I love St. Joseph.  While I disliked the movie The Nativity Story, most especially for their crazy portrayal of the Blessed Mother as some moody, disgruntled teenager, I loved the portrayal of St. Joseph.

Finally a portrait of a man.

Because that’s what St. Joseph was!  A real, honest-to-goodness man.  A buff carpenter.  (My apologies, Joseph, if you’re blushing in Heaven.)  Except for Jesus, of course, I don’t think there was a better looking, holier man than Joseph.  The apex of manhood.  Rugged.  Strong. Manly.

I need to get some personal pet peeves off my chest.

I really don’t think he was on Medicare when he married Mary.  The Middle Ages did a disfavor to poor Joseph– the artists thought that by portraying Joseph as an older man, they would show his wisdom and purity.  Okay, sure… but for some reason it seems like now we think that he must have been old– or Mary wouldn’t have preserved her virginity.

As if his old age was the only thing preserving the original Josephite marriage.  Come on, people.  There was virtue.  And lots of it.

Joseph was a hunk.  Just admit it.  He won Mary’s heart, right?  (She wasn’t plastic, right?  I mean, there’s nothing wrong with admiring God’s creation, right?  She could all the better admire Joseph without the sin of lust because she didn’t have that crazy concupiscence that follows all of us around!!  Her thoughts were pure, but they were still feminine, right?!)

So Mary was the most attractive woman in the entire universe (which she was, of course, since sin is what disfigures us) and Joseph was a hunk.  Doesn’t that make their lives of virginity so much more awe-inspiring than if Mary was 14 and Joseph was 50?  I think so.   They LOVED each other!  Once again, we seem to think that Mary and Joseph had about as much feeling as the plaster statues in church.  Just because they remained virgins doesn’t mean they didn’t love each other!   They loved each other with more passion than we can imagine.

Can I take a little tangent here?  I’m sitting on my couch, looking up at my picture of Raphael’s Sposalizio (Betrothal of the Virgin).  Raphael reminds us of the tradition of the Church that the suitors of Mary were asked to produce their staffs.  One sprouted flowers– that man was worthy to take the Virgin into his home!  Yay, St. Joseph!  I always laugh when I see the man in the front right of the picture– so angry that his staff failed the test that he’s breaking it over his knee.  The man behind him is a little more enervated in his disappointment and is just bending his until it snaps.  Hahaha.  You might notice the parallel to the story in Numbers 17– when the people rebelled against Aaron, God gave instruction that one man from each tribe place his staff into the tent of meeting– when Moses pulled Aaron’s out the next day, it had budded.  Taking care of the ark of the covenant… taking care of Mary… get it?

Okay, on to my next pet peeve.   I hate when people say that Mary was an unmarried pregnant teenager.  Mary and Joseph were married.  Betrothal, in ancient Jewish practice, was a temporary time between the covenant of marriage and the time when the spouses lived together.  Spouses were legally married, just not living together.

Lastly, and this is the big one… I hate, hate, hate it when people act like Joseph thought Mary had committed adultery.  Some people paint Joseph out to be such a jerk.  Or an ignoramus.

Let’s look at this.  We know Joseph wanted to divorce Mary quietly, for the Bible tells me so.  But did Joseph want to divorce Mary because he thought she had committed adultery?  Okay, so we can’t be sure… but let’s make an educated guess.

First of all, we know that Joseph was a just man.  A righteous man.  A h0ly man.

We also know that Mary was holy… the holiest woman in the world.  Sinless.

Stay with me here.  We know that Joseph knew Mary (no, not that way, silly).  He knew her character, he knew her likes and dislikes, he knew her thoughts and dreams and loves.  He knew what type of girl she was, right?   He was married to her, for goodness sake.  She wasn’t a stranger to him… he was in LOVE with her.   So do you think he knew she was a holy, sinless woman?  Yep.

So why would he suspect her of her adultery?   We forget that these people were real people– flesh, blood, emotional people.  (not moody teenagers.  But emotional… in an ordered-passions way.)

One last nail in the coffin of the theory that Joseph suspected Mary of adultery… if this is why he wanted to divorce her, because he was a just man who wanted to obey the law (Deut 24), then why would he disobey the law by not seeking to punish her properly for her adultery (Deut 22)?  Why would he only seek to fulfill half the law?

Yeah, I thought so.  See ya, “Suspicion Theory.”

Let’s study the “Reverence Theory.”  What if Joseph, this just and upright man, knew Mary well enough to know she was an extremely holy and virtuous woman… and what if he knew his Scriptures enough to know that in the fullness of time, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son (Isaiah 7)….

Being a holy man, what if his ‘suspicion’ was that something… or Someone… greater was at work here.. and, knowing his own sinfulness, thought it was better for him to bow out now… but quietly, so as not to draw attention to Mary.  In fact, the phrase “unwilling to put her to shame” is fairly weak in the Greek and means something more along the line of not wanting to exhibit Mary publicly.

The angel appears to Joseph to assuage his fears of unworthiness.  He, too, is called to be part of God’s plan, and there’s no need for him to bow out– on the contrary, he is a vital part of salvation history!  Notice the angel reminds him that he is a son of David– Joseph knew his prophets– he knows what the angel is telling him!  He’s no dummy.

This seems to fit much better, don’t you think?  (Thanks to Dr Hahn and the Ignatius Study Bible… not many other people are still paying attention to the Reverence Theory. But hey, if it’s good enough for St Jerome AND makes good sense, it’s a winner in my book.)

Now, let me get to my title of this post…  No, St. Joseph is not the patron of Advent.  Well, not officially.  But I think he should be.  As Guardian of the Virgin, he’s a pretty good companion for anyone during this time of preparation.  I think a lot of people forget about St. Joseph, as if he was just along for the ride during this whole thing.  But he was doing a lot more than leading a donkey back to his hometown.  He had the weight of the world on his shoulders.  It’s easy to look back now and see that everything turned out okay.  But what was he thinking when he heard that decree from Caesar?  When he realized he was going to have to take 9-month-pregnant Mary on a donkey to an over-crowded little town over 100 kilometers away, up winding hills and down paths frequented by robbers?  What about when they got to Bethlehem and he knew even if there was room in an inn, it would mean Mary giving birth in a crowded public room, full of other pilgrims with no privacy?

As we enter the Octave before Christmas, that special time as the Church nears the conclusion of her preparation, shall I suggest a meditative reading of Redemptoris Custos?

(And don’t forget those O Antiphons!  Happy Octave, everyone!)

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