Joseph’s Way: Learning from the Holy Husband of Mary How to be a Christian Man
There are few passages pertaining to Joseph in the New Testament of the Bible. I am sure he does not object. For Joseph, it was never about him, it was about Jesus, and Mary. He did not have an ounce of self-love in him. How refreshing this model of manly character in this age of self-idolatry and victim-hood.
On this day, when Catholic Christians who follow the calendar of the Latin Rite remember Joseph, the Husband of Mary, we are given this excerpt from the first chapter of Matthew,s Gospel for the Gospel text of the Liturgy:
“Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary; of whom Jesus was born, he who is called Christ. Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly.
“But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins”. When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.”
When we hear or read the the word Annunciation, Catholic Christians usually think of the Angel who appeared to Mary. (Luke 1:26-56) However, an angel also appeared to Joseph, giving him his own unique vocation and inviting him to a response of living faith. In that, he was numbered among the heroes set forth in the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 11). He is one of the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) who still speak to us, encourage us and pray for us.
This Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in that dream because the Lord had a plan to use him as an instrument in helping to bring about His loving plan of salvation for the whole world. Joseph was a man of prayer. He had an intimate relationship with the Living God. His eyes were opened to see heavenly realities and his life was opened to their effects. That is what prayer does for a man, it opens his eyes, heart and life to heavenly realities, and the grace which alone can effect ongoing conversion.
The Angel had message from the Lord, specifically for Joseph. Joseph was disposed to listen to this message because he was a man who walked with God; a man of living faith. The word Angel means messenger. Joseph had a specific vocation, a calling from the Lord. It was that specific vocation which informed everything in his life.
We each have a specific vocation, one that is unique to us. When we discover it, or rather, when we learn to submit to it in Love and for Love, our lives are forever changed. Our eyes are opened and we begin to see heavenly realities. We learn to live a naturally supernatural life – as we receive and cooperate with grace; as we say yes to the Lord.
Joseph gave his own YES to the Lord, in Latin he gave a “FIAT ” – the word means be it done unto me. He did not speak with words but with action. He DID what the Angel commanded. He exercised His freedom by saying Yes to God’s invitation. His response was his own song, his own Magnificat, or hymn of praise.
Christian men are called to say Yes in word and deed because faith is a verb. We are invited by grace to live lives which are increasingly given over to God and His Will. When we really begin to do so, we will find everything else for which we long. We will find the source of true joy, Jesus Christ, whom Joseph held in his arms and worked alongside of in the Carpenters shop of Nazareth.
From antiquity, Christians have cherished Joseph as a model of genuine manly virtue for good reason. Since the fourteenth century there has been a specific day set aside in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar to honor him. He is viewed as the Patron of the universal Church, of all husbands and of real social justice, not the left wing nonsense covered over with pious sounding talk which masquerades as social justice in too many circles in this hour of real need.
He has also been designated as the patron of all workers, this Carpenter who taught the Word Incarnate, the Child Jesus, how to work with wood. This man Joseph was the foster father of the Incarnate Word of God – and he loved Jesus with an exemplary, tender and fatherly love. This same Jesus who learned to work with wood from the hands of Joseph as a child, would, during his 33rd year on earth, save the whole world, through working with the wood of the Cross.
In an age that has lost its way, because it has succumbed to the selfish pursuit of illusory pleasure, Joseph needs to be lifted up as a model for men who truly want to follow Jesus Christ. It is time for Christian men to follow his example, and become men again.
In popular language we use an expression to refer to men who are comfortable in their own skin and are content with being men. We say of such a man – He is a man’s man. Well, Joseph is a true man’s man. He was a man of few words, because he spoke through his actions – and he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded.
Joseph was a man for others
Even though we find little in the bible about Joseph, it is that very absence of words which speaks volumes to those seeking to learn from this good and holy model of manhood. Why? Because to Joseph, he was not the one who was important. He loved Jesus and he loved Mary – above himself. His behavior was just as a result of his self-giving and courageous love, revealed in actions.
There was not an ounce of false bravado or machismo in this servant of God. Named after the great Patriarch who was sold into slavery in Egypt; he bore the name with similar humility. As the Old Testament Patriarch Joseph (Genesis 37) embraced his lot, rejecting the temptation to bitterness or victim-hood and came to rule Egypt, forgiving the brothers who had sold him into slavery; so too this son of the Covenant embraced the One who would establish the New Covenant on the altar of Calvary. Joseph put Jesus Christ and His Mother first.
