The Word Engaged


“He received her into his home as his wife.” (Mt. 1:25)

Was it good news for Joseph when the angel appeared and told him about Isaiah’s “virgin with child”? Was he thrilled that Mary would give birth to a baby boy called Immanuel? The angel was speaking, we may presume, of the woman Joseph loved. “Have no fear about taking Mary as your wife. It is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child.”

This was supposed to be a consoling message, given as it was by an angel. But I’ve wondered now and then whether Joseph ever had any negative thoughts about the whole thing. Is it possible that he experienced a tiny twinge of jealousy about the Holy Spirit? This may seem preposterous to say, but at times Joseph may have wondered whether it was a dream he had or a nightmare.

I’ve often thought about the incident in somewhat literal, realistic terms. Here is this man betrothed to a woman who is going to bear a child that is not his own “flesh and blood.” Everything is already worked out: the child will be a boy and have the name of Jesus. It’s one thing to believe that such an event could occur. It is quite another to accept it and take joy in it. I wonder if Joseph ever felt he was in some way robbed. Anyway, when Joseph awoke, he did as the angel directed and welcomed Mary into his home.

Even if we assume that Joseph was happy with the prospect of being a foster father to this future savior of his people, things did not work out very well. In fact, just about everything was botched up. Instead of security and comfort, they found themselves facing a treacherous journey during the last stage of Mary’s pregnancy. So much for well-wrought plans that any father, foster or not, would want to make. They would have no suitable place to stay, no family or friends around. The earliest days would be full of fear and flight. The first ceremony in the temple would be marred by the ominous prediction of an old seer that his son would he rejected and his wife would have her very soul pierced.

After the early years of migration and displacement, even when the family finally settled down, there was more trouble. The lad would he misplaced in Jerusalem and, after a three-day search, he would show up reminding them that he had another “Father” who made a greater claim on him.

Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, was the man who would be Christians’ historic image of the good provider, the protector. Did he feel like that, this man of flesh and blood, this decent and just man? Was it a struggle for him to believe that any good would come of it?

Whatever he may have felt, as an earthly father he must have died a thousand deaths caring for that woman and child, both of whom he had accepted in faith as belonging finally to one other than himself. So it is with every true parent, every true spouse.

He became our patron of a happy death. This probably happened because he was thought to have died in their presence. It may also be because by then he was such a free and open man.

John Kavanaugh, SJ

Father Kavanaugh was a professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He reached many people during his lifetime.


**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson