Imagine being Joseph, the husband of Mary and stepdad to baby Jesus.
Your fiancée is pregnant and not by you. Her baby is adored by many, who flock for just a glimpse of the newborn son. You are tasked with protecting them both. It is your job to teach a kid — seen as the son of the Almighty who will grow up to be "Redeemer of the world" — how to work, how to pray, how to heed God.
To top it off, you are the only imperfect member of the Holy Family, so when mess-ups happen, guess who gets the blame.
"How do you live in a family where everyone is perfect except you?" asks the Rev. Kenneth Vialpando, pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Ogden.
It took a lot of humility, Vialpando says with a dash of humor, for Joseph to live with his wife, Mary, who was "full of grace," and with Jesus, who was sinless. "He had to take responsibility [for everything that went wrong in the marriage or in the household] because, of course, it couldn’t be Mary’s fault or Jesus’ fault — God forbid."
Joseph’s quiet heroism often goes overlooked in the Christmas story and many Nativity scenes, where he is upstaged by kings, angels, shepherds, sometimes cattle. He doesn’t even make it into most paintings of mother and child.
Yet there is something profound and compelling in Joseph, who has become a patron saint to Catholic stepfathers and a role model for all Christian dads.
"In a real sense, none of our children are our own," New Testament Mormon scholar Eric Huntsman writes in "Good Tidings of Great Joy: An Advent Celebration of Christ’s Birth." "Priceless spirit children of heavenly parents, all children on this Earth are only here on loan from a loving God who trusts us all — parents, grandparents, family, friends, even strangers — to protect, care for, teach, and love them."
Joseph, then, looms as the prototypical father figure, one who plays a unique role in Christian scripture.
And it all started with some, uh, inconceivable news.
The journey » Not long after they became engaged, Mary tells Joseph, so the Bible says, that she is pregnant but has not had sex with any man.
"The shock could have sent him running off in the opposite direction out of fear of his own life and out of fear of bringing shame to his wife," Vialpando says. "Yet he was very humble and obedient to the message of the angel who said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, into your home.’"
It was his faith that "enabled him to stand by Mary’s side every step of the way," the priest says, "even when he couldn’t see the whole picture."
Later, the Good Book continues, Joseph had another angelic visitor, who warned him in a dream of impending danger from Herod’s troops. So he took wife and child and fled to Egypt. After some years in that foreign land, the family returned to Nazareth to rear the boy who someday would stump religious authorities, perform miracles, preach powerful sermons and die on a cross.
And, Christians believe, return from the dead.
Some apocryphal accounts have Joseph living to old age, but he exits the biblical text after a 12-year-old Jesus is found speaking in the temple — a time when the boy starkly reminds his earthly parents whose son he is.
Unlike many Christians, Catholics believe Mary remained a virgin throughout her life, making her husband chaste by default.
"Joseph himself had to live a life of chastity and celibacy within his marriage to Mary, and therefore he is known as St. Joseph, the Most Chaste Spouse of Mary," Vialpando says. "He must have been the most patient person of all."
The Bible mentions that Jesus had brothers, so some traditions depict Joseph as an older man, who might have become a widower with children.
Whether young or old, Joseph made sacrifices that every father — biological, adopted, foster or step — sometimes faces.Next Page >
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