Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Month Of Saint Joseph: A Sunday Rumination

     A hallowed document that was not deemed to deserve canonical status, The Protoevangelium of Saint James, is first to speak of this great saint:

     And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there, and she received food from the hand of an angel. And when she was twelve years old there was held a council of the priests, saying: Behold, Mary has reached the age of twelve years in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her, lest perchance she defile the sanctuary of the Lord? And they said to the high priest: You stand by the altar of the Lord; go in, and pray concerning her; and whatever the Lord shall manifest unto you, that also will we do. And the high priest went in, taking the robe with the twelve bells into the holy of holies; and he prayed concerning her. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by him, saying unto him: Zacharias, Zacharias, go out and assemble the widowers of the people, and let them bring each his rod; and to whomsoever the Lord shall show a sign, his wife shall she be. And the heralds went out through all the circuit of Judæa, and the trumpet of the Lord sounded, and all ran.

     And Joseph, throwing away his axe, went out to meet them; and when they had assembled, they went away to the high priest, taking with them their rods. And he, taking the rods of all of them, entered into the temple, and prayed; and having ended his prayer, he took the rods and came out, and gave them to them: but there was no sign in them, and Joseph took his rod last; and, behold, a dove came out of the rod, and flew upon Joseph's head. And the priest said to Joseph, You have been chosen by lot to take into your keeping the virgin of the Lord. But Joseph refused, saying: I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl. I am afraid lest I become a laughing-stock to the sons of Israel. And the priest said to Joseph: Fear the Lord your God, and remember what the Lord did to Dathan, and Abiram, and Korah; Numbers 16:31-33 how the earth opened, and they were swallowed up on account of their contradiction. And now fear, O Joseph, lest the same things happen in your house. And Joseph was afraid, and took her into his keeping. And Joseph said to Mary: Behold, I have received you from the temple of the Lord; and now I leave you in my house, and go away to build my buildings, and I shall come to you. The Lord will protect you.

     It was easy to foresee that an old man, already a widower, would be looked upon with suspicion and ridicule for taking a young virgin into his home. The Hebrews of that time were not tolerant of variations in family structure. Joseph complied with the priest’s demands, albeit reluctantly. And there came a time when it appeared that his compliance might cost him a great deal: when Mary was in her sixth month of a pregnancy that could no longer be concealed:

     And Annas the scribe came to him, and said: Why have you not appeared in our assembly? And Joseph said to him: Because I was weary from my journey, and rested the first day. And he turned, and saw that Mary was with child. And he ran away to the priest, and said to him: Joseph, whom you vouched for, has committed a grievous crime. And the priest said: How so? And he said: He has defiled the virgin whom he received out of the temple of the Lord, and has married her by stealth, and has not revealed it to the sons of Israel. And the priest answering, said: Has Joseph done this? Then said Annas the scribe: Send officers, and you will find the virgin with child. And the officers went away, and found it as he had said; and they brought her along with Joseph to the tribunal. And the priest said: Mary, why have you done this? And why have you brought your soul low, and forgotten the Lord your God? You that wast reared in the holy of holies, and that received food from the hand of an angel, and heard the hymns, and danced before Him, why have you done this? And she wept bitterly, saying: As the Lord my God lives, I am pure before Him, and know not a man. And the priest said to Joseph: Why have you done this? And Joseph said: As the Lord lives, I am pure concerning her. Then said the priest: Bear not false witness, but speak the truth. You have married her by stealth, and hast not revealed it to the sons of Israel, and hast not bowed your head under the strong hand, that your seed might be blessed. And Joseph was silent.

     According to the custom of the day, the priest subjected Joseph to a test:

     And the priest said: Give up the virgin whom you received out of the temple of the Lord. And Joseph burst into tears. And the priest said: I will give you to drink of the water of the ordeal of the Lord, and He shall make manifest your sins in your eyes. And the priest took the water, and gave Joseph to drink and sent him away to the hill-country; and he returned unhurt. And he gave to Mary also to drink, and sent her away to the hill-country; and she returned unhurt. And all the people wondered that sin did not appear in them. And the priest said: If the Lord God has not made manifest your sins, neither do I judge you. And he sent them away. And Joseph took Mary, and went away to his own house, rejoicing and glorifying the God of Israel.

     Thus did Joseph of Nazareth, a widowed carpenter, become the breadwinner and protector of the Holy Family. It’s why the month of March is dedicated to remembering and celebrating him.

     Catholics venerate Mary, the Blessed Mother of Christ, as the highest of the saints. However, it is fitting – especially so in this season of Lent – that we should spare a thought for Joseph, who took her as his wife yet never consummated the match, that Mary might remain virgin among men. He protected her from the throngs who might have decreed her death by stoning for adultery, and took her, gravid with child by the Holy Spirit, to Bethlehem, the city of Joseph’s distant ancestor David, where she would give birth to the Son of God. Such trials are not to be dismissed lightly. Neither is Joseph’s dedication to the support, protection, and nurturance of Mary and her divine Child over the years to come. These things make Joseph a model of patience and forbearance to be studied by husbands and fathers of every era – our own most emphatically.

     May your Lenten season be filled with reflection, inspiration, and devotion to God – and may He bless and keep you all.


TechieDude said...

Interesting text. Makes some sense, and even syncs and makes sense with existing scripture. Existing gospels don't really go into the scandal that would have occurred with Mary winding up pregnant. Nicht-Gut, even today in some cultures.

ontoiran said...

you say Mary remained a virgin, but Jesus had brothers and sisters didn't he? James, Joseph, Jude, Simon I believe.

Francis W. Porretto said...

ontoiran: They would have been regarded as Jesus's half-siblings, as they were Joseph's children by his first wife. Tradition and doctrine hold that Mary remained a virgin lifelong.