instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, March 19, 2004

Husband of Mary

There is a wonderful book by St. Peter Julian Eymard called The Month of St. Joseph, in which the founder of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament presents St. Joseph as the model for Eucharistic adoration. You can use the book to make a month-long mini-retreat to Jesus through Joseph. (While you're at it, get the whole Eymard Library.)

But while much can be learned by the sort of soft-focus (soft, but not mushy!) devotional meditation on St. Joseph marvelling at the God-made-man in his home and his arms, much can also be learned by meditation on the harder, more practical aspects of raising a good Jewish son in the Roman Empire of the First Century, and then trying to reconcile the two visions of Joseph the Just.

We might begin with the title the Church gives St. Joseph on this, his principal feast day. His litany (which is still indulgenced!) gives him many titles:
Renowned offspring of David; Light of Patriarchs; Spouse of the Mother of God; Chaste guardian of the Virgin; Foster father of the Son of God; Diligent protector of Christ; Head of the Holy Family; Most just, most chaste, most prudent, most strong, most obedient, most faithful; Mirror of patience; Lover of poverty; Model of artisans; Glory of home life; Guardian of virgins; Pillar of families; Solace of the wretched; Hope of the sick; Patron of the dying; Terror of demons; Protector of Holy Church.
For his feast day, though, he is given a much more prosaic title: Husband of Mary.

Now, obviously "Husband of Mary" implies "Spouse of the Mother of God" and many of the other titles. But let's stick with "Husband of Mary" for a minute.

First, the word "husband" is usually understood to refer to the man in a relationship of marriage, and "marriage" these days is generally understood as a relationship between equals, line an equal partnership in a business.

But though men and women are equal in dignity before God, they do not assume equivalent roles in a marriage. Being a husband confers a certain authority that is not conferred by being a wife, which perhaps is why the angel appeared to Joseph when it was time for the Holy Family to move.

In short, the story of Joseph, Husband of Mary, is the mystery of a man made lord of the LORD's household, and ruler of His possessions. And just as Jesus was true man and Mary the true Mother of God, so was Joseph the true earthly father of Jesus and the true husband of Mary. He wasn't the confused old man fearing cuckoldry of the medieval passion plays. He wasn't a deferential host to a Madonna and Child with ethereal smiles who glowed in the dark. He had true authority over the Mother of God, of a kind none of us would dare to exercise (and rightly so, since none of us possess it), and he exercised it in a true manner.

Mary was Joseph's wife, not his mother given him by Jesus on Calvary, and he treated her as such. And genuinely so; he didn't just pretend. There was no, "Er, if that's all right with you," said or implied when he told Mary they were leaving for Egypt.