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Saint Joseph: Swaddling Clothes and a Pair of Pigeons

Saint Joseph: Swaddling Clothes and a Pair of Pigeons

It’s hard not to bring our own cultural experiences to our vision of Joseph. When we combine that with the gloss of theology that has built up over the centuries, we can easily lose sight of the real Joseph.

One of the misconceptions involves his economic status. For some reason, we think of Joseph as a “poor man.” Technically, that is correct since there were only two classes in Joseph’s time: the rich and poor. But “poor” didn’t mean poverty-stricken, begging for morsels of food, and living on the street. It meant “ordinary.” We’d probably call it middle-class today.

It makes absolutely no sense to assume that Joseph was incapable of providing a decent home for Mary and Joseph. Why would God choose a man who couldn’t take care of a family to be the earthly father of his Son? It is highly insulting to Joseph and doesn’t reflect very well on God either.

Two references in the birth narratives show us that Joseph wasn’t actually poor in our sense of the word.

First, Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes. This doesn’t mean that Jesus was bound up in rags Joseph found in a corner somewhere. It means that he was dressed like a normal baby. The point of mentioning swaddling clothes is to emphasize that Jesus was a real infant. Joseph provided Jesus with what a baby needed. Today we might say that he was dressed in a diaper and a onesie.

Second, when Jesus was presented in the Temple, Mary and Joseph offered a pair of doves or pigeons. Sometimes that is used as proof that they were poor, but again, it’s more likely proof that they were ordinary. Only the wealthy or those who wanted to be seen as wealthy would present a lamb. In fact, one might even say that Joseph was being a good steward of his resources. The purification would be just as valid with a dove as a lamb, so why go to the extra expense when it wasn’t necessary?

When we think about Joseph, shifting our focus from seeing him as a desperately poor man to a regular husband and dad gives us much more to respect and emulate. And we all should respect and emulate Joseph.


“St. Joseph was an ordinary sort of man on whom God relied to do great things. He did exactly what the Lord wanted him to do, in each and every event that went to make up his life.”—Saint Josemaria Escriva


Saint Joseph, help me to be content with my place in the world, being grateful for what I have and not being envious of those who have more. Amen.

Image credit: LUMO project (Big Book Media) via

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