Headline: Saint Joseph’s Inspirational Role

Posted on: 2017-03-23

To Mary and Joseph

The call and response is by now commonplace in Nigeria and we hear it especially wherever Catholics are gathered. “Glory to Jesus” is immediately answered with a sharp, “Honour to Mary”. More and more today, that answer is modified to accommodate the foster father and guardian of Jesus Christ thus: “Honour to Mary and Joseph” and it is spreading. The initiators and the adherents to that extended version of the ejaculatory statement reason that the original shorter answer shortchanges Saint Joseph and needed to be redressed. They thus do no harm whatsoever by expressing their solidarity with a man who deserves all the honour we can give for the noble role he played in salvation history even though in the Bible, after the birth and childhood of Jesus we heard practically nothing further about him.

Joseph’s legacy is secure

Greeting or no greeting, I am certain that Saint Joseph’s place in the mind and plan of God is unassailable. He, and no other, was the one God chose to nurture his well-beloved Son in whom he is well pleased in his childhood years. Saint Joseph’s role as foster father and guardian, trustworthy enough to protect God’s greatest treasures, Jesus and Mary in the most difficult and delicate period of the life of the Holy Family is well articulated in the gospel of Matthew’s. The Church has always shown great appreciation and understanding of that role. Saint Joseph is well celebrated as father of the Holy Family on March 19th. He is also widely venerated as the quintessential artisan and worker, patron of all such people who do honorable good work with the gifts God has given them on May 1 every year. According to the books of prayer, Joseph is regarded the patron of the Church as a whole, having nurtured the Son of God, Jesus Christ,  who is himself head of the Church, his body. The Office of Readings for the Solemnity of Saint Joseph’s has this beautiful passage. “In him the Old Testament finds its fitting close. He brought the noble line of patriarchs and prophets to its promised fulfilment. What the divine goodness had offered as a promise to them, he held in his arms”. There can hardly be any better way to secure the legacy and place of this great Saint in salvation history!

Justice beyond the law

After the angel’s visit to Saint Joseph in a dream to formally give him the news that Mary was carrying the Son of God, we see the true quality and character of this foster father of the savior.  In spite of the absurdity of the occurrence and the legalistic characteristic of his cultural environment, Joseph’s reaction was all about obedience to the will of God. Even well before the angel visited him Joseph already acquitted himself as a godly person. The gospel of Matthew puts it eloquently. “Then Joseph, her husband, made plans to divorce her in all secrecy. He was an upright man, and in no way did he want to discredit her” (Matt. 1: 19). Such remarkable compassion from a man who should have been feeling deeply betrayed! He would have understandably followed the law and dismiss Mary publicly and let her face the consequences while saving his own face. Rather, Joseph’s goodness took him well beyond the law to that eminent level of compassion which made him avoid discrediting her. No wonder God found him fit to be the foster father of his son!

Wanted: Fathers like Saint Joseph

Pope Francis has often lamented the absence of the father figure in contemporary society and families and the reason for his concern is obvious in problems related to child abuse and youth delinquency worldwide. Fatherhood is not an optional element in God’s plan or in family life but an essential pillar without which serious challenges are bound to occur. As part of his catechesis on the family the Pontiff has said that Fatherhood means giving life to others. A greater privilege than that is really difficult to fathom. He admonished fathers not to jettison the duty of parenting for the sake of “being friends” to their children. Fathers must have the courage to spend time “playing” with their children but also must take care to point Christ out to them. “The absence of the father figure in society is something that persons at every level of society should be aware of because it leaves “gaps and wounds” in the formation of today’s youth. Without guides to rely on, youth can be filled with idols that end up stealing their heart, enthusiasm and genuine wealth,” the pope explained.

Others are a gift

Pope Francis additionally enriched this perspectives with the topic of his Lenten message for 2017. “The Word is a gift, other persons are a gift”. This speaks volumes to fathers who reject or abandon their children, whether unborn or already born. Such rejection pushes mothers to engage in abortion, child abuse, child-trafficking, make them despair altogether or live less-than dignified lives, having been left to bear the burden of child care all alone. Every human life is a child of God and a gift from him. It ought to be a privilege for anyone to nurture God’s child, like Saint Joseph obviously felt. His example must inspire fathers in our day to listen to God and accept and treasure his gift. That Saint Joseph is remembered till this day with such affection and honour surely calls all men to pay more attention to their God-given roles as fathers in and outside the family.