Saturday, February 13, 2010

For the Love of St. Joseph II

During my wilderness years, I fell for theories about mystical kingdoms in Tibet or where Jesus really was from age 12 to age 30. But what if Tibet’s only kingdom was destroyed when the Chinese invaded? What if Jesus did nothing from 12 to 30 except stay home in Nazareth, near Joseph and Mary?

Since this is a Catholic blog and since we’re five weeks from the feast day of St. Joseph, my patron, I’m going to stick to the second question.

In the what-did-Jesus-do department, I somehow thought that the gnostics might have it right: That He maybe studied with some esoteric school somewhere, like, say, the Essenes. I didn’t really know who the Essenes were, but if there were such a thing as a universal mystical brotherhood, operating in, like, say, Tibet, then it made sense for Jesus to have been in touch with, oh, say, some sort of correspondence school or some such affiliated with said brotherhood.

But what if the Church is right? (A question I never seriously asked until being received into the Church two years ago.) What if Jesus, Mary, and Joseph returned from Egypt to Nazareth and, with the exception of Passover visits to the rabbinate in the city, they just stayed home? What if the world really is as simple and straightforward as it seems? What does this say about St. Joseph? Or about the importance of the family in the divine plan?

I thought about this question yesterday, as I wrestled with a heavy cold, pondered a personal fatherhood question, and read Redemptoris Custos, John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation on the Person and Mission of Saint Joseph in the Life of Christ and of the Church. There’s nothing that will bring theological questions about fatherhood into sharper focus than tossing and turning in sick-bay while thinking about a grown child who is not answering a friendly e-mail.

Who was St. Joseph? What was his life like? And if it was really like I think it was, and Immaculate Mary was Jesus’s mother, what other teachers did Jesus need? Especially if He, Jesus, was the Son of God? I will leave detailed discussion of Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer) until next week and finish here with a couple of my own personal and entirely noncanonical thoughts about Joseph.

Mary may have been born immaculate, without stain of sin, but there’s nothing in Church doctrine that says the same of Joseph. Joseph was a JAG, just a guy, a carpenter. Descended from David, yes, and probably devoutly Jewish. Old? Young? Certain veins of tradition argue that he must have been old, because a widower. But what was old in that time? Thirty? Forty? I give Joseph credit for being young enough to pack his family off to Egypt under cover of night, young enough that when he settled back in at Nazareth, the demands of chastity while living with a beautiful young woman were significant.

This guy kept his mouth shut and worked and cared for his family. I’m guessing that an adolescent Jesus may have been a handful, and who’s to say that even Mary didn’t have her moments, no matter how immaculate? Joseph kept his mouth shut and worked and cared for his family and died in total anonymity and (this is my addition) never resented it for a moment. To quote once only from Redemptoris Custos, “Joseph was in daily contact with the mystery ‘hidden from ages past,’ and which ‘dwelt’ under his roof. This explains, for example, why St. Teresa of Jesus, the great reformer of the Carmelites, promoted the renewal of veneration to St. Joseph in Western Christianity.”

This gives me my next step on the path to understanding St. Joseph better. I’m going to dedicate the weekend to reading Shirley du Boulay’s biography of Teresa of Avila, which has been staring out of the bookshelf at me for far too long.

And I am going to keep my mouth shut as I wait for my beloved daughter to get back to me.

Footnote: Any reader who has come this far might conceivably be interested in why St. Joseph is my patron, which is to say, how he nosed out St. Thomas More in the homestretch