March 19, 2021


Quiet St. Joseph had a dramatic life

For someone with the reputation for being quiet, St. Joseph, whose feast day is today (March 19) certainly had a dramatic life.

It is often noted that St. Joseph doesn’t speak a single word in the four Gospels. That would lead you to think that he never spoke. We don’t believe it.

As for the drama in his life, what could be more dramatic for a man than to learn that the woman he has just married, but hasn’t yet taken into his home, is pregnant and he knows that the child isn’t his? Can we honestly believe that Joseph kept quiet about that?

Of course not. Matthew’s Gospel says that he decided to divorce Mary quietly, but they had to talk about it first. It’s clear that he had doubts about her explanation that an angel had appeared to her and told her that she would conceive a child when the Holy Spirit overshadowed her. Really? Can we imagine an angry Joseph leaving Mary’s home on hearing that?

But then Joseph, too, got a message from an angel, in a dream. The angel told Joseph that what Mary told him was true, and he believed. Can we now imagine a contrite Joseph returning to Mary’s home in the morning? Since Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t tell us what was said, we have to supply our own dialogue, but certainly there was some.

That should be enough drama for anyone, but more was to come—much more. The emperor decided that he wanted a census that required everyone to register at their family’s original hometown. Joseph was from the house and family of King David, who was born in Bethlehem 1,000 years earlier. So that’s where they had to go—about 90 miles away.

Where would they stay in Bethlehem? How long would they be there? Joseph figured that Mary’s baby would be born there, and they would stay at least until it was time for Mary’s purification 40 days after the birth. He had better take his carpentry tools with him so he could work while they were gone. They probably loaded everything on a couple donkeys, or perhaps in a cart pulled by a donkey, for the long journey.

Once they arrived, it was as Joseph feared: so many people were descended from King David that the inn in Bethlehem was full. He was directed to a cave a cave that was being used to house a few animals. And that’s where Jesus was born.

After the birth, Joseph apparently was able to find a house for his family until they could return to Nazareth. When Jesus was 40 days old, Joseph took his family to the Temple in Jerusalem, about five miles away, for Mary’s purification and Jesus’ presentation, as prescribed by the Law of Moses. He undoubtedly heard Simeon’s prophecy about Jesus.

Then came more drama. We can imagine the Holy Family fast asleep when Joseph woke up and gently shook Mary. He had to talk now, saying something like, “Mary, we have to leave. I just had a dream during which an angel told me that King Herod is sending soldiers to kill Jesus.”

So, Mary and Joseph loaded their few things on a donkey and were out of Bethlehem by dawn, on the way to Egypt. They lived as refugees there until Joseph got word that King Herod had died. Then he moved his family back to Nazareth.

Finally, the drama in Joseph’s life was over. He was able to work quietly to support his family, observing the Jewish laws, including an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover. There was a bit more drama when Jesus was 12 and decided to remain in Jerusalem at the end of a family pilgrimage there. When Joseph and Mary discovered he was missing, they hurried back to Jerusalem to look for him. But that was a minor drama compared with earlier events.

We believe that Jesus was a grown man when Joseph died. Joseph had fulfilled his responsibilities as a foster father. He died in the arms of the world’s two holiest people.

Perhaps St. Joseph was a quiet man who didn’t speak much. But he played an important role in our redemption.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

—John F. Fink

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