By Denise Trull
My son Ben drew this picture for me a long time ago, but I still love it because it's the way a twelve year old boy imagined Joseph. Strong. Kind. Ready. Willing. Since we do not know much about Joseph, I have over the years tried to observe the traits of good men I admire in order to piece together a better image of him in my mind.
I have become quite certain that he would be that quiet, smiling man in the way back of the tent cooking hamburgers at the school picnic all day in the 95 degree heat without a word except to laugh quietly at the antics of the man in the front of the tent as he banters with the customers. He is that dad at Mass who can hold a sleeping child and a song book, while at the same time putting on his squirming toddler’s shoes, and still manage to look recollected. He is the father who prays with his children in a manly and trusting voice, which they lovingly imitate, as Jesus imitated his. Think of that! He is the master craftsman who builds to perfection; the one who always measures twice, and cuts once. A man flowing with a creativity tempered by a steady practicality. He is that man who joins his friends for a drink and truly listens to them. When asked, he gives his opinion quietly, circumspectly and simply. Joseph probably had to hear a lot about Roman taxes from disgruntled neighbors. But I think he never got impatient with them or bored by their talk.
He was a good husband. He looked out for Mary. He made sure the wood was stacked without having to be asked. He probably made her some simple but beautiful furniture as he knew she of all women would notice and be grateful that her home was warm and inviting because of his woodworking gifts. He was a man she could be proud of. She in turn was his quiet, joyful muse. He learned holiness in his own life by looking at her. He was grateful for her love. He helped her with Jesus. When she needed to rest, he probably took the little boy into his shop and let him play with little pieces of wood happily sitting in the shavings falling from his father’s bench. Joseph must have sometimes showed him how to use his tools without getting impatient or overbearing. Joseph was probably a quiet but strong presence as any good dad we love would be. The protector. The provider. The teacher. The kind of quiet, holy man we find in our own homes, a man we cannot think of ever living without.
After the Passion of her Son, I think the death of Joseph was probably Mary's most wrenching sorrow. This was her dearest and kindest friend, the only other human being who shared so intimately the thoughts of her heart, the face that could calm her fears on the road to Bethlehem, the only other person who heard the shepherds' tale of angelic wonder in the fields, the strong arm around her when Simeon's words fell to her ear and forever scarred her heart and his own. Joseph the good. Joseph the just. Joseph the friend, who shared her anxieties, her laughter, her cooking. He was the only other person in the world she could ask, "are we doing this right?” and receive a calm affirmation in return. They could always find strength in each other’s eyes, always find a confidence in their efforts to bring up this Child God together.
But then Joseph lay dying. Did he ever wonder why he would not see the end of his Son’s mission? Why he would not be there for Mary when she needed him most? Did this make him sad? Would he wonder how she would handle the wide world without him? He probably worried himself sick at times and, like us, had to pray away the worry. Joseph, too, had his fiats. The things he had to offer to God without knowing the answers.
When he died, I cannot imagine the sorrow, the loneliness Our Lady felt. Her many nights filled with tears of loss, because FIAT still counts even in nights filled with tears. It is a poignant example to all fathers and husbands to be the kind of man worthy of a woman’s grieving tears.
This is Joseph’s day. This is the day we remember him with a quiet joy and gratitude. No rush of martyrdom here, not a doctor of the Church, not an apostle. Just a holy dad, plain and simple. What an important vocation that is. So important, in fact that Joseph has become the Patron Saint of the Universal Church and the father of us all. He has proved himself worthy to shoulder that burden.