A Cup of Joe with St. Joe
A heavenly conversation with the foster father of Jesus
Our intrepid correspondent sits with an honored guest in a coffee shop a few days before the Solemnity of St. Joseph, March 19. He has a cup of bold Guatemalan blend coffee with a touch of hazelnut creamer. St. Joseph enjoys a tall cappuccino. With no notes taken, the following is not a verbatim account.
Were there special challenges in raising the Son of God?
I’ll admit I was more than a little confused when Mary became pregnant. Knowing her so well, it was difficult to doubt her purity, but there was that baby bump. So I figured the best thing to do was to call off the marriage quietly and shield her from shame. Then the angel appeared in a dream to tell me she had conceived by the Holy Spirit and the child will save his people from their sins. Don’t be afraid, he added. Afraid? I was terrified, shaking and sweating when I woke up. I, poor Joseph the carpenter, was asked, commanded really, to raise God’s own Son? Was this a blessing or a testing?
What could you really teach the Second Person of the Trinity?
Quite a bit, as it turned out. As he grew, he still had to learn to read and write, make his bed, dress, and tie his sandals. He had to learn how to pray, worship, and serve God, according to our Jewish tradition. Mary and I taught him what it means to be part of a family and the larger community. Naturally, I taught him the carpentry trade. He had an eye for detail and craftsmanship. A real perfectionist. I hope my example instilled the value of hard work and integrity.
He taught us a lot as well, and there was always this air of mystery about him, like he was in the world but not quite of it. Every once in a while he would say something intriguing or insightful, way beyond his age. I’m a man of practical action. When God says “Go,” I go. When God says “Return,” I return. When I see a mystery, I want to solve it. So I had this nagging question how a divine person could live with a human nature, yet Jesus always answered my question with another question or a story. But Mary was wiser than I. She simply held all these mysteries of her Son in her heart.
Tell us about Mary. How did you get along? Did you ever have disagreements?
[Silence, as Joseph gazes into heaven.]
Excuse me. Just thinking about our relationship brings joy to my heart and a tear to my eye. She was, truly, the model not just for women but for all humanity. The amazing thing about her is that you see in her all these virtues and the radiance of perfection, yet they’re cloaked – no, not cloaked – they’re integrated and enhanced by her humility. Not a false humility but an active one that invited others to share in her virtues. Like when she went in haste to see Elizabeth. I wondered where she was heading and if I should protect her, but she just smiled that wonderful smile of peace and total love and said that she was on a mission for God. It turned out to be a mission with God in her womb.
But back to your question. I don’t know how parents can raise children unless they have a solid relationship themselves. I think it’s vital for husband and wife to see eye to eye, especially in faith and values. We prayed together, communicated well, respected one another. Our whole married life was based in love and service to God and to each other. I’d like to think Jesus’ great love and respect for his mother is in part a reflection of the love and respect I showed her, but he purified my love. He had this effect on people. Either their good nature would become even better or their bad points would be exposed, as the thoughts of many hearts were revealed.
You’re a key figure in salvation history, and Jesus claims his human lineage through you. Yet Gospels don’t record a word you said.
I know, “the strong, silent type.” I hear this a lot, but you don’t have to say much to be a good man. You have to lead more by example than by word. Love your wife, love your children, and sacrifice for them every day. That’s the vocation of a husband and father.
I was just a poor carpenter, and God entrusted me with Mary and this incredible miracle of a child. It’s staggering. But – this may sound like a pious cliché – when God gives you a task he also gives you the grace to do it. So it’s a matter of embracing his will as your life’s purpose. That’s where you’ll always find happiness, in seeking and fulfilling God’s will.
You’re considered the patron of a “good death,” with Jesus and Mary at your bedside. What is the key a good death?
A good death simply means to die in a state of grace so as to be welcomed into God’s heavenly kingdom. Be faithful to the end. Be vigilant. Don’t compromise your faith thinking death is a distant reality. Be ready to meet God at any time. That’s something Jesus preached about a lot.
I know you are busy with March 19 coming up and so many more prayers directed toward you, so one final question. What do you think of the practice of people burying your statue upside-down to hasten the sale of their home?
[Silence, as Joseph gazes into heaven with a smile.]
I will hold those thoughts in my heart.