In many ways, when we meet them at the nativity, the Holy Family – Jesus, Mary and Joseph – are a refugee family. They are not in their own home and Mary’s pregnancy would have tarnished her reputation back in Nazareth. So, it is important not to sugar-coat the nativity! Things would have been tough, including the long journey to Bethlehem, as well as their flight to Egypt which follows.
And Joseph plays a key role here. The Biblical accounts starts by telling us that he was a righteous man. In one account we are told that, upon hearing that Mary was with child (and not by him – which must have been a blow, to say the least!), Joseph set about privately breaking it off with Mary. But, after an angelic encounter in a dream, Joseph shows a deep and radical trust in God and in the goodness of Mary.
He was prepared to put aside his own judgements or perspective on the situation – and, indeed, his very own feelings – to trust God and to think of Mary over and above himself.
So, St Joseph is the dependable and steadfast presence in the nativity story. And yet, there are no recorded words attributed to St Joseph in the scriptures. His life and example was, most definitely, a case of “actions speaking louder than words”! Even later on, Joseph accepts to bring Jesus up, even though he is only his Father by adoption – another action demonstrating true humility – or “self-forgetfulness”. So Joseph’s example, whilst being very humble, simple and hidden in many ways, is one of deep trust and of living for others – which is why Joseph is rightly seen as a perfect role model for dads and a protector of the church, just as he protected and cared for Mary and Jesus.
In this year ahead – which has been declared the Year of St Joseph – may we seek to emulate his example of humility ever more closely and call on him to intercede for us to his adoptive son, whom he carried so lovingly in his arms all those years ago, and gave us all an example of true fatherhood…
Lord, how willing am I to set aside
my own feelings and judgements,
in order to help the vulnerable and trust in you?
Give me the courage to love
and offer support to others before thinking of myself.