Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Ite ad Joseph - Part II

II. Introduction – Dignum Est?

[An afterthought, this post will serve - hopefully - to "justify my theme," so to speak, and to clarify my intention with this series of posts.]

The life of Saint Joseph is wrapped in the enigma called “hidden years” of Jesus Christ. Only a small percentage of Christ’s earthly life is given detailed treatment in Scripture. The years between age 2 and 12 are glossed over quickly in a sentence; and there is a large leap from Jesus’ conversation with the elders in the temple to the beginning of His “public life.” Over the years there have been many efforts to make Saint Joseph seem “more human” by speculating about what happened during these many years. This is not to say that the deeds of Joseph told in scripture are an inadequate foundation for devotion to the great man; yet there apparently has been want for more details, as countless saints and popes have given their attention to filling in the “gaps” left by the biblical account. It is with humility that I will attempt in this series of posts to join the company of these writers, explaining the rationale of my own devotion to my patron, and attempting to defend as feasible (or maybe even probable) some of my personal speculations about the character of the just and holy spouse of Mary.

Before I fully enter into this endeavor to illustrate how and why Joseph serves as a role model in my pursuit of a priestly vocation, I will first outline a brief argument to justify this attempt. Why are we entitled to speculate as to the missing details of Joseph’s life? Why might it be beneficial to do so? And does this speculation have reputable precedents?

Fittingly, I begin this argument with the figure of Joseph’s wife, Mary. The history of Mariology in the Church is a fascinating study, which is beyond the scope of my present endeavor even to outline. However, I believe that Mariology teaches us a valuable lesson about how we must approach the figure of Saint Joseph. The first Marian dogma proclaimed by the Church was that she truly deserves the title “Mother of God.” The subsequent teachings have all been based upon this fact; viewed in light of this special vocation, the other proclamations about Mary have been substantiated when proclaimed by Holy Mother Church – e.g., that she is ever virgin, was immaculately conceived and assumed body and soul into heaven, reigning as queen of creation, the Mediatrix of all graces. In other words, in our catechesis, we understand that such teachings are appropriate and seemly only in light of her honor of being chosen as God’s own mother. Much of this development of doctrine has been incremental, growing out of the purely biblical evidence about Mary’s life based upon the speculations of various Saints and Popes, as the corpus of tradition on Mariology became more sophisticated and lucid.

It seems that we may approach Joseph in like manner. Working from biblical evidence, so long as we stay within Church canons, we are welcome to theorize as to what might be “meet and just” in the character of such a man, based upon what we definitely know of him from scripture. Just as it is seen to be fit that Mary was conceived immaculate in light of her being the mother of God, so Joseph, chosen to be the husband of such a one and the foster-father of God Himself, would have been prepared with many special graces and honors for this noble office.

Apart from justification, this argument also demonstrates the potential benefits of such speculation and enquiry. Mary’s Magnificat became more estimable a prayer with each further definition of Marian dogma clarified by the Church. If we are able to discern more clearly the reality of who Joseph was and how he fit into the Divine Plan, his example of holiness and his patronage will become all the more satisfying for our needs as we invoke him along our pilgrim way. And, as with Mary, understanding Joseph better is to understand, a little bit more, the God’s Providential plan for our salvation. Such knowledge will inspire us to greater love – first for Joseph, then for Mary, and ultimately for God. How can we not know the Heavenly Father better by knowing more about the man who alone was found worthy to be called “Abba” by the young Christ Himself?

There is, of course, limitation to this speculation: we must be careful to hypothesize within the bounds of logical probability. I will take particular pains to avoid venturing too far. However, it must also be noted that the envelope had been pushed farther than one might first think. For example, several early Church fathers speculated, among other things, that Joseph remained perpetually inviolate in life and – perhaps – may have been somehow free from original sin from the time of his conception, in a way similar to that of the Blessed Mother. This is not to say that I give credence to these particular teachings; I simply want to illustrate that pious investigation can be wider in scope than we might at first admit.

My defense made, and calling upon the Holy Spirit to aid me, I will now proceed in subsequent posts to the particular elements of my devotion to Jesus’ Foster-Father. These meditations will each focus on a particular element of the Saint’s life, some clearly substantiated, some merely probable and speculative. My final posts will be to elucidate how I have personally found Joseph particularly useful in the discernment of my vocation, as indicated in my introduction. Hopefully at least something I have to say will be found of value to some reader. If I can help to bring even the slightest added honor to my beloved Patron, I will feel find my effort to have been worthwhile.


Post a Comment

<< Home