Joey, Joe, or Joseph?

JMJ

THERE IS A TRADITION that St Joseph was older that the Blessed Virgin when they were betrothed. One saint suggests that Jesus’ Foster Father was 91 when he married the Blessed Virgin! Other, more realistic teachers, suggest mid-fifties. The reason for this tradition is generally understood to be the idea that an older Joseph would have been more likely to not be tempted by his beautiful young wife. An older man is seen as better protecting the teaching of Mary’s perpetual virginity. This is a bit of hogwash as anyone who has ever seen a “Trophy Wife” knows. Lechery is not undone by age and, in fact, it is often a product of it. Then there is the logic of the issue. “Old men don’t walk to Egypt!” As Mother Angelica once said. So, at several points in the Church’s history, the idea that Joseph was young arose.

Fulton Sheen has a wonderful meditation on St Joseph’s age in his book, The World’s First Love:

To make Joseph appear pure only because his flesh had aged is like glorifying a mountain stream that has dried. The Church will not a ordain a man to the priesthood who has not his vital powers. She wants men who have something to tame, rather than those who are tame because they have no energy to be wild. It should be no different with God… Joseph was probably a young man, strong, virile, atheletic, handsome, chaste, and disciplined; the kind of man one sees sometimes shepherding sheep, or piloting a plane, or working at a carpenter’s bench. Instead of being a man incapable of love, he must have been on fire with love….Instead, then, of being dried fruit to be served on the table of the king, he was rather a blossom filled with promise and power. He was not in the evening of life, but in its morning, bubbling over with energy, strength, and controlled passion.

That passage was quoted in a book I’m currently reading as I do a devotion call Consecration to St Joseph. And it had me wrestling for a few reasons. Why does Joseph need to be Mary’s age? Why does he need to be 90? Then – in the same book – the author discusses at length how an elderly man cannot raise a child, and how God would have wanted a proper father for the Infant Jesus. This makes sense to me: when I was 39 someone suggested to me that I should adopt a child and I knew that that would be selfish as I would not be able to be a proper parent. By the time the baby was old enough to walk and play I would be too old to play, and by the time the baby was old enough to graduate I would be too old to walk. So the idea that God would have wanted Jesus to have a father open appropriate age make sense. But what is an appropriate age? It used to be common to see Joseph portrayed with grey hair. Right now it’s common to see him portrayed as about Mary’s age.

Some writers have suggested that the Blessed Virgin was around 15 when she was betrothed to Joseph. The idea of a fifteen-year-old Joey being able to navigate the emotional and political turmoil of the nativity seems unlikely to me. I cannot imagine a fifteen-year-old Joey and a fifteen-year-old Mary in a Manger in Bethlehem knowing what to do when labor started I can imagine them going into full-scale panic. I can’t imagine these two 15 year olds being much comfort for each other – even though that’s a good time to get married in this culture. AND a 15 year old Joey would not be on his own yet, the head of the family would still be Joseph’s father. The patriarch of this clan would have led them all to Bethlehem.

This idea that God would have wanted the father of appropriate age is counteracted but other benefits offered by an elderly Joseph: wisdom, experience, strength. At a time when marriages were often contracted in the teenage years an older man would know how to move through the world on his own, he would be running his business and would not be afraid of tax collectors, would not be very stressed out by discovering that there was no room at the inn, and would not be afraid of having to walk to Egypt. This man, Joe, would be much better able to think on his feet with all these strange people and happenings that were about to come into his life. He would not be impulsive: he would plan. Discovering that Mary was pregnant Joe might actually think about it for a while, where the teenaged Joey might just get angry. Joey would not yet have his own house to bring Mary into, but Joe would.

Generally it’s not good to just throw out traditions of the church because we don’t like them or because they don’t feel good: this goes with (T)radition and also with (t)radition. So while I do see the argument for Joseph not being 91 – or even 51 – as completely valid, it seems silly to just toss it out of something the church made up. In fact it seems downright modernist to do so.

There may be an answer in another tradition that hangs on the Nativity. St James, called Jesus’ brother, is often understood to be the Child of St Joseph by an earlier marriage. Traditional icons show James leading the donkey:

The Real Holy Family: Joseph, Jesus, Mary, and James

Theoretically, if Joe had been married originally had 15, if his oldest son was now 10, and he was 25 – not 91! – he would know what to do. He would have been in at least one most likely more births already, he would be a strong young man like Fulton Sheen imagines, old enough to care for the Blessed Virgin, to calm her down and to take care of her. He would be old enough to walk to Egypt and not so old that that would be impossible.

This idea of a 20-something Joe with a teenaged Mary makes sense. He would still be young enough to still need to train his impulses, and old enough to have done some work on that already. His virtue would still be a struggle for him but his experience and piety would be firmly rooted. This seems to resolve both sides of the age issue while keeping the tradition intact.

The other thing that’s curious about Joey vrs Joe is it Joseph is gone from the story by the time Jesus is a man. It is generally assumed in the Church’s tradition that Joseph died before Jesus began his Teaching Ministry. Is Joseph was 25 when Jesus was born he would have been in his 50s before the Teaching Ministry begin. It’s possible that he would have died by then: a poor man and a laborer, his life would have been hard. I can imagine such a man dying in his 50s and yet being a strong, shining example of a father and a man all though Jesus’ life to adulthood. Yes, the young Joey might also have died young, but I think imagining Joe becoming an elder and dying at an old age (for the time) makes much more sense.

There is no doctrinal requirement one way or the other on the age of St Joseph – this is all (t)radition. But I think there is a way where this tradition can fit with some logic, where Joe can be a man without needing a walker to get to Egypt, and where he can be a young, virile man, without needing to be a kid. Joey and Joseph can give way to Joe.

Prayers Before Work

JMJ

FROM THE OFFICE of Prime in the older breviary, these prayers asking for the intercession of the saints and God’s blessing on the day’s labors happen just before the Monks go out to their various chores. They make a good morning boundary between “work at home” and “home at home”. Pope St Pius X gave us the prayer to St Joseph the Workman which is added as a beginning.


O GLORIOUS ST JOSPEH, model of all those who are devoted to labor, obtain for me the grace to work conscientiously, putting the call of duty above my natural inclinations, to work with gratitude and joy, in a spirit of penance for the remission of my sins, considering it an honor to employ and develop by means of labor the gifts received from God, to work with order, peace, moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from weariness and difficulties, to work above all with purity of intention and detachment from self, having always death before my eyes and the account that I must render of time lost, of talents wasted, of good omitted, of vain complacency in success, so fatal to the work of God. All for Jesus, all through Mary, all after thine example, O Patriarch, St. Joseph. Such shall be my motto in life and in death. Amen.

Sancta María, et omnes Sancti intercédant pro nobis ad Dóminum, ut nos mereámur ab eo adjuvári et salvári, qui vivit et regnat in sæcula sæculórum.
R.  Amen.
May holy Mary, Mother of our God and Lord Jesus Christ, and all the Holy, Righteous, and Elect of God, make intercession for us sinners to the same God our Lord : that we may be accounted worthy to obtain from him help and salvation.  Who liveth and reigneth for ever and ever.
R.  Amen.
And then is said thrice:
V.  Deus in adjutórium meum inténde.
R.  Dómine ad adjuvándum me festína.
V.  O God, make speed to save me.
R.  O Lord, make haste to help me.
And then is said by the whole Choir in unison:
Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto.
Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper,  et in sæcula sæculórum.  Amen.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.  As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.
V.  Kyrie, eléison.
R.  Christe, eléison.  Kyrie, eléison.
V.  Lord, have mercy upon us.
R.  Christ, have mercy upon us.  Lord have mercy upon us.
Pater noster. 
secreto usque ad
V. Et ne nos indúcas in tentatiónem.
R.  Sed líbera nos a malo.
Our Father. 
Which words are said aloud, and the rest secretly to:
V.  And lead us not into temptation.
R.  But deliver us from evil.
V.  Réspice in servos tuos, Dómine, et in ópera tua, et dírige fílios eórum.
R.  Et sit splendor Dómini Dei nostri super nos, et ópera mánuum nostrárum dírige super nos, et opus mánuum nostrárum dírige.
V.  Look upon thy servants, and upon thy works, O Lord, and be thou a guide unto their children.
R.  And the glorious majesty of the Lord our God be upon us ; prosper thou the work of our hands upon us, O prosper thou our handy-work.
V.  Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto.
R.  Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculórum.  Amen.
V.  Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
R.   As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be ; world without end.  Amen.
Orémus.             
Dirígere et sanctificáre, régere et gubernáre dignáre, Dómine Deus, Rex cæli et terræ, hódie corda et córpora nostra, sensus, sermónes et actus nostros in lege tua, et in opéribus mandatórum tuórum : ut hic, et in ætérnum, te auxiliánte, salvi et líberi esse mereámur, Salvátor mundi : Qui vivis et regnas in sæcula sæculórum.
R.  Amen.
Let us pray.             
Vouchsafe, we beseech thee, O Lord God, King of heaven and earth, to direct, sanctify, and govern, both our hearts and bodies, in the way of thy laws, and in the works of thy commandments : that through thy most mighty protection, O Saviour of the world, both here and for evermore, we may be preserved in body and in soul.  Who livest and reignest for ever and ever.
R.  Amen.

A Daily Act of Consecration to the Holy Family

JMJ

Please note: what follows is not an officially approved devotion in any way. If you find it useful, amen. If you feel it needs correction please let me know.

Holy Family of Nazareth, hear the prayers of a prodigal son. I have sinned before heaven and against you. Take me as one of your hired servants.

Chaste Heart of Joseph, I consecrate myself to thee! Like thee may I be chaste and stable. May my work be done with all due speed and diligence; ever be ordered only to the provision, safety, and advance of God’s Kingdom, the Church. Bless my skills and talents that, like thee, I may ever use them to God’s glory and not my own. By thy prayers, may my work be crowned with the virtues of fortitude, prudence, and temperance. Let me be neither greedy nor sloth; let not the noonday demon find me ready to make a mockery of God’s labor or my own. Fix me in chastity in action, word, and thought.

Pray for me, St Joseph, together with thy Most Immaculate Spouse, that I may work out my salvation in fear and trembling; that having thee as my father and Mary as my mother, I may truly have Jesus as my brother and may be a devoted servant of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, I consecrate myself to thee! Like thee may I be open to the will of God, ever trusting him without knowing the cost, and ever certain that what ever he has asked of me he will give me the grace to accomplish. May I never place myself between others and thy divine son save only to say “Do whatever he tells you” and like thee may I ever make intercession before God’s throne especially for those in most need of his mercy. Cause me, by thy prayers, through pious devotion and faithful adherence to the divine precepts, to yield a fruitful harvest of Faith, Hope, and Charity, and all the other virtues.

Pray for me, Holy Mary, Mother of God, together with thy Most Chaste Spouse, that I may be constantly bringing forth the Word of God to the Joy of all the World; that having thee as my mother and Joseph as my father, I may truly have Jesus as my brother and may be a devoted servant of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, I consecrate myself to thee! Hear the prayers of thy Most Immaculate Mother and thy Most Chaste Foster Father on my behalf. May the fount of mercy flowing from thy side wash me. Set up thy Cross in my soul. Nail my flesh to the fear of thee. Undo my slavery to my own reasonings. Take away my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh, on fire with love for the world, and wounded with compassion for the weak and lost, especially for those whom daily thou sendest to me.

May I truly have Mary as my Mother and Joseph as my Father, and be thou, Jesus, my Brother, Saviour, and Friend; that in service to the Holy Family of Nazareth, I may live in stability, safety, and peace.

May thy Church be my only home, thy Word my only teacher, thy Cross my only guide, and thy Eucharist my only food. My Jesus, I trust in thee!

Dearest Jesus, after the example of the Chaste Heart of Joseph and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer thee all of my plans, dreams, and intentions, all of my thoughts, words, and deeds, all of my joys and sufferings, my hopes and fears, all of my crosses and crowns of this day and all of my life, all for the intentions of thy Sacred heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for the salvation of souls, the remission of sins, the reparation of blasphemies, the reunion of all Christians, and the intentions of our Holy Father, the Pope.

Amen.

The Strong, Silent Type.

JMJ

The Readings for the Solemnity of St Joseph

Monday in Passion Week (B2)

For this Just Man was given by you a spouse to the Virgin Mother of God and set a s a wise and faithful servant in charge of your household and to watch like a father over your Only Begotten Son. – From the Preface for this Feast

Following the advice of a wise Benedictine Prior to “preach the propers”, I’ll write about one today: even the non-scriptural propers such as the collects and prefaces are the condensed teachings of the Church and, so, inspired by God. 

Joseph is entirely silent in the Scriptures. This is important: his words are implied in a few places, but never recorded. Jesus’ Father speaks a few times in the New Testament, but Joseph never once.

When Mary was too weak after giving birth to do much of anything, it was Joseph who held the Baby, looking into his face, kissed his forehead, and looked heavenword saying “What now?” And yet, when the Child Jesus first learned to speak it was Joseph that was called Abba. When Jesus came running home crying Abba, it was Joseph that helped.  When Jesus was 13 and was Bar Mitzvahed, it was Joseph who stood by him. When Jesus learned to work with his hands it was Joseph who taught him. When Jesus learned all the things a Jewish man learns – into which mysteries a woman is not initiated – he, God in the Flesh, who taught these mysteries to men in the first place, learned them from Joseph. And when Joseph died it was Jesus who comforted his mother, and his half brother, James, at the loss of the only father that family had other than God. 

So when we say a Child learns about God the Father from her Father, Joseph is the model. 

And yet Joseph – who is named the Pillar of Families and Protector of Holy Church – is entirely silent. That silence is one not of speechlessness, but of contemplation. He is daily in the presence of God, and is a true model for an ascetic, contemplative man living in the world.

My birth father left when I was 1. I never knew him. Mom’s second husband was an ass who physically abused kids. Mom left him when he threw a candy dish at my head. Mom’s third husband, whom I call Dad, learned about being a father as we all do – by suddenly having kids. He’s done a good job. In my early years the father I knew was my grandfather who was, himself, a bit of a scoundrel and a rogue, although not abusive in any way.  

So once, when leaving a confessional, as the priest called me back (You’re not in trouble… don’t worry…) it was with some trepidation that I followed his advice:  just, go to Joseph he said. Fathers have not been a very good experience in my life.

What is true of Jesus is true of you if you are a member of his Body. Joseph is your Foster Father as well, as Mary is our Mother. Joseph is the head of the house, the breadwinner, the protector; all the things our Fathers were intended to be albeit with varying degrees of success. St Joseph is that for us as Members of Christ’s Body, the Church.

When I struggle with Vocation, Joseph is my model, for he was not of a priestly tribe or family. He was a laborer and yet he lived a priestly life in the service of the Church as it was then: the holy household of Nazareth. If ordained ministry is not for me, let me at least have this life of working for and providing for the Church, of daily seeing Jesus, of hearing the wise counsel of Mary, of living and dying in that service.

Increasingly I find in Joseph great comfort, blessing, and strength.  My Daily Offering to the Holy Family, in part, says:

Chaste Heart of Joseph, I beg thy prayers. Like thee may I be chaste and stable. May my work be done with all due speed and diligence; ever be ordered only to the provision, safety, and advance of God’s Kingdom, the Church. Bless my skills and talents that, like thee, I may ever use them to God’s glory and not my own. By thy prayers, may my work be crowned with the virtues of fortitude, prudence, and temperance. Let me be neither greedy nor sloth; let not the noonday demon find me ready to make a mockery of God’s labor or my own. Fix me in chastity in action, word, and thought.

Pray for me, St Joseph, together with thy Most Immaculate Spouse, that I may work out my salvation in fear and trembling; that having thee as my father and Mary as my mother, I may truly have Jesus as my brother and may be a devoted servant of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

As an ascetic, contemplative living in the world, and yet daily in the presence of God, Joseph is our model, our leader, even. The first fruit of this way of life in the world.

Ite ad Ioseph

JMJ

The Readings for Sunday 4 Advent (Year 2):

Vade, et loquere ad servum meum David: Hæc dicit Dominus: Numquid tu ædificabis mihi domum ad habitandum? Quare non ædificastis mihi domum cedrinam?
Go, and say to my servant David: Thus saith the Lord: Shalt thou build me a house to dwell in? Whereas I have not dwelt in a house from the day that I brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt even to this day: but have walked in a tabernacle, and in a tent. In all the places that I have gone through with all the children of Israel, did ever I speak a word to any one of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to feed my people Israel, saying: Why have you not built me a house of cedar?

What God did not give to David, he gave to David’s son: for Joseph built a house for God. I was wrestling with these readings, with the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Christmas Eve Sermon, if you will. Then the painting at the head of this post was shared in a Catholic Men’s Group to which I belong. It’s on the cover of an Advent and Christmas book by the late Henri Nouwen. Right now I can’t find anything else about this image: is it just a random artist’s cover design? If so… wow.

And Joseph worked every day to keep God clothed and fed, to keep the family together. Was he a carpenter in Egypt? Or did he find the Egyptians hard on immigrants? Did Joseph struggle with fear and surprise at all the responsibility he had? Did he know that, leaving that day for Bethlehem, he would not be back for five or six or ten years? When he got to Bethlehem did he set up a shop and do odd jobs?

Regardless of his age (some would say 50, others 20), Joseph was part of an arranged marriage, be that between himself and Mary’s parents (at 50) or between his parents and hers (when he was a boy). Leave all idea of romance out of this story. The Holy Family was put together – in God’s full providence – following the cultural desires and needs of their own families. Mary’s parents needed a married daughter so they could be provided for in their old age. Church tradition says they were already very elderly, so they wouldn’t have had time to wait for a boy to grow up. Joseph married into a set of needs that he was expected to meet.

Did Joseph know what he was getting into (before the Angel showed up in a dream, anyway)? Did Joseph know this was God’s Mother? The tradition of Mary as a mystical child would say she was very odd and everyone knew it. But did Joachim and Anna sit down and say, “Here’s what we knew…” Did they know?

God’s grace is enough.

One way to look at Joseph is to imagine a great saint who knew all this stuff and squared his shoulders and said, “OK, God. Hit me: I’m ready.” We want to imagine that, I think, because we want Joseph to be something more. We want Mary and Joseph to be more than they are just so we can imagine the story making any sense at all. But God doesn’t work like that.

Joseph’s namesake and ancestor, who also had dreams, was not only a member of a wandering tribe in the waistlines of the fertile crescent, he was also annoying as all get out. He was a teenager who offended his parents and brethren (despite their love for him) so much that his brothers sold him into slavery. And in slavery, even there, he nearly got raped by his owner, and thrown into prison for not playing along.

God uses broken things.

The idea that Joseph was a widower, looking for someone to manage the house and cook and clean makes sense. He would get a wife, yes, but he would also get Anna and her famous stews, Joachim’s business sense, and the kids of his first wife would get “step grandparents”. His household would be enlarged and his bed warmed. And there would be many good things, right?

But then it all fell apart and here she was with child.

But this was different. And even though his friends noticed and everyone could count and everyone wondered who the father was… he said, No, I will do this. And then that night in Bethlehem. And all that followed. What God did not give to David, he gave to David’s son: for Joseph built a house for God.

God’s grace is enough, but Joseph still has to say yes – over and over and over. God didn’t pick any man for this Job. He picked Joseph. Joseph who would die in 15 or 20 years, but who would defend this little family, this first Church. Joseph who would provide and care, defend, lead and build up. Joseph who would teach Jesus how to be a man in a world where men raped and pillaged to get strong. Joseph who would show Jesus how to pray and meet his obligations as a pious Jew. Joseph who would show Jesus how to saw, hammer, measure, and build. Joseph who would be “Daddy” for all time to this Man who was God.

God did not pick just any man.

But Joseph. Fear does not mean that one backs down. Fear is an offer to back down. Courage, the strength of heart needed to say yes, God gives. But it must be a gift accepted. It must be a gift used. Joseph accepted it over and over as we all must, and used God’s grace to protect this little family, this holy household. And when, in stunned silence, he watch first the poor, and then the very wealthy, come and do homage to his child, Daddy manned up and took care of everything with God’s grace.

Joseph.

Jesus learned about being a man in this world from this man. God picked this man to teach him.

In later years, Joseph died. And Jesus and Mary and the rest of the household mourned. Then in the Resurrection when Jesus harrowed Hell and opened wide Paradise, there was one man, right? There was one man would have been greeted with a hug, and that word, “Daddy”. And how could he not have been so greeted?

What God did not give to David, he gave to David’s son: for Joseph built a house for God. And who now still cares for this little family, this Church. Who still builds a house for God if we but let him build it in our hearts.

Go to Joseph. He will help. He will build up. He will protect. He will watch and guard. It’s his job and he says yes.