A Just Man Is Hard to Find
THE JUBILEE OF ST. JOSEPH: 4 Ways Mary’s Husband Is a Role Model for Today’s Men
In this Year of St. Joseph, we are granted a model of manhood at a time when manhood itself is in crisis.
Manhood is criticized by some as “toxic masculinity” and poorly lived by many men who are passive and remote husbands and fathers. Others never attain to holy matrimony, and still others indulge sexual promiscuity and recklessly father children outside of marriage. True manhood is harder to find today, and without models to follow, many young men have little on which to build.
Thus we turn to St. Joseph in this reflection. We know so little of Joseph from the Scriptures. He seems to have been the strong silent type. Not a word of his is recorded. But his actions have much to say, especially to men. Let’s ponder St. Joseph, then, as a model of manhood for husbands and fathers.
Joseph is a man who obeys God and clings to his wife. Joseph was betrothed to Mary. This is more than being engaged. It means they were actually married. It was the practice at that time for a couple to marry rather young. Once betrothed, they lived an additional year in their parents’ household as they became more acquainted and prepared for life together.
At a certain point, it was discovered that Mary was pregnant, though not by Joseph. The Scriptures say that Joseph was a “just man.” This does not mean that Joseph was a fair and nice guy (though I presume he was). What it means was that he was a follower of the Law. He based his life on the Jewish Law that God gave through Moses and as interpreted by the rabbis.
Now, the Law said that if a man discovered that a woman to whom he was betrothed was not a virgin, he should divorce her and not “sully” his home. Joseph, as a follower of the Law, was prepared to follow its requirements — but he did not wish to expose Mary to the full force of the Law, which permitted the stoning of such women. Hence, he chose to follow the Law through the divorce decree but not through publicly accusing her, which would have brought danger and disgrace upon her.
The text says that Joseph feared to take Mary into his home (Matthew 1:20). Some of the Church Fathers and scholars think this means he believed Mary’s explanation and was afraid to take such a holy woman as his spouse. Others doubt this and say that the text roots his actions in following the Law. They cite the angel’s reassurance and explanation as evidence that Joseph was not fully aware of the source of Mary’s pregnancy.
Indeed, to fail to divorce Mary would expose Joseph to cultural ramifications. “Just men” just didn’t marry women guilty of fornication or adultery. To ignore this might have harmed not only Joseph’s standing in the community but also that of his family of origin.
Whatever the source of his fear, Joseph is told in a dream not to fear and that Mary has committed no sin. Matthew records (1:24), “When Joseph awoke, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”
Now, a just man obeys God even if it is not popular, even if he may suffer for it. Joseph is told to cling to his wife. He obeys God rather than men. It takes a strong man to do this, especially when we consider the culture in which Joseph lived — and in a small town, no less.
Joseph models strong manhood and has something to say to the men of our day. In the current wedding vows, a man agrees to cling to his wife — for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or health. This is what a man is to do. Our culture often pressures men to bail out, but when there is trouble, Joseph shows the way by obeying God over the pressures of prevailing culture, even if he might personally suffer for it.
Joseph is a man whose vocation is more important than his career. In Bethlehem, Joseph is warned by an angel in a dream: “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him” (Matthew 2:13). Joseph may well have had much to lose. Back in Nazareth, he had a business — a career, if you will. He had business prospects, business partners and contacts. Fleeing to a distant land might mean hardship for his business.
But Joseph was a father and husband before he was a businessman. His child was threatened, and his first obligation was to Jesus and Mary. His vocation outweighed his career.
In a culture like ours, where too many parents make their careers and livelihoods paramount, Joseph displays a different priority. It is true that many parents feel they have no choice but to work. But it is also true that many demand a lifestyle that requires a lot of extra income.
Perhaps a smaller house, less amenities, and so on, would permit a daycare-free childhood for more of our children. Joseph points the way for parents: Vocation has priority over career. For fathers especially, Joseph shows that a man is a husband and father before he is a businessman.
Joseph was a man who protected his family. As we saw, there was a grave threat to Jesus. Joseph also models a protective instinct that too many men lack today. Our children are exposed to many dangers. Physical dangers are less common, but moral dangers surely abound.
Fathers, what are your children watching on TV? What are their internet habits? Who are their friends? What do your children think about important moral issues? Are you preparing them to face the moral challenges and temptations of life? Are you and your wife teaching them the faith and reading Scripture to them? Or are you just a passive father, uninvolved in the raising of your children?
A man protects his children from harm — physical, moral and spiritual. Joseph, as a model of manhood, protected his family.
Joseph was a man of work. The Scriptures (Matthew 13:55) speak of Joseph as a “carpenter.” The Greek word, however, is tektonos, which can also refer to a builder or craftsman.
So it may be that Joseph worked with stone as well as wood and other trades in his work. It was through his work that Joseph supported his family.
It is the call of a man to work diligently and to responsibly and reliably provide for his family. Joseph models this essential aspect of manhood.
Paul felt it necessary to rebuke some of the men of his day for their idleness: “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. … For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’ We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ that with quietness they earn the bread they eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). True men work hard for their families.
Joseph is a model for manhood. Nothing he ever said was recorded, but his life speaks eloquently enough.
He is referred to as the “Guardian” and “Patron of the Universal Church.”
He has these titles because he was the guardian, protector and patron (provider) of the Church in the earliest stage, when the Church was just Jesus and Mary. But since the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, in protecting and providing for Jesus, he was doing that for us, for we are in Christ as members of his body.
Men especially do well to imitate St. Joseph and invoke his patronage in all their endeavors as husbands, fathers and providers.
St. Joseph, Terror of Demons and model of manhood, pray for us!
Read the PDF of the Register special section on the Jubilee of St. Joseph, or browse the other articles here:
- Introducing the Jubilee of St. Joseph (Patti Armstrong)
- Courageous Custodian of Christ (Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann)
- What Have the Popes Said About St. Joseph? (Father Raymond J. De Souza)
- St. Joseph’s Angelic Encounters (Mike Aquilina)
- A Just Man is Hard to Find (Msgr. Charles Pope)
- A True Father of Faith (Father Roger J. Landry)
- Lasting Testimony of His ‘Hidden Life’ (John Grondelski)
- Examen for Masculine Virtue (Sister Clare Hunter)
- 5 Books to Read for the Jubilee Year (Joseph O’Brien)
- Venerable Fulton Sheen on St. Joseph (Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen)