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St. Joseph, Father For All Times

by Sister Helen Margaret Feeney, CSJ

March, with its ever-present winds, ushers in a special feast honoring St. Joseph. Joseph, a gentle carpenter of royal lineage, strong in character who had a particular charge as guardian of a family. Joseph, a man in years ahead to be proclaimed Patron of the Universal Church - a feast celebrated every March 19. What really made Joseph so exceptional? Can we compare him with a father in todayís society?

God had chosen Mary to be the mother of His son. He singled out the Angel Gabriel to deliver the message to her and to receive her acceptance. Though only a young maiden in her teens and frightened, she listened attentively. Without hesitation, she turned to the angel and posed the poignant question as to how this could be done. She was a virgin and did not know man. It was then that Gabriel answered her that all would be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit. Only then, in trusting humility, did Mary consent wit her loving "Fiat".

Maryís "yes" touched the life of someone very dear to her -- Joseph to whom she was promised in marriage. One can imagine the feelings that clouded his mind when he learned that Mary was "with child". Mary, whom he trusted implicitly. Mary, respected by all. Mary, the love of his life. Expose her, he could not. She did not deserve that. Put her away quietly? What would he do?

In prayerful resignation, he sought Godís guidance. We are told that God answered his prayer. In a dream he was directed to take Mary as his wife, for the child she had conceived was by the power of the Holy Spirit. It was then with loving trust and respect for Mary that he took her for his wife.

Both Joseph and Mary were blessed with an extraordinary gift. Each portrayed the utmost confidence in God and one another. Indeed, love knows no boundaries. It was a matter of accepting Godís will in blind obedience and taking each moment in stride.

Event followed event - - the birth of the child, the angels, the shepherds, the Magi, the circumcision, the presentation in the temple and finally the call to flee into Egypt. One might wonder what God was asking of this couple. Would a husband in todayís world be able to cope with such trying events? Would he take the easy way out, leaving his wife and child stranded without finances or loving support? Not so with Joseph, for he found his directives and strength in God.

Returning to a life in Nazareth, he continued to support his family by his work in carpentry. As father of the family, he knew his role was that of a loving provider. A faithful God-fearing Jewish husband, he quietly fulfilled his dual mission as foster father. Imagine being a role model for the Son of God. Jesus had taken on our human nature. Like any child, he had to go through the various stages of development.

It was Christís privilege to be taught a trade by an expert craftsman and exemplary father. Each day Joseph knew his task as his sonís teacher was unique in every aspect. He knew also that teaching was done best through example. Thus, he lived what he tried to teach. His every action was rooted in prayer. His work was precise and perfected to the best of his ability. This quality of workmanship he tried to instill in his foster son as he patiently explained every detail that required attention. Indeed, Jesus saw what a just and honorable man Joseph was, for each person he encountered in his daily routine was treated with the deepest respect. Honesty with his customers was exemplified in his day-to-day transactions. One could never say that Joseph was a cheat.

Fathers of today rarely have the opportunity to be with their children in the same circumstances as did Joseph. For the most part the fatherís workplace is away from home - the factory - the office - the construction site - the political arena. Yet, there are still many opportunities for bonding. There are moments in family prayer, in conversation at table, in camping and fishing, in sportís events, to name a few. As a good father, it is by just being there listening, counseling and teaching the proper values. To put it simply, to be there for them by leading the good life. One cannot overemphasize the importance of a fatherís role. True, he may not always be in the limelight. Even Joseph led a very obscure life. Very little is related about him in the gospel stories, but he was always there when he was needed.

We are told "And the child grew and became strong; he was full of wisdom and Godís blessings were with him." (Luke 2:40) The days and years went by in the quiet atmosphere of Nazareth. Yet, in Josephís lifetime, he was placed in another heart-rending situation. The incident occurred when Jesus was twelve years of age and the family traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of the Passover. The days of the feast having ended, they started back home thinking that Jesus was with the group. After traveling a whole day they looked for him among their relatives and friends. Not finding him, they went back to Jerusalem in search of them. It was only on the third day that they found him in the temple sitting among the teachers engaged in conversation. It could be seen that all were amazed at his intelligence. Both parents were astonished, but it was Mary who asked her son why he had done this to them. The Gospel narrative relates that his reply was that of bewilderment as to why they had search for him for he had to be in his Fatherís house. The words, "Fatherís House" must have brought Joseph to the shocking reality that he had been given a responsibility seconded by none. But to grasp the depth of the statement, both he and Mary were at a loss. The story ends with Jesus obediently returning home with them.

No mention is made of Joseph after the Temple narrative. We can be certain, however, that each passing day found him to be a righteous, devoted husband and father until the day that God called him from his earthly home to await the glorious reunion with his foster son.

As I pen my thoughts, I am seated before a wood carved statue of a just and holy man whose simple life was spent in close relationship with Jesus. In prayer, I beg his intercession, especially for all fathers that they may take to heart the lessons he taught. I ask also, that Joseph, as Patron of the Universal Church, be mindful of all our needs as we strive to live out the Gospel message. In gratitude, I simply whisper, "please be our advocate with God who entrusted his son to you."


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