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Joseph, Son of David

Sister Doreen’s Reflections

St. Joseph and Baby Jesus by Jason Jenicke

On March 19, 2024 we will be celebrating the Feast of St. Joseph. We don’t often ponder the role that Joseph plays, and yet it is a pivotal part in the story of Jesus.  Though we don’t often see Joseph as an important central figure, but someone who is in the background, it is impossible to ponder the Nativity without Joseph. He is someone wrapped in silence, little is known about him. He is often referred to as the father in the shadows.

He is however considered to be the patron saint of Canada, Korea, Mexico, China, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Peru, Vietnam and several cities and dioceses. Pondering why, what is it about St Joseph, that prompted countries, that prompts me, to chose St Joseph as a patron saint, a role model, opened up such a rich cornucopia of spiritual gifts.

Joseph is clearly pointed out as descendant of David in both genealogies in Scripture. Through her marriage with Joseph Mary enters his family and legally becomes, she and her son Jesus, a part of the House of David.

Faced, when he heard the news from Mary, with a dilemma within the marriage system of that time, Joseph endured and sacrificed a great deal when he agreed to love and cherish Mary and raise Jesus as his own son. That marriage system had three parts to it: a contractual period that was signed, the couple technically married; an espousal period when the couple spend a year or so getting to know each other; and then the actual wedding and the consummation of the wedding vows. We know from scripture that Joseph, confused and concerned, considered how he might dismiss Mary quietly. Regardless of what move he made, both Mary and Joseph would have been rejected, ridiculed, and judged.

Like Mary, a woman wrapped in silence – Joseph was a man wrapped in silence, and the silence was deep in his heart as he pondered and listened for the word of God in his life. It is important to note that Joseph received four ‘visitations, deep holy dreams’ – four deep heart messages from God – more than any other biblical character as far as I can discern from scripture. To me that speaks volumes about Joseph’s intimacy with God. It tells me that Joseph knew who he was, and he was committed to scripture. It is a message that God makes so clear to each one of us also on our journey with God: ‘know who you are as a follower of me and know the story that I have told about who I am and who you are’ (know what the Bible says). There is a security about Joseph and there is a security in ourselves, a security about our identity as beloved children of God. It also speaks of someone who sacrificed his own personal dreams, his plans, his name and his reputation in order to obey the voice of God. The security of our identity also brings with it a different set of expectations of sacrifice and obedience. As I ponder Joseph, I see a real model of obedience, and in him an important lesson.

Joseph, it seems to me was a man of few words and although we don’t know much about him, we do know that he was a man of simple faithfulness. For Joseph and for us, so much of following God is asking a question – “what is the next right move?” In a very real sense, faithfulness is continually asking “what is the right and best thing to do”.

Joseph, compassionate and obedient, over and over again in the story – his own fiat, yes, to what God wanted of him in marrying Mary, the journey to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus, the escape into Egypt, the return to Nazareth. In all these events, we see Joseph’s faithfulness and character. He put the interests of his family above his own comfort. A transient lifestyle brings with it difficulties of its own: his carpentry business I am sure suffered, his family life as a refugee and caring for Mary and his small child would not have been a picnic! There is a verse in a hymn The Aye Carol (#456 in Gather) about Joseph that best describes for me something of the character of Joseph – “who is the man who looks on at the door, scanning the world as if somehow unsure? Joseph, the father of Jesus.” Always open to listening, watching, and waiting:

Joseph, a loving companion and partner, someone who had protected and loved and always been there.
Joseph, a man open to God whose own fiat throughout his life nurtured the safety and love and trust that created a real home for both Mary and Jesus.
Joseph, gentle and strong.
Joseph, compassionate and obedient.
Joseph, of great spirit and great faith.
Joseph, who listened to the word and who listened in silence.

All these characteristics above of Joseph, I have come to cherish. There is one, however, that stands out as a needed gift today as we ponder his life. Obedience – “listen carefully” says the Rule of Benedict. What Joseph by his life seems to be saying to us is “it’s the kind of listening you do that counts”. It is the basis for that real partnership that is built on care and sensitivity and support of each other. Joseph listened to God, and Joseph by listening obeyed the will of God for the family that he was called to nurture and protect. It is a gift-challenge to us and to our world, obedience as a real partnership born of deep listening – in a world where individualism and competition seem to take the upper hand rather than interdependence and mutual responsibility, true partnership with each other and for each other. It is this true partnership that is at the heart of sacrificial discipleship, at the heart of love.

I share a hymn poem about St. Joseph written by our Sister Rosemary Anne some years ago:

“God most high, let praise and glory echo from our hearts today,
For the saint whose wondrous story lights the dark and cheers our way.

Lion-tribe of Judah bore him, Joseph, son of David’s line,
Saw by faith and kept before him call and truth and given sign.

Till a Child looked up confiding, called him ‘father’, took his hand,
Learned from him and by his guiding came to know and understand.

Came to know a craftsman’s pleasure, grateful, humble, unafraid.
Human skill in human measure found within the world he made.

Came to know beyond all knowing, parenthood, divine and strong,
Whence all love from pure Love flowing breaks in beauty, truth, and song.”