This time of year is always a bit of a contradiction. The days are short and dark, and the year is drawing to a close, yet we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and even the secular world makes merry. It’s the mingling of light and dark, joy and sadness, endings and beginnings.
So it seems fitting that the Year of Saint Joseph should end during this time. His was a life marked by the same contradictions we all experience. Highs and lows. Goods and bads. Safety and fear. When we think of him, we tend to focus on his role in relation to Mary and Jesus, but that is not the entirety of Joseph.
He was a practicing first-century Jew whose religion and faith were important, so important that he was called a “righteous man,” meaning that he followed the Law.
He was engaged to a young woman, and unless we assume he was an old man in an arranged marriage, he was undoubtedly attracted to her. And if we assume he was a young man (and we have no idea how old he was, so either assumption is valid), he probably was deeply in love with her. His joy at marrying her was crushed by the knowledge that she was pregnant and he wasn’t the father. From highest high to lowest low. While we know that it all turns out OK, Joseph didn’t. He had to live it day by day.
He was a skilled worker, so he knew what it was like to spend long days at work supporting his family. Then out of the blue, he and Mary were gifted with a literal treasure from the Magi. Undoubtedly Joseph had some ideas for how they could spend the money, perhaps enlarging his business. Then, in the night, he had to take his family and use that money to escape Herod’s wrath by traveling to Egypt and resettling there.
He established his family in Egypt, where there was a large Jewish community. He and Mary may have thought they would stay there when he had to pull up roots and return to his home to start over.
He had a bright and precocious son, and that bright and precocious son decided to remain alone in the Temple. Joseph had to have experienced heart-stopping fear at the loss and overwhelming gladness at the finding. (And maybe just a wee touch of irritation at Jesus for having worried Mary and him.)
Even though these are about the only facts we have about the historical Joseph, what we do know enables us to see him as a real man, with real feelings and not just a statue in a Nativity scene or a plaster saint with a lily in one hand.
No, Joseph is one of us and, for that reason, we honor him and his life. For that reason, we emulate him. For that reason, his life gives us both courage and hope for our own redemption.
“Devotion to St. Joseph is one of the choicest graces that God can give to a soul, for it is tantamount to revealing the entire treasury of our Lord’s graces. When God wishes to raise a soul to greater heights, he unites it to St. Joseph by giving it a strong love for the good saint.” –Saint Peter Julian Eymard
Saint Joseph, you were a man, an ordinary man. When I begin to wonder what my purpose is or how I am to live, let me remember that you achieved sanctity by simply doing the next right and loving thing your entire life. Amen.
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