Saint Joseph

God knows, even if we don’t, that a boy needs a father. A girl may need a father even more, I would add from my limited life experience, of fatherless girls, and those with weak, failed fathers. There is, in addition to the obvious “rôle models,” a special relation between fathers and daughters, and parallel, between mothers and sons: one knows instinctively when it is missing, or one is not surprised to learn the principal explanation for a person who acts just as if he were half-abandoned, or half-orphaned. The more heroic are struggling spiritually in themselves to find a balance that was not established in childhood — except when it was, by an uncle or an aunt, a step-parent or grandparent who understood the need, and came to love the child as his own. And the single parent — usually a single mother in present society, and often one who must hold a job down, too — has more than I can imagine on her plate, to fulfil all rôles. It would not be too much to say that her situation is impossible, that she cannot help failing. Yet against all the odds, she must try.

These relations are profound. A dead father, or a dead mother, still lives in the child’s soul. The loss is unthinkable, but the influence of a parent will be always there. If the man was good, if the woman was good, he or she, will see the child through to adulthood, by the example that was left. Parents must remember this in every moment, for in the next they may be gone.

Two mothers do not make one father, nor two fathers one mother; the distinction of the sexes is absolute, as we can know, for God has made that distinction. It does not come down merely to the genital, as those with working minds must see. I was impressed, very impressed, by the courage of those gay fashionistas, Dolce and Gabbana, for the public stand they took recently against gay child-rearing (see news). I am always impressed when I see men and women rise above their own interests, or their social “identities,” or even their own sinful histories, in acknowledging what is right.

Even more was I impressed by an open letter the child of gay parents wrote to U.S. Justice Kennedy, confuting the same-sex propaganda (Katy Faust, here). There are facts of life that do not change, even when stating them becomes painful; for one will endure ostracism, at the least. But as we know from the histories of the Third Reich, and the Soviet Union, there will always be those prepared to do that: to witness the truth even in the face of the Big Lie.

The Joseph of the Gospels is a shadowy figure. He is there because he must be there: and I mean in reality, not as some “myth.” Jesus Christ was to be raised, on Earth, with a human mother, and a human father, or rather foster-father, needing both. Likewise, in the society in which He was raised, Joseph wasn’t “optional.” But we do not see him so vividly as Mary in the lens of Scripture, and what we know of him seems actually to come more from Sacred Tradition.

He is for instance identified in Scripture as a tekton, which could refer to a variety of trades, metal as well as woodwork, even an itinerant tinker, or odd-job man — certainly not a landowner, and therefore quite unlikely to be rich. But the early Fathers are in no doubt that he was a carpenter, and while we don’t know how they know that, we can know that they know. He was probably much older than Mary, possibly a widower: it all shades into the dark. As Matthew and Luke both make plain, he was of noble ancestry, though one tracks his genealogy from one son of ancient King David, the other from another. I do not know, and I should think no one can ever know the full story behind this, until God chooses to reveal. The truth is we don’t need to know, and the Bible is notorious for not telling us what we don’t need to know.

From both Scripture and Tradition we can however know something of his character: that he was honest, conscientious, kindly, upright, faithful, modest. God addresses him in dreams, thrice in the Gospels, and it seems in each case he responds without question, obediently. From all this we can see he was an extraordinary man, and I begin to appreciate his qualities when I think of several men I have known, married to very talented wives with public careers: who took their places out of the limelight. And each was, unknown to anyone not an intimate friend, the rock upon whom his wife depended. In no way were they emasculated by this. Indeed, the opposite was the case: for their very masculinity raised them above the cheap egoism that we have come falsely to associate with masculinity.

“Real men” are usually unknown, as I have seen in many other situations. They do not make spectacles of themselves. On the contrary, I have met quite a few who strutted their supposed virility in public, their machismo, but were at close range, or under actual pressure, quite shockingly hapless and effeminate — retiring to the bathrooms to “make themselves up.”

Joseph, as we can know, was not the kind to “assert his rights,” for to put it coarsely: real men are not rapists. They are in control of themselves, and they do not do what they must not do. This pertains of course to everything, not just “sex,” which is the first thing everyone thinks of in our disgracefully sexualized culture. The chastity we may assign to Joseph was of a kind reflected through his whole character, and underlies that profound sense of duty and calling that defines the genuinely male psyche. It is for the man who is paterfamilias to do what he must, like a soldier, and for the greater good he will sacrifice all. He makes decisions for his family, and with this goes the duty to put every single member of that family ahead of himself.

That is why, in traditional matrimony, the woman is told to obey her husband, and the man to love his wife. The relation isn’t equal, nor is it symmetrical: the bond is far deeper than that. The example I would give is on board the Titanic. There is no time to argue, and when the husband tells his wife to take the last place in the lifeboat, she must damn well obey.

We might say the feminists don’t understand that; but they didn’t understand because men didn’t understand; and by now almost no one understands it. That is because we are depraved.

In the Bible we learn almost nothing about the upbringing of Jesus, and after the scene in the Temple when Jesus is twelve, Joseph disappears entirely. We can only assume that he died, “some time after,” and must certainly be dead when, from the Cross, Jesus commands John to take care of His mother, and His body is collected by Joseph of Arimathea. Were his earthly father still alive, he would have had charge of both functions.

That Joseph was Saint, we have taken for granted, through two thousand years. He trusted God. And we may trust that his trust was well founded, as we turn to him in holy recollection, today.