Did you know that this is the “Year of St. Joseph,” as proclaimed by Pope Francis for 2021? As the spouse of the Blessed Mother and the adoptive father of Jesus, Joseph is considered the spiritual father of all of us and a particularly good role model for husbands and fathers.
In his timely 2020 book, “Consecration to St. Joseph,” Fr. Donald Calloway offers an interpretation of what St. Joseph might have been like. His description is based on inferences from what was written about St. Joseph, what the demands on him were and what it would have taken for a man to be able to fulfill the mission and vocation that was asked of Joseph.
Was Joseph young or old?
Christians have long thought of Joseph as being an older man, kind of a grandfatherly figure to Jesus and the guardian of a much younger Virgin Mary. However, that elderly image does not quite fit with the demands that were put on Joseph.
As Mother Angelica of EWTN Catholic television ministry put it: “Old men don’t walk to Egypt.” Nor do they walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem or Jerusalem, each approximately 80-mile trips, which he did repeatedly. Plus, old men can’t protect a young family on long journeys or for the many years these Jewish expatriates spent in the dangerous environment of Egypt.
It seems reasonable to surmise that Joseph was a bit older than the very young Mary but still a virile young man who sacrificed a lot in marrying her.
Close to Jesus
Joseph was closer to Jesus than any other person on the planet other than Mary. Think about it: The apostles were with Jesus as a group for only three years, and we think of them as having a long and close relationship with Jesus. Joseph was alone with Jesus for 30 years, ten times longer and more constantly than the apostles. And they not only lived together, they worked together. So, they were together 24/7/365 for 30 years.
Joseph saw Jesus through his formative years, as a child, teenager and young adult; and Jesus lived at home an extra long time, not leaving till he was 30. What an honor it was for Joseph to be in the presence of the Son of God for such a long, exclusive time. How much they must have learned from each other.
One might surmise that Joseph was a strong, handsome young man to be able to earn the betrothal of the beautiful, young Mary; and this engagement happened before anything was revealed to either of them about the coming of Jesus. Joseph was probably envisioning the normal life of a typical young Jewish couple having many children of their own.
Then the Annunciation occurred for Mary, and Joseph had the encounter with the angel who explained what was happening with Mary and what was expected of him. In the process, Joseph and Mary’s whole future was turned upside down.
Joseph was being asked to be the father of a child he had nothing biological to do with and to raise that child as his own for 30 years while not exactly having a traditional relationship with the Child’s mother, Mary. And what did he do? He said, “OK.” That seems to display the ultimate in unselfishness.
The virtue of patience is ever present from what we know about St. Joseph. He knew he was in the presence of the divine, could not understand it but did not demand to know. The Son of God wasn’t always easy to deal with, either, like when Jesus wandered off to preach in the Temple for three days when he was only 12 years old. Once again, Joseph did not demand answers.
As alluded to, Joseph patiently oversaw Jesus’ 30-year-long formation and development, which would suggest that Joseph had a strong influence in teaching Jesus how to be human. Author Fr. Donald Calloway goes so far as to say that Jesus’ human persona was probably a good reflection of the type of man Joseph was.
A needed male saint
I am just providing the tip of the iceberg regarding all of the attributes of St. Joseph that Fr. Calloway teaches in his book, “Consecration to St. Joseph.” Joseph will become a part of your life: a model, protector and guide. In today’s lingo, we might place him as being somewhere between a bodyguard and a personal assistant, making our journey much easier.
From my perspective, it is so nice for men to have the male, Joseph, with whom to identify in the Church. That is, the Church seems to me to lean more toward being a feminine than masculine institution. After all, we call it Holy Mother the Church, the Blessed Mother has considerable prominence and data suggests that church attendance leans more toward women than men. This is despite the fact that the clergy is male, Jesus was a male and God the Father is given male designation.
While God the Father is, indeed, our heavenly Father, Joseph is our Earthly spiritual father and provides some balance with the Blessed Mother, Mary. In my opinion, Joseph is also a male figure with whom we can identify, even more so than Jesus. I mean, Jesus was a male, but he was God, for Pete’s sake, not just another human like Joseph and us. To be like Jesus is quite a stretch, a good goal to aim for, but like most dreams, unreachable. Even St. Paul said, in effect: Don’t try to live Jesus’ life, just live your life as Jesus would have lived it.
With St. Joseph, we have a potentially achievable goal to strive for, one that reflects Joseph’s human manhood. We can aspire to be strong and hard working, unselfish in our relationships, patient with ourselves and others, kind, prudent, humble and pure, all the while keeping our focus on Jesus, as Joseph did for 30 years.
A personal prayer
When I was reading Fr. Calloway’s book, the first thing I thought of upon waking each morning was St. Joseph. I couldn’t wait to get to the book first thing to maintain the closeness I was feeling with this great man.
Now that I have finished the book, I actually feel a little lost. How can I continue to travel with my new companion in life without a program, without a map, without Fr. Calloway pointing the way to St. Joseph?
The best I have come up with so far is to make up the following short prayer to remind Joseph that I need him here throughout my day. Just call it:
Dear God, to me, the mission give.
Jesus, show me how to live.
Spirit, be my font of love,
Mary, intercede above.
But, Joseph, you be at my side,
To walk with me, protect and guide.
Dr. Tom Dorsel is a professor emeritus at Francis Marion University, currently living on Hilton Head Island and serving as a “foreign correspondent” to the Morning News. He can be reached on Facebook or at Dorsel.com.