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Monday, March 19, 2007

The other father

They don't honor all the saints like they used to, but most Christian churches note, at least in passing, that today's the Feast of St. Joseph. To me, after Jesus, Joseph is the coolest figure in the Bible. Here's a carpenter whose fiancee shows up pregnant by somebody else, tells him it's a miracle, and has a story about a visit from an angel who announced that it was God's son. And Joseph marries her anyway.

He's a law-abiding guy, schlepping all the way back to his family hometown to pay his taxes, along with his bride, who's so big that she's ready to go into labor at any moment. They can't get a place to stay, and so she delivers in a stable. You've got to think Joseph did the catching.

Then a comet starts flashing, and the crazies commence showing up. Shepherds, townspeople, angels, even some trekkers from somewhere back east who thought they were going to find a rich prince. Pretty soon the dreams start. The local king doesn't like being upstaged by this baby, and he's going to have him killed. The voices in the dream tell Joseph to take the wife and kid and beat it out of there. Which he does.

Years later, the boy is behaving strangely. He drops out of the caravan one day and stays behind so that he can preach. They go nuts looking for him. He's just a kid, and there he is preaching in the temple. Jesus looks Joseph in the eye and says, "I'm working for my father." Unstated message: "And I know he isn't you." By then Joseph surely realizes that this thing is bigger than all of them.

As far as I can tell, that's all the Good Book actually has on Joseph. Nobody knows for sure how old the guy was, or whether he had other wives or kids before the Dynamic Duo. But of course, give it 2,000 years and other stories crop up. About 100 years ago or less, some Pope decided that Joseph and Mary must not have had any other children after Jesus. If you pressed the Catholic authorities, they'd probably tell you that Joseph and Mary never had sex together.

I'm not buying those later stories. The gospel clearly states that Jesus had brothers. It says nothing about Mary being unsullied with other children, or not sleeping with her husband. That's all some Pope's story -- kind of like not eating meat on Friday, it's subject to change when the next round of divine inspiration conveniently comes along.

The best part of the Jesus story is his humanity. I hope Joseph and Mary had other kids together, and that they lived as normal a family life as possible under the circumstances, at least for a while.

And when it's time for me to ask for inspiration to be the best father I can be, Joseph's the go-to guy. Hey, I'll never be God the Father. No one else in the Holy Trinity had human children, and so a direct appeal to them, while always a good idea, just doesn't sit right with me. I'd rather call on the man who was tapped, out of the blue, to play the ultimate Dedicated Sideman Dad, and who rose to the occasion with grace.

As a Catholic sitting in the pew listening to the stories, I often wonder what Joseph looked like. You see a lot of images that paint him like this:

Are you kidding? Does that look like a carpenter who's been living in Nazareth and roaming around in the desert on and off over the years? These guys seem a little closer to the mark:

Anyway, St. Joe, this is your feast day. Whatever you looked like, wherever you are now, please do what you can to help make me a good father. You did it so well. Amen.

Comments (12)

ROFLMAO Good ol' Joe, some guys will believe anything.

St. Joseph is the patron saint of families and real estate agents (ask one about the statue you bury in the back yard - in a jar, upside down - said to expedite a sale)!

Thanks, Jack, for the reminder of one of my favorite saints.

Sandy D.

Good aspirin, too.

Is he the patron saint of foster parents?

I read he was a member of the Nazareth City Commission, not sure what bureau he ran.

Fascinating. I've learned more from you about Christinity and Catholicism than I picked up from attending eight years of Saturday morning catechism classes. My parents would drive me to the church, I'd attend the three hour classes, and then they'd forget to pick me up. The nuns wouldn't let me use one of the church phones to call home, so I often walked all the way home in the rain and wind. Whatever information I learned in class was gone by the time I arrived home, eradicated by torrents of anger and despair.

I often wonder what old Joseph would think about our little Iraq war starting on his feast day four years ago today.

Happy St Joseph's Day. And you're an awesome father yourself.

I love that you truly want to be a good father. And I think Joseph is a wonderful role model. (I really liked your version of the story). But, honestly, Jesus is the answer to all of life's problems. He is God. He isn't dead. He cares about us personally. Great post.

Cool post.

Patron saint of families and real estate agents? Somebody please tell me that Sandy is kidding. Otherwise there is some divine miracle at work seeing as I had my contract accepted today (and was almost certain it would not be).

Actually, it's true. The people who buy the little statues nowadays are just kidding, but I'm sure the origin of these figurines was a real practice based on a sincere belief.

He's my favorite saint, too, and also my patron saint. He is also the patron saint of virgins (which I was for many years), as well as protector of families. In addition to the attributes you mentioned, he was a Jew - the only saint who stayed a Jew that I know of.

I assume Mary became a Christian?

I'd love to know what happened to Joseph after the episode in the temple.

The priestly debates over how old Joseph was when he married Mary are simply hilarious!

Well, it's obvious he wasn't old enough to know better.


I totally agree w/ your comments on what Joseph would look like. Same goes for Christ.

I mean do you think a 30 year old carpenter, working w/ stone tools outside in the Galilean sun would look like Ted Nugent? More like Charles Bronson when he is cutting wood in the Magnificent Seven.

Just my two cents.

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