Some Thoughts on Parenting – A Reflection on Joseph by the Archbishop of Dublin
Reflection given on Tuesday 21st March 2023 in Rathmichael Parish Church, diocese of Dublin.
The Collect for St Joseph of Nazareth Day March 19th 2023:
God our Father, who from the family of David raised up Joseph the carpenter to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Give us grace to follow his example of faithful obedience to your commands; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever.
We probably had forgotten about Joseph and had put him away with the Christmas decorations in attic or basement. We may, therefore, be surprized to see him popping up in the middle of March which, somehow, we had felt belongs to us through our national patronage of St Patrick. This year, interestingly, as the story unfolded, St Joseph of Nazareth fell on precisely the same day as Mothering Sunday – March 19th. The combination of two events on the one day is entirely by chance. Nonetheless, it does us a lot of good to grapple with his importance and to hold him alongside Mary the mother of Jesus as we look at the complex and rewarding matter of parenting.
The first clue that renders Joseph interesting and important to us in the Collect is: from the family of David. The long list of generations starting with Abraham right at the beginning of St Matthew’s Gospel includes Jesse and King David and concludes with Joseph the son of Jacob, the husband of Mary, who gave birth to Jesus called Messiah. (St Matthew 1.16) Joseph is essential to the story of salvation because he enables Mary’s son to be of the house and lineage of David and, therefore, to be a king with a difference who will challenge unjust structures, uproot corrupt leaders, explode inappropriate religiosity, dismantle paralyzing regulation and administration – heal, teach, suffer, die and rise again. Inheritance is no picnic.
The second clue is: guardian. The prayer itself suggests to us that Joseph knew his place in the honeycomb and the tapestry of salvation. His role was to be the guardian of the Son of God and to be the husband of Mary. Joseph can remind us in a kindly and a positive way of all of those who have acted as guardians and supporters and encouragers and protectors of others, particularly those in need and those who are misunderstood. If we go back to the encounter of Mary and Joseph with Simeon and Anna in The Temple in Jerusalem on the Feast of the Presentation, everything we are told is from the perspective of Mary. But Joseph was there too. It would be interesting to know what he made of all of this and how he processed it while he worked at home and while he worked away from home doing the sort of stuff on building sites, or elsewhere, that countless men throughout history have had to do in order to support a wife and family from whom they are separated.
The more dangerous the work of his son became, the more likely Joseph will have known that the Roman authorities for whom he would have had to work would notice Jesus, mark him out as a troublemaker and even do away with him on a wooden cross. It would be a cross crudely nailed and hammered together by a Roman soldier who was no craftsman. It would be an affront to any and every human being and, in a secondary sense, a bad piece of work to any sophisticated craftsman in wood like Joseph. This I think sets the context for the third clue: his example of faithful obedience to your commands. Joseph was powerless to change the course of salvation history. He and Mary his wife may even have had many an argument about it. But he could either live a life of anger or, in the language of the prayer, show faithful obedience to your commands. Why kick the back of the door when there is a handle to open it? And perhaps, as a skilled carpenter, you had yourself made both the door and the handle – so why kick yourself?
It is a very different picture from what Holy Scripture tells us not least because Holy Scripture tells us very little about Joseph. Its focus is God and the Son of God. Remembering Joseph is far better than airbrushing him out of religious history and indeed out of spiritual imagination. That the remembrance of the motherhood of the church through the person of Mary and the remembrance of the paternal guardianship of Joseph meet on the same day in 2023 can help us to hold before God all those who rejoice in parenthood and all those who are overwhelmed by it – because, like many things, it cuts both ways, always has and always will.
… an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (St Matthew 1.20)
And so it came to pass …