In rereading the stories about Christ’s birth and the years leading up to his public ministry, I’ve often found it much easier to imagine Mary’s role than Joseph’s. For that reason and because of my natural inclination after losing my father this year to continue thinking about the role of a father, I selected Go to Joseph by Fr. Richard W. Gilsdorf as the next book I’m going to review for Catholic Company. I’m only six pages into it and feel like my mind’s already been stretched.When praying the joyful mysteries of the rosary which chronicle the major Biblical events in Jesus’ early life, I’ve often thought about things from Mary’s point of view. She had to have had an incredible faith and trust in God to accept His will when it meant becoming pregnant in circumstances that could have led her to be stoned to death. Joseph was very courageous and, no doubt, faith-filled to take Mary into his home as his wife when she was already found to be with child. God let him know the truth, he believed, and though it wasn’t going to be easy to explain to his carpentry buddies, he did what his Heavenly Father instructed him to do.
Certainly Mary and Joseph were filled with God’s grace to be able to trust the Lord and one another in the difficult circumstances surrounding Christ’s early years. I don’t know of many women who would be eager to travel by a beast of burden or on foot when nine months pregnant, but since her husband was of the house of David, off they went to Bethlehem, which in Hebrew means “house of bread.”
More often than not I’ve wondered how Mary felt, but now I’m prayerfully considering what Joseph might have experienced. As “Guardian of the Redeemer," protector of the family, and someone who had compassion on his young, very pregnant wife, it must have been difficult for him to be rejected at one place after another. Perhaps there was a large crowd in town for the census, or maybe it was the fact that a poor couple with a woman who looked ready to pop was more than innkeepers felt like dealing with when others would come who could pay more for a room and weren’t likely to give birth in it.
It’s possible Joseph had already constructed a simple, but sturdy wooden cradle for their baby that he thought about somewhat regretfully when realizing that time and circumstance would require he place their newborn son in a feeding trough, instead of something he’d crafted with his own two hands.
I imagine he felt the way most parents do today, that he wanted the best for his wife and his son. He’d envisioned their marriage and having children quite differently from how things actually came to pass, but Joseph believed God, found out Mary was also faith-filled and committed to doing God’s will, so he took her in though she was already with child, something neither of them nor their families had considered would happen.
The two of them were learning more and more each day that trusting God would always be most important. The newlyweds didn’t have much time to get to know each other before the new baby came along, but their foundation of faith in God and devotion to His Will was strong enough to build on as their new life together began to unfold.
Can you imagine the strength and courage it must have taken for Joseph to listen to God when He told him to take his family and flee to Egypt? Of course, this was for their protection and to save Jesus’ life, but again, the common sense and compassion in Joseph must have been at odds with such an order. I wonder if Joseph ever had trouble falling asleep at night, because he worried about having weird dreams with major life-altering consequences. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wondered what God was up to, if Joseph perhaps questioned for a minute or two how much a young family could be tested.
First You tell me my betrothed’s pregnant and that the child is the Son of the Holy Spirit, then we come all the way out here for a census when she’s nine months pregnant and have to put our/Your precious Son in a feeding trough instead of in the cradle carefully crafted with my own two hands, and now You’re telling me I have to take my wife who’s just given birth and our newborn son and run off to Egypt? might have been along the lines of Joseph’s thinking at some point in between all of the visits from smelly, though respectable shepherds and mysterious, though majestic magi from afar coming to pay visits to the makeshift nursery. Joseph may have been one of the few fathers in history who might not have minded losing some sleep if it meant he’d have a few more days to rest while wide awake taking care of his wife and son before getting back on the dusty dirt road again.
Joseph certainly had an important role. I’m looking forward to learning more about how this faithful man of God was involved in Christ’s upbringing and formation.
Lord, thank You for the faith-filled men in our lives who have listened to and heeded Your will, thereby enriching their families, friends, and the world around them. Amen.