This is why Joseph of Nazareth is a model to all men who choose to walk the way of the cross. He emptied himself in order to be filled with the love and life of God. He gave himself fully to God through accepting his unique and specific vocation as a guardian of the Redeemer. Saint John Paul II wrote a beautiful apostolic exhortation reflecting on Joseph entitled Guardian of the Redeemer. He released it on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary in 1989. He made a profound connection between Mary’s response to the angel and Joseph’s response to the angel:
“There is a strict parallel between the “annunciation” in Matthew’s text and the one in Luke. The divine messenger introduces Joseph to the mystery of Mary’s motherhood. While remaining a virgin, she who by law is his “spouse” has become a mother through the power of the Holy Spirit.
“And when the Son in Mary’s womb comes into the world, he must receive the name Jesus. This was a name known among the Israelites and sometimes given to their sons. In this case, however, it is the Son who, in accordance with the divine promise, will bring to perfect fulfillment the meaning of the name Jesus-Yehos ua’ – which means “God saves.”
“Joseph is visited by the messenger as “Mary’s spouse,” as the one who in due time must give this name to the Son to be born of the Virgin of Nazareth who is married to him. It is to Joseph, then, that the messenger turns, entrusting to him the responsibilities of an earthly father with regard to Mary’s Son.
“When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife” (cf. Mt 1:24). He took her in all the mystery of her motherhood. He took her together with the Son who had come into the world by the power of the Holy Spirit. In this way he showed a readiness of will like Mary’s with regard to what God asked of him through the angel.”
Joseph NAMED Jesus
What an honor! What a relationship to be esteemed and emulated! In the sacred scriptures, the name both connoted and conferred an extraordinary relationship between the one who gave it and the one who bore it. In fact, Jesus was referred to as the Carpenters son. In this context, Saint John Paul spoke of what he called Josephs Way, as an example of fidelity:
In the course of that pilgrimage of faith which was his life, Joseph, like Mary, remained faithful to God’s call until the end. While Mary’s life was the bringing to fullness of that fiat first spoken at the Annunciation, at the moment of Joseph’s own annunciation he said nothing; instead he simply “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Mt 1:24). This is what real men do.
And this first “doing” became the beginning of what St John Paul called “Joseph’s way.” The Gospels do not record any word ever spoken by Joseph while he walked along that way. But the silence of Joseph has its own special eloquence, for thanks to that silence we can understand the truth of the Gospel’s judgment that he was “a just man” (Mt 1:19).
The child Jesus, God in the flesh, was given to Joseph to name, to love and to raise – as a father raises a son. A Carpenter, Joseph taught this child how to work with wood. That was, after all, what he had to give to the Lord. He gave everything he had to the One whom he called Lord, son and Savior.
During what are often called the hidden years, simply because we have little in the Gospel text about them, Jesus was with Joseph and Joseph was with Jesus. Joseph uniquely participated in the mystery of Gods plan of redemption through simply being the man he was called to be, in the presence of Jesus the Lord. How challenging his witness is in an age of narcissism and inordinate self-love. It invites our imitation.
For over two millennium, the redemptive mission of Jesus has continued through His Body on earth, His Church. We are now members of that Church. He has entrusted His work to all men and women who accept the invitation to empty themselves in order to be filled with the life and love of God.
We are invited to continue His redemptive mission for the world in this hour. No matter what our state in life or specific vocation, we are invited to join our Yes, to Mary, Joseph and the countless others who have walked this way before us, in the over two millennia of Christian history. We are called into the Third Christian Millennium as missionaries.
Through the Fountain of living water called Baptism, Jesus invites each one of us into His new family, the Body of His Son, the Church. He still gives His message – and His mission – to men who, like Joseph, cultivate ears to hear and then choose to exercise authentic manly virtue and act out of courage and conviction. He calls men who will speak by lives of faithful witness to walk in Josephs way, the Way of the Cross.
The Father still invites men to turn the ordinary into extraordinary through cooperation and participation in His loving plan. He is looking for a few good men like Joseph who will work in the workshop of the world that He created – and help to recreate it anew in His Son, Jesus.
In this age of few heroes, men should rediscover this true hero, this man’s man named Joseph. Then, we need to follow his example by courageously, humbly and faithfully loving Jesus Christ. We need to learn to give our Yes to the God whose Love always invites participation.
Joseph is a teacher. He shows us the way to love and follow Jesus Christ. He models for us how to be faithful husbands, fathers and servants of the Lord, in an age desperately in need of such a witness. Joseph is a true man’s man calling all men to follow Jesus. We need courageous men in this age to learn Joseph’s Way, and then walk in it. Let us choose this day to be added to their number.
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