How could a man that we know so little about be so important? He has two devoted feast days - the first being March 19th, celebrated as the Feast of St Joseph, and the second is May 1st, celebrated as the Feast of St Joseph the Worker. So, what can we learn from the minimal recorded history of Joseph?
First, he was a carpenter, a man who had to work hard to provide for his family. And while they weren’t considered poor, they also weren’t part of the wealthy class. Tradition has Joseph building yolks and plows for the farmers in Israel. Since there were a lot of farmers, one could surmise that he was a pretty experienced carpenter and probably would be in today’s middle-class. Maybe this is the reason why we hear Jesus using analogies and parables in the Gospels of farmers plowing the fields and sowing seeds. This wasn’t an accident.
Second, he dealt with his own unplanned pregnancy situation and still chose to love his soon-to-be wife and Son. Joseph is a perfect model for love as a choice, not just a feeling and emotion you can walk away from. Joseph and Mary were not yet married when they found out that Mary was pregnant. In those times, that could be a death sentence. It was very shameful for the groom to find out his fiancée was pregnant with another man’s baby. (Imagine getting this news - your soon to be wife, who you love very much, is pregnant by someone else. Would you believe her? “Honey I didn’t cheat on you, I swear!” Yeah, right!) But Joseph chose to believe her with grace. Initially angered, he trusted in God and the Angel that appeared to him. He chose to love and marry the Blessed Virgin Mary and accept the responsibility entrusted to him to build the Holy Family.
Third, he protected his family. Before Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem for the census. The place was packed. While there here were no inns available and little sympathy for his pregnant wife, Joseph must have begged hard enough to find a place for his family to stay. He “made do” with the dirty/smelly room in a stable; which in the end was the perfect birthplace for Jesus. (Interesting, because Jesus is closest to us in the midst of our dirty/smelly lives.)
When Jesus was born, word spread that a new king was born. Herod became jealous and said he wanted to meet this new king and show his “respects.” But again, an angel came to Joseph and in protection of his family, told Joseph to flee. He packed up his newborn baby and Mary and headed to Egypt. Joseph protected his family by listening to God. He was the head of his family, so God spoke to him to lead his family to safety.
Fourth, he taught his son, Jesus, how to be a man and how to love God. We know that Jesus learned how to be a carpenter from his dad. We also know that Jesus was also fully human and had to learn like we do, and He followed in His dad’s footsteps for a while before He started His ministry. We also know Joseph was faithful to the religious practices held by the Israelites, so Jesus experienced his dad going to church and loving God. When Jesus was left behind in the Temple when He was 12 years old, the Bible doesn’t say that Joseph yelled at Jesus for going missing. His parents knew where to look for Him when they went to find Him. I’m sure it was Joseph and Mary’s practice to spend time at church, in God’s House, so they knew the first place to look.
While there’s not much mentioned about Joseph’s life in the Bible, we can derive that he was a very special man. He was present as an earthly father to Jesus. He worked hard to protect and lead his family. He taught his son as a father should. And all this greatness started simply with his choice to love and be present for his wife and family. He could have lost his cool many times, but you don’t hear about him doing that.
So, what did I learn from Saint Joseph? Trust and listen to God. Be a good man full of virtue and character and choose to love and protect your wife and family with your whole heart. Be like Joseph, because the world needs more men and fathers like him.
Brian Gordon has been married for 9 years to his wife Betsy. They have one son, Luke. (Brian and Betsy have a wedding anniversary on May 1, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.) The Gordon family attends The Catholic Church of the Transfiguration where they are all very active. Brian coaches his son’s soccer team. Father and son love watching and playing the game of soccer. He also plays blues harmonica and sings in a blues band.