A Real Man

Saint Joseph

Feast Day: 19th March

The husband of Mary must have been kind, loving, gentle and compassionate, yet a strong and decisive man. But the Gospels – he is mentioned in only two - tell us so very little about him. All we know is that he was a descendant of David, a carpenter by trade who lived in Nazareth, and engaged to be married to a young woman named Mary who became the mother of Jesus.

It is not much but by reading between the lines we can gain some meaningful insights into the life of the man God chose to play such a vital role in the life of His Son, to be nothing less than the husband of Mary and the foster father of God's Son.

One thing we know is that he was a man of deep compassion. When he first learned that Mary was pregnant he, quite naturally, assumed that she had been with another man. In that situation most men would have responded with jealous rage. Instead he decided to take a course of action that would least hurt the girl he deeply loved.

Deep in his heart he still trusted his Mary and so he decided to divorce quietly to avoid exposing her to public humiliation and the harsh judgement of the law. His heart was broken and his dreams shattered but he would not be vindictive, seek revenge nor be unkind, even though he had the legal right to a public divorce.

ls it any wonder that God entrusted the early training of His Son to a man such as that? There can be little doubt that the quality of mercy that is evident in the life and ministry of Jesus was due in part to the influence of Joseph, a man of deep compassion.

A second characteristic that can be seen in Joseph is a trusting faith in God beyond the limits of his own understanding. Consider for a moment the circumstance in which Joseph found himself. He had just learned that his fiancé was expecting a child whom he knew could not be his own. And then in a dream he is informed by an angel that Mary's pregnancy is a miracle of God. What would you do with a dream like that, being asked to believe the unbelievable, something that had never ever happened before? Few of us are inclined to take seriously anything that exceeds the limited reach of our personal experience and understanding. But Joseph was not one to set narrow limits to divine possibilities.

This is not to say that he was gullible, but that he was humble. He was aware that he could not hold the entire mystery of life within the small confines of his own mind. Such a man is unwilling to make arrogant pronouncements on what is and is not possible. Years later Jesus would teach His disciples that "with God all things are possible" but Joseph did not have the benefit of knowing that. Surely He must have learned part of his faith from the man who helped rear Him.

Finally, from the little we know from the Gospels, we can claim that Joseph was a man of action: "When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do." That is the real proof of his faith and his compassion. He acted upon them and took Mary as his wife. And let's not fool ourselves, that that would have been an easy thing to do. All he had to go on was Mary's testimony and a dream. For most of us they would not be enough. With that bit of evidence Joseph set the course of his life, and the rest is history.

Playing his part in the background, he made a priceless contribution to the life of Jesus and, through Jesus, to the world. I am convinced that you and I are more indebted to this quiet and courageous man than we will ever know this side of Heaven ...

Saint Joseph, husband of Mary. Pray for us.