It is difficult to ask, "What kind of husband was Joseph?" The answer seems irretrievably hidden in what we can't know. But, upon reflection, asking God's Spirit to inspire us and show us what God would like to show us about "Joseph, Husband of Mary," we can enjoy ourselves as we try to get to know this wonderful man.
We know that Joseph was a carpenter in a small town. He probably made tables and chairs, perhaps doors, wheels, wagons and carts, and many other small things. We know Joseph was a man of faith and fidelity to his faith. We know he was a man of compassion who loved Mary. In order to not expose her to the law and its punishment, which might have meant stoning, Joseph considered divorcing Mary quietly. But Joseph listened to the Spirit speaking inside of him. He took Mary as his wife, seeming to tell the people around him that either he was the father of the child or that he didn't care who was the father of the child. We know from Matthew's gospel that it was revealed to Joseph that in fact there was divine intervention in God's plan for this child's coming into the world. What faith and courage and strength. And what love for Mary and this child must have filled his heart! But, it couldn't have been easy.
What we can imagine, comes from how Jesus turned out. Jesus' teaching and the example he left us is all about self-sacrificing love. We can only imagine a home life in which Jesus was himself loved this way and experienced the power of this love.
So, "What kind of husband was Joseph?" I imagine that every day his wife, and this child he would take as his own, were the center of his life. More specifically, he thought of their needs before his own. We all know what that means, and how difficult it is to do. Might it have been that Joseph was the hard working, quiet type and Mary was incredibly outgoing and very much at ease with her feelings? Could it have been that the young Jesus was incredibly inquisitive and active and requiring lots of attention? I picture Joseph practicing the daily surrender of self to love. He must have become a good listener for Mary. He must have learned to be her true companion and friend. He had to have stepped outside of himself to find words to affirm her and thank her and express his love for her. I could imagine that she might have been more "expressive" in her faith - praising God in song and canticles from the scriptures. Joseph might have been a man of "private faith expression." We can picture Joseph, out of love, and a desire for a union that formed the very message of God about unity and love, learning from Mary's way of celebrating God's love so that they could celebrate it together. I know I can imagine the young Jesus waking up to hearing his parents chant the psalms together, with Mary's free and joyful spirit blending with Joseph's strong and confident voice.
And, we can imagine a few other attributes of the husband, Joseph. Though surely bigger, stronger, a craftsman and businessman, we can't imagine Joseph ever dominating Mary. We can't even bring ourselves to picture a time when he would, even impatiently, assert his will over her, make demands, or argue like a mocking bully. As we imagine how Mary and Joseph's discussions, disagreements, even arguments happened, Joseph must have been a gentle, respectful, self-sacrificing partner. Even at times when Joseph had to have been burdened by the pressures of his business, it just isn't possible for us to see Joseph taking his frustrations out on his family. On the contrary, Joseph surely thought of Mary's needs first, even when his needs were great. Only then, would he let her comfort him.
Is it impossible to imagine such a grace-filled husband, such self-donating love? Not if we hear this call as the invitation Jesus makes to all of us. It comes right out of our baptism into Jesus' own dying. And whenever we fall short, we can reflect upon our sins - in what we have done and what we have failed to do - and we can ask for the graces to love more generously and the courage and fidelity to practice it. And, of course, we can ask Joseph for his help.
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