One of the few positive things I’ve managed to do for Lent thus far stems from to my need to curb my email obsession. (And don’t we all?)
I decided to switch my home page on my home computer from g.mail to the readings for the day, courtesy of the USCCB. Now whenever I open up a new window, what pops up is a reminder to take a few minutes and soak in some Scripture. More often than not, I feel this tug of annoyance – argh, I really just wanted to check my email – but simultaneously get a reality check about what’s more important: living Lent in a way that’s different from the rest of the year or checking to see if I got that one email response I’ve been stalking. (Sometimes I like to knock myself in the head with my own 2x4s, before God can get there first.)
So on Saturday morning, when I turned on the laptop to see if a friend had responded to a note I sent her, I was instead greeted with a reminder that it was the feast day of St. Joseph. Normally a day that I could easily pass over as Lent hurries by, but thanks to that homepage switch, I lingered a moment, let my eyes fall over the readings, and thought a bit about Joseph.
Talk about the strong, silent type. We hear about him at Christmas – the strange angel dreams, the upright man wanting to divorce her quietly, the decision instead to trust his God and embrace his wife and love a son he did not father. But then Joseph slips away in Scripture and we’re left with little to imagine the man who surely shaped Jesus’ youth more than any other.
I wonder what he was like, as a husband and a father. Matthew tells us he was righteous, obedient to God’s call, protective of the child and his mother. Luke tells us he was religiously observant, a good Jew, a worried parent when his son was lost.
But we don’t know what he was like in the day-to-day: how his marriage with Mary evolved through the years, how he helped to raise and teach Jesus, what he thought about the strange prophecies surrounding his adopted son.
Christians often reflect on Mary’s “yes”: her let-it-be-done that made it possible for Jesus to grow in her womb and be born into the world. But it strikes me that without Joseph’s “yes,” the story would have turned out much differently. Mother and child were supported and cared for because one unassuming, small town carpenter agreed to take a leap of faith. He, too, was called and responded; the vocation was not simply thrust upon him.
I’ve heard mothers reference their first-born in terms of “he made me a mother.” Perhaps never was it more true that a baby made a mother and a father than with Jesus, since the traditional, biological mother-father combo did not produce the child here first. Thus Joseph can become a model for fathers in all sorts of circumstances: foster, adoptive; untraditional, unexpected.
I reflect in this space quite frequently about mothering. It’s the side of parenting I know and the lens through which I now see the world. But I wonder often about fathering, and the spirituality thereof. It’s an area we rarely explore or talk about. Reflecting on Joseph this weekend brought me back to these thoughts.
One of the unexpected graces from this blog has been the many conversations between F and me that were sparked by things I’ve mused about here. He’s certainly my most faithful reader (though, ahem, perhaps the quietest lurker), and his support of my writing means more to me than anyone else’s. We are sharing quite a few vocations, after all, and the fact that he encourages me to explore yet one more is no small shakes. Even the few minutes I steal here and there to write are minutes away from him and our time together.
So tonight I wish to send him a word of thanks. I will not embarrass him with a flowery mush of “best-husband-and-father-ever,” because one’s blog is not the place to extol the virtues of one’s spouse or the blessings of one’s marriage. But when I think about Joseph supporting Mary through her vocation, and encouraging Jesus towards his own, I cannot help but feel grateful for a man who does the same for me and for S (and for the wee babe still to arrive).
We don’t celebrate the husbands and fathers around us enough, and perhaps that’s why Scripture has so few words about Joseph. The good and the upright ones never draw enough attention to themselves. We have to celebrate their fathering spirits for them.
Update: a friend sent me a wonderful video on St. Joseph from Fr. James Martin, S.J., author of “My Life with the Saints.” He has some wonderful reflections on Joseph as father that speak directly to a spirituality for dads today! (Thanks, Katie!)