God’s Saint-making Process
Our success as fathers is born from an ongoing process that consists of five basic stages: 1) test 2) mission 3) sacrifice 4) modeling and 5) legacy. Any man who is a father understands that his vocation is marked by tests – multiple tests, and amidst these tests a sense of mission can be discovered. After that mission is identified and assented to, sacrifice is demanded of the man to fulfill it. If sacrifice is exercised consistently, we become models for our wives and children worthy of imitation, and if we continue to be that model, we will depart this world leaving a legacy – an inheritance truly worth inheriting. This process is very evident in the life of St. Joseph, who first encountered an incredible test of faith regarding Mary’s, his betrothed’s, pregnancy. Born from this test was Joseph’s understanding of his mission to become the father of the Son and the husband of the Mother. Upon receiving this mission, incredible sacrifice was demanded of Joseph. By living his life with heroic self-sacrifice, Joseph became a model of self-giving love, not only to Jesus and Mary, but to every husband and father throughout history. By enduring to the end, Joseph left a legacy of fatherhood that has inspired the Church and her members for centuries. By studying this process in the life of St. Joseph, who was both a son of the Father and father of the Son, aided by the Spirit, we can become as he became.
The Essential Test
Today we will discuss the first aspect of Joseph’s process to sainthood, “the essential test.” As with Abraham’s, Joseph’s vocational crisis was linked directly to the order of procreation and the marital act. Abraham and Sarah had consummated their marriage, engaging in the one flesh union, yet bearing no fruit, whereas Mary and Joseph had not consummated their marriage, and yet Mary was blessed with the “fruit of her womb,” Jesus. Whereas Abraham needed faith to believe that God would provide him and his wife a child, Joseph needed the gift of faith to believe that God had already provided the child in Mary. Each of these two patriarchal father’s crisis of faith existed in relationship to their wives and their wive’s fruitfulness or lack thereof; and salvation history depended upon whether or not these two men would endure the storm and tempest of their vocational crisis and discover their true essence and purpose by reconciling themselves to their vocation.
The Context of Joseph’s Crisis
By providing the context and circumstances of Joseph’s vocational crisis we will understand more clearly the intensity of his test of faith. Mary and Joseph were betrothed to one another which, in ancient Jewish culture, constituted the first stage of marriage. Mary and Joseph were married, yet according to the Jewish custom, were not to live together, and consummate their marriage for approximately one year. It was during this stage of “waiting,” that Mary was discovered pregnant, and upon Joseph’s discovery of this reality, he fled from her, deciding to divorce her quietly. So often we think that Joseph assumed that Mary was unfaithful, and that he concluded that Mary had committed adultery, and therefore, upholding his own purity, he left her. Let’s examine this idea by analyzing the account of Mary’s Annunciation. During this marital stage of “waiting,” between the betrothal (first stage of marriage) and the consummation (second stage of marriage), the angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, “You shall conceive and bear a son and He shall be the Son of the Most High.” Mary responded, “How can this be for I do not know man?” A proper view of the person of Mary is demanded in order to understand her response. At the time of the Annunciation, Mary was a 14-16 year old young woman who understood how babies come into existence, for she says, “how can this be for I do not know man?” Mary was not a naive child who lacked understanding of human sexuality and the one-flesh union. She understood it well. If we believe this, then logically it would follow that Mary would have understood the angel’s words, “you shall conceive” to indicate that “soon you shall reside with Joseph, consummate your marriage, and the fruit of this union will the Son of the Most High.” But, Mary’s response indicates something entirely different. Mary’s response presupposes that she has made a radical donation of her self and her sexuality to God, hence she said, “how can this be for I do not know man.”
What Was Joseph Thinking?
So why did Joseph flee from his vocational post? Joseph knew the person of Mary well. He knew of her holiness, her inner beauty, her faithfulness to, and radical love for God. That is why he loved her. St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine and St. Thomas More stated that Joseph did not and could not believe that Mary was guilty of adultery. Rather, Joseph was fearful of his unworthiness of such a great mystery. Why? Mary is the fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant from the Old Testament. The Ark contained the manna from heaven, the Decalogue, the Word of God, and Aaron’s budded staff, which symbolized the Levitical priesthood. The Ark was plated in gold, symbolizing royalty and purity. The glory cloud hovered over the Ark in the tent of meeting. Mary, the new Ark, contained within her the Bread from heaven-Jesus, the Word of God-Jesus, and the great high priest-Jesus. The power of the Most high overshadowed Mary. The language used to describe this overshadowing of the Holy Spirit is used in the Scriptures only one other time: when the glory cloud hovered over the Ark in the tent of meeting. There’s more. “David arose and went to the hill country of Judea to retrieve the Ark.” “Mary arose and went to the hill country of Judea to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth.” David said, “Who am I that the Ark of the Lord should come to me?” Elizabeth exclaimed, “Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” The Greek word for “exclaimed” is only used 6 times in the old testament and once in the New Testament, and on each occasion it is used as a description of the Levitical priests praising God before the Ark of the Lord. The Ark remained with Obed Edom the Gittite for three months, and Mary remained with Elizabeth for three months. So why did Joseph flee from Mary and his call to greatness? Mary was the New Ark. Though Joseph was a “just man,” he was not immaculate. Joseph knew that he being a creature was unworthy of the Creator, the Presence of God in Mary. “Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” He was fearful of exposing her to his shame – and therefore he dismissed himself.
JOSEPH’S TEST TESTIFIES THAT FATHERHOOD IS ESSENTIAL
Yet, Joseph took all of this to God in prayer, silently waiting on God. Just as God promised to Abraham, “your wife shall bear you a son and you shall call him Isaac,” so also God promised Joseph, “she (Mary) will bear a son, and you shall call Him Jesus,” and trusting in this promise, Joseph “awoke and did what the angel commanded him”. It was precisely in this moment, while faced with uncertainty regarding Mary’s pregnancy, that Joseph lived from his essence, “doing” what was demanded of him, that is, deciding uncompromisingly to dedicate himself to, and sacrifice himself for, Mary and her Son. “‘Doing’ became the beginning of Joseph’s Way.” (JP2) What can we learn from this? God values fatherhood so much that He deliberately, relentlessly, pursued Joseph and called him to embrace his mission to be the human father of God’s divine Son. Fatherhood is so essential that God chose a human father to father His Son. Your fatherhood is essential to salvation history. How you father determines the future of mankind. If God chose Joseph to father His Son, then He also chooses you to father your children. Crises are the context for our “test of faith,” and how we respond to such tests shapes our children’s future and our mission and destiny. Our first step toward vocational success is believing that God has chosen us for this task and in a certain qualified sense believe that He“needs us.” God needs us to father because our children need God the Father. Remember that both Abraham’s and Joseph’s “tests” primarily existed in relationship to their wives and their sexual relationships. Many of our tests and crises will exist in relationship to our wives. How we respond to our wives, whether we respond like Adam – with neglect, or like Jesus – with sacrificial love will have tremendous impact upon our children. Next session we will examine Joseph’s mission and how we are to faithfully respond to our wives – particularly amidst trials and test.