March 7, 2012
"Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus" by Guido Reni
by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.
Saints Are Real
One of the true blessings of our Catholic faith is our knowledge and friendship with the saints of God. Far from “getting in the way” of God, they reveal God’s goodness and love for all of us. What is nice about saints is that, in reality, they were just like you and me. They entered this world with the same woundedness we see in ourselves, enduring the same struggles as we do on this journey.
Next to Mary, the mother of Jesus, there was no one closer to Jesus than Joseph, the spouse of Mary and the carpenter of Nazareth. Now, we can always fall into a kind of sentimentalism in talking about Mary and Joseph, depicting their lives as almost angelic. After all, you could not get closer to Jesus than they were. Yet, in the case of Joseph, his life was not about sentimentalism. It was about real life and real issues. That’s why Joseph is such a model for all married men.
The Crises Joseph Faced
When Mary became pregnant by the power of God, she and Joseph were already betrothed. They had not yet come together as man and wife. Joseph must have felt that he was the most blessed man in Nazareth to see Mary as his wife to be.
Mary returned from her visit with Elizabeth, and her body was showing she was pregnant. What must have gone through Joseph’s mind when he saw her? His world had just come crashing down upon him; his future with her and all his dreams went up in smoke. It was a harsh reality that the law said he had to put her aside. Try to imagine the pain and anguish when he realized what he had to do. We can say, “Well, he found out by that dream that everything was all right!” Yes, but for those days and weeks prior to the dream, we dare not dismiss the tragedy he was experiencing.
There is that moment of utter joy of taking Mary as his wife and then their journey to Bethlehem; his frantic search for a place of privacy so Mary could give birth. Then the joy of seeing the infant, the son God had given to him as a father to protect along with Mary. At this time, you'll realize, Herod saw Jesus as a threat to him. Any parent who has heard a threat against one of their children would know that feeling of utter panic.
Moments of joy in the Temple when Jesus is offered to the Lord were great indeed. Life in Nazareth—father teaching his son, Jesus, to pray and worship in the synagogue, to learn about the history of his people, and even the hope for the future Messiah.
Finally there was that trip to the Temple where Jesus got so interested in the scribes and teachers that he forgot to link up with his own caravan of family, friends and neighbors returning to Nazareth. When Joseph and Mary discovered Jesus had been left behind, do you think how much he would have blamed himself for not being more careful? Do you think he felt guilty and that he had failed as a husband and father?
If Joseph was human, and he was, he surely would have been upset with himself. Sometimes we think saints don’t have those issues and problems. But they do. Good and saintly men can also suffer from what they see as their own imperfections and failures. People can say, “Well, he had great faith.” But faith does not lessen pain or hurt. Faith just helps us to get through.
See Joseph as a Real Husband and Father
I say all these things because when you hear Joseph with the title, the "Spouse of the Virgin Mary,” it’s good to remember Joseph was a real man, a real husband and a real father, who experienced all the ups and downs that go with those roles.
Dear Ames, Mark, and Marion: Thanks for your thoughtful and diverse comments. As Mark suggests, for centuries a more-or-less friendly debate has been going on between the Thomists and the Scotists. Happily, Mark’s words were good-natured and thoughtful, as were those of Ames and Marion. May our good and gracious God bless you—and all those who responded to my thoughts on John Duns Scotus.
My prayers also go out to the more than 50,000 readers of this column. As you may remember, in March a third and final E-spiration on Blessed John Duns Scotus will follow the preceding two. I think you will enjoy reading the concluding segment. Friar Jack
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