Christ’s foster father is a model for decent, pro-life men.
In 2016, the popular Christmas song “Mary, Did You Know?” turned 25 years old. This song reliably stirs some degree of theological discussion, leading some to offer, “Of course Mary knew” — and indeed, Luke 1 and 2 give us scriptural insights into this. Yet, when I hear the song, I ponder the various questions as posed not in an interrogative or inquisitive sense; rather, in a rhetorical sense.
But what about Joseph – did he “know”? (You may want to listen to two songs that likewise invite reflection on Joseph’s perspective: MercyMe’s “Joseph’s Lullaby” and Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant’s duo “Almost There.”)
Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster-father of the Lord Jesus Christ, is frequently regarded as “the Silent Saint,” since there are no spoken words of his in any of the four Gospels. (Perhaps he was prudent in letting his [immaculately] better half do the talking on the more nuanced theological details).
However, we can still surmise a fair amount about Joseph’s character. For example, “he was a righteous man” who was “unwilling to expose [Mary] to shame” (Matthew 1:19), even after he learned that Mary was pregnant before they had completed the totality of the requisite marriage rites. As Joseph was preparing to divorce Mary, which would have been condoned in such an instance per the Mosaic Law (although his foster-Son later returned marriage to its original intention as the union of husband and wife [see Matthew 19:1-12 and Mark 10:1-12]), the archangel Gabriel provided him with dynamic guidance, informing him in a dream that, ultimately, “[Jesus will] save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Joseph “knew” to some extent, as did Mary, who knew to an even more enhanced extent.
Joseph was probably some combination of afraid, confused and anxious, but he trusted God. Although Joseph did not have the same category of unwavering faith that Mary exhibited throughout her life, he stayed with her and took every effort to protect her, honor her, adore her and respect her, aware of [his and] Mary’s respectively unique roles pursuant to their participation in salvation history. After Christ’s birth, Joseph took Mary and Jesus to the safety of Egypt, protecting them from the madness of Herod, whose aim was to remove any perceived threat to his reign — even in the form of innocent toddlers, whose lives we honor via the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs, on Dec. 28.
What a sequence – Advent, Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (Dec. 31 this year), and the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God (Jan. 1) – in which to reflect on the significance of marriage, the family, and the sanctity of human life, especially that of the unborn. And this is not to mention the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, which will take place on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018.
And what a monumental hero of a pro-life man, replete with the decency typical of a saint, we find in Joseph. In an age when we need men of virtue filling the ranks of the entertainment industry, the political realm, professional athletic organizations, and simply in every avenue of society, we can rely on Joseph as the model for decent pro-life men.
Despite the unprecedentedly increasing antagonism between men and women, not to mention a rampant disregard for human life across the spectrum, perhaps the prospect of embracing chastity, purity and chivalry is in store. After all, allowing the two genders, which God intended to complement one another based on what the USCCB recently described as our “inherent dignity and beauty,” to uplift each other in the process is not such a bad idea.
Good Saint Joseph, man of humble pro-life resolve, pray for us!