Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. — Matthew 1:18-25
Good Saint Joseph, what a man! His example of prudence and obedience should be a matter of constant reflection to every Catholic man. And oh, that phrase: “Catholic man”! In a world were real men are becoming a scarce commodity, real Catholic men seem to be as rare as hen’s teeth. The thought is not mine, it came up recently in conversation with a small group of young Catholic ladies of marrying age.
I could not avoid thinking of Saint Joseph, the quintessential husband sent by God: manly, capable, discrete, wise but also a man of action. If you don’t believe that Joseph was a man of action, try walking from the outskirts of Jerusalem through the wilderness to the coast of the Nile River with a young recent mother and a baby. Today that would be a challenge in an vehicle equipped with air conditioning. Saint Joseph did it on foot while Mary and her baby rode his donkey. Joseph had a short time to get his stuff together.
One thing we noticed through the early account of Christ’s life is that Saint Joseph delivers. The man is one unstoppable faith machine, the shy and silent owner of a firm heart anchored in a close intimacy with his God. What a man!
Saint Matthew’s brief account of the wedding of Joseph and Mary is very revealing of the kind of man Joseph is. Absent are self-righteousness and self-concern. His undivided attention is on Mary and her well-being.
The story of mankind begins with a wedding. Adam and Eve are married by their Creator. I know by observation that some Catholic marriages are arranged the same way. Some big or little miracle seems to always precede the encounter of two souls. Later on some special child will come from that union. The Martins, the parents of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, lived quite a love story. So did Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebecca, Boaz and Ruth… God seems to be running a busy marriage agency.
The encounter of two souls mysteriously arranged by Heaven is usually meant to produce some special offspring. Those who knew the miracles that led to the birth of John the Baptist wondered “who that child would grow up to be.” They knew instinctively that God does not intervene in human affairs without a purpose. John grew up to be the last and greatest prophet of Israel before the arrival of the Messiah.
Just like mankind began with a wedding in the Garden of Eden, the arrival of the Messiah began with the spousals of Mary and Joseph, and the ministry of Jesus began also during a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus used weddings in his preaching many times, even calling Himself “the Groom” when describing the special relationship between Him and His Church. There is something quite profound in the union of a man and a woman in marriage. Even the pagans marveled at that miracle, conceptualizing it in the myth of Eros and Psyche.
“The myth of Eros and Psyche is probably one of the best love stories in classical mythology. Eros, son of Aphrodite, was the personification of intense love desire and he was depicted throwing arrows to people in order to hit their heart and make them fall in love. Psyche, a beautiful maiden, personifies the human soul. In fact, she is the symbol of the soul purified by passions and misfortunes and who is, from now on, prepared to enjoy eternal happiness. In the love story of Eros (Cupid in Latin) and Psyche (meaning ‘soul’ in Greek), we can see the perseverance of a man even when he is possessed by passion and the effort of a woman to overcome many obstacles in order to achieve the happiness of love.” —- Quoted from Greeka.
I am not qualified to speak of womanhood, so I will stick to what I know about manhood albeit imperfectly. There are two ways to become a man of God. The first and the best is the way of Saint Joseph, silent, in awe before Logos the Word. The second and much less recommendable is self-learning by making every conceivable mistake. That was the way I unwittingly chose. In my defense I must say that it seemed a good idea at the time. A good idea it was not but it worked because God writes straight in crooked lines. What would have seemed impossible came to pass only through His power and wisdom.
Back to Joseph. He is a provider, like Joseph the beloved son of Jacob who saved the whole family from starvation. Also, like that first Joseph, the putative father of Jesus was a man in a constant dialog with God through dreams. Divine dreams do not come to those who idle all day and therefore sleep lightly. No, dreams come to common men of God after an exhausting day of honest toiling for survival, or to wise men of God after prudent consideration of the mysteries of life.
Joseph was a man uncommon in his being common because he was centered in his duties. His energy was dedicated to serve others as a tekton, a man who works with iron and wood. He was most likely making and repairing plows. There is a profound allegory hidden in Joseph’s work because the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the aleph, resembles a man plowing a field, the union of human work and heavenly blessings. That letter also symbolizes that the strength of man comes from God. On the humble masculinity of Joseph hinged Heaven and Earth.
In the work of Joseph’s rough hands we find a strange foreboding of the Cross. In his kind concern for Mary and Jesus we see a reflection of the love of the Father, eternal provider, silent benefactor of the human family.
So, the purpose of a man is to prepare himself to be a Joseph. A Catholic man’s heart is an orderly storage of holy passion. To God he gives his whole obedience, allowing Him to guide his steps. In union with his wife they both worship God in the sacred mystery of creating new life. From the moment a man falls in love with his wife, he serves God in her. The old emblem of the ancient English weddings comes again to mind, being as it is a precious example of how liturgy conceals and at the same time reveals the great truths of life. The groom pronounces the words after the Priest who is representing God:
“With this ring I thee wedde, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goodes I thee endow.”
A married Catholic man has to master the art of having nothing of his own. His will, he has given to his Lord and Savior; his body, his seed, and his possessions he has given to his bride; his daily labor is his sacrifice offered on the altar of his family. If he is a real man, he has to be ready to empty himself completely just like Christ did on the Cross. If need be, a real man will lose his own life defending his family. And in the final judgment he will have to bear before God the responsibility of being the head of his wife and children: all the good and bad decisions will be his and only his. He will be there to spare his own from divine judgment. Then his self-giving will be complete and he will be ready for the Great Wedding before the sparkling altar of the heavenly Jerusalem pronouncing a simple statement:
“My Lord, I’ve been your servant, a husband, and a father.”
In the day of St. Kieran the Younger.
“The will of God gives to all things a supernatural and divine value for the soul submitting to it. The duties it imposes, and those it contains, with all the matters over which it is diffused, become holy and perfect, because, being unlimited in power, everything it touches shares its divine character. … The entire virtue of all that is called holy is in its approximation to this order established by God; therefore nothing should be rejected, nothing sought after, but everything accepted that is ordained and nothing attempted contrary to the will of God. … When God requires action, sanctity is to be found in activity.” — Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, quoted from Your Morning Offering.