19 March [St Joseph]
Jacob [was] the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah…. 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.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.
I once knew a very pious lady who would never refer to St Joseph by name, but as “The Holy Old Man”. Every time I heard it I felt sorry for the many men I know who have been weakened and faded – denatured – by an unreal spirituality. Why old? We make Joseph old in order to weaken him. The same lady (and most people) would never think of Mary as old. On the contrary, she is represented almost as a pre-teen. There is some sort of investment in keeping Mary at this side of adulthood as there is in putting Joseph at the far side of it. It is as if we can't take the full presence of a vigorous adult man or woman. Virginity and old age become privileged; but what if the root of this, in some people, should be nothing more than a fear of sexuality?
In The Wild Man’s Journey Richard Rohr wrote about the state of male spirituality in today’s world. A quote almost at random: “The wild man locked inside us is telling us that his incredible strength can be reached by moving into the space of the feminine, yet so often the woman who could lead us into that space wants to prevent us from getting in touch with the wild man. Rebekah so rejected her hairy, hunter son, Esau, that she betrayed him in favour of the gentle Jacob (see Gen 27). This is not a new issue.”
Since we know so little about him, we have weakened St Joseph and moulded him according to our image of what a holy man should be. We need to restore his masculinity to him, for a start. On May 1 we celebrate him again under the title Joseph the Worker. That’s a good beginning: he is not Joseph the Faded, the Ineffectual, the Weak; he is Joseph the Worker. And he had to work all year round, not just on May 1.
When Jesus spoke about his Father in heaven he did so with real tenderness and affection, but without guilt or weakness or sentimentality. Consider: where did he get his feeling for this word, the ‘colouring’; where did he first experience the reality of the word ‘father’? From Joseph, of course. Joseph must have been a very successful father.
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