Published March 15, 2007
The Gospels tell us he was a carpenter by trade, and he heeded the messages of angels that came to him in dreams. He also was described as a righteous man.
But because he has no speaking lines in the Gospels, St. Joseph remains an enigma. And in that way, he reminds me of my father, also a man of few words.
My father would answer the phone when I called and immediately share a few details about the weather. Once we had quickly exhausted that topic, he’d say, “Do you want to speak with your mother?”
He was capable of traveling for miles in the car, without saying a word, while the women talked non-stop.
On beach trips, while my mother, sister and I frolicked in the Atlantic Ocean, my father sat quietly on the shore. He would smoke one of his big Cuban cigars and glance, every now and again, at the newspaper.
But in reality he was watching the horizon for sharks, just in case.
It seems that Joseph also was a very protective man. When he received the shocking news that his fiancée was pregnant, he decided to break off the engagement with Mary quietly—to spare her public humiliation.
But what came next is what makes Joseph stand out among ordinary men. An angel came to him in a dream and told him to take Mary as his wife because the child was conceived of the Holy Spirit.
And Joseph followed God’s voice in that dream.
Every year on his feast day, I also think about the night when Mary went into labor. I can imagine the frustration her husband must have felt at not getting her a room.
I can just picture my own father storming around and losing his temper and maybe calling the innkeeper some choice words. But Joseph evidently didn’t make a fuss and simply settled down with Mary in the stable.
In my dad’s day, men did not, under any circumstances, venture into the labor and delivery room in hospitals when their wives were giving birth. That would have been as taboo for men as showing up at a wedding shower.
But on the night Jesus was born, Joseph apparently had no choice. Scripture doesn’t say one way or the other, but it is possible there was no one there to help Mary with the birth. And this is conjecture, of course, but I have always imagined that Joseph assisted her and was the first to see the Christ Child.
As the child grew up, I wonder if at times Joseph, like my own dad, felt out of place in his family. After all, Jesus would have resembled Mary in facial features and gestures but would not have resembled Joseph.
My father had only a sixth-grade education but married a college graduate. She went on to produce girls who brought home all A’s on their report cards, and spent their spare time reading.
My dad, however, preferred his cigar and a TV show.
When Joseph and his family went to Jerusalem for the Passover feast, the boy, then 12, went missing. But here’s another mystery: When they found Jesus in the temple after a three-day frantic search, Joseph didn’t say a word.
I wonder if he was very upset and afraid of losing his temper. That would have been my own father’s reaction because he had quite a temper to lose.
And just like my own mother might have, Mary does the talking: “Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
My father died when I was 29 and left more mysteries in his wake. It was only after his death that I realized he had been married before marrying my mom. Other mysteries I am sure he took with him to the grave.
As for Joseph, the details of his death are unknown, but tradition suggests he died before Jesus was crucified. Had he been alive, he surely would have been at the foot of the cross with Mary.
So Joseph must have been in heaven on that heart-stopping day, looking down on the terrible events and praying for his grief-stricken wife.
Heaven is certainly a realm of mystery, but I always imagine there’s an ocean. If so, perhaps St. Joseph and other fathers gather, now and again. Maybe they sit on the shore and pray for wives and children still on Earth.
And I can picture one of the fathers keeping his eyes fixed on the horizon, out of habit. Looking for sharks.
Lorraine Murray’s book “How Shall We Celebrate? Embracing Jesus in Every Season” has reflections on Lent, Easter, Mother’s Day and other important days. It is illustrated by her husband Jef, who did the artwork for this column. For signed copies, e-mail her at email@example.com.