have been so easy to kill her or to arrange her death. He didn’t.

He married her and made a home for her child. When the child’s life was in danger, he and his wife escaped from their own land and walked many miles to safety, crossing national borders and becoming a refugee, returning to their own land only when the political environment was safe.

He taught the boy his own trade, gave him the possibility of caring for his mother and of leading an independent existence. Nobody in the town knew that the child wasn’t his and he wasn’t the one to divulge the secret of the youth’s paternity.

The bare facts of the life of St. Joseph are very few, so few that people have speculated about him for centuries. Was he old or young? When did he die? Was he around to see Jesus grow up? Who was Joseph of Nazareth, the carpenter?

In actual fact, the few things we know about Joseph are all the biography that we need, albeit not as much as we would like. There are, of course, conclusions that can be drawn. He must have been a thoroughly decent person and someone who was so dependable and reliable that God could entrust Mary and Jesus to his care, knowing that Joseph would not let him down.

It was only from about the 12th century that the Church began to formalise a devotion to Joseph, only creating a feast in his honour in the 15th century. Great saints such as Bernard (1123), Thomas Aquinas (1274), Gertrude (1310) and Teresa of Avila (1582) have long been associated with his name, but it was the Franciscans, followed by the Dominicans and Carmelites who, at the end of the 14th century, actually introduced a feast into their liturgical calendars. This was only then extended to the Universal Church in 1847. In 1870, Joseph was made the official patron of the Universal Church. After all, he had looked after Jesus and Mary, so he would be sure to take good care of the Church also.

Throughout the world, people depend on Joseph for their practical needs. He was a carpenter, a builder, a husband, a foster-father, a traveller, a refugee, persecuted and poor, someone who, according to tradition, died in the company of Mary and Jesus. He knew what it is like to face opposition and hardship. It’s not surprising, then, that many see him as a protector and a guardian.

If God can trust him, so can we!

God bless,
Sr. Janet