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A good and upright man

A copy of Michelangelo’s Pietà is displayed in the Vatican Museums so viewers can see the details of the sculpture. Mary may have held Joseph in a similar way as he died. (Christopher Gunty/CR Staff)

In March, St. Patrick gets a lot of attention as his feast falls in the middle of the month. But a couple days after that feast, the church marks the March 19 feast of St. Joseph, husband of Mary and foster father to Jesus.

We know more about many of the Old Testament prophets and some of the Apostles than we know about Joseph firsthand in Scripture. There is no mention of Joseph in accounts of Jesus’ and Mary’s lives once Jesus enters his public ministry. The assumption is that Joseph had already died by then.

Because of that, he is the patron of a peaceful and happy death, since it is presumed he died in the presence of his wife and son. One imagines a mournful Mary – while Jesus hovers over them both – holding her husband as he dies, much as she holds Jesus in depictions of the Pietà.

Joseph doesn’t always get a lot of respect, either. In the three synoptic Gospels, each evangelist describes Jesus returning to Nazareth to preach in the synagogue. He’s not well received. In Luke, the people ask, “Isn’t he the son of Joseph?” But in Matthew and Mark, they just say, “Isn’t he the son of the carpenter?” as though Joseph himself didn’t matter – only his occupation and the expectation that his son could not be so eloquent.

Though Scripture offers sometimes conflicting information about Joseph, his legacy as the spouse of Mary and the earthly father of Jesus is solid.

According to the website of the Oblates of St. Joseph, “Joseph’s identity in the Gospels is quite clear and consistent. He is present for what he contributes to the identity of Jesus. The reality of the Incarnation required the Son of God to share the human condition by having a human heritage and an upbringing by a human father. The evangelists communicate the truth about Joseph’s manner of fulfilling his role as father to the Messiah. With regard to this role, there is emphatic agreement.”

One way for Catholic men to get in touch with their inner Joseph would be to attend the 23rd annual Catholic Men’s Fellowship Conference March 21 at St. Philip Neri in Linthicum. This year, the daylong event features keynote speakers and Mass with Archbishop William E. Lori. The theme is “The Holy Family – Your Holy Family: As for Me and My Family, We Will Serve the Lord.”

I have joked occasionally that I would hate to have been Joseph; can you imagine being the only imperfect one in that household? “Who left these dishes on the table?” It had to be Joseph. “Who let the mule out of the stable?” It had to be Joseph.

However, Joseph is described in Scripture as “virtuous and righteous,” or in other translations as “a good and upright man.” Those are exceedingly good things for which to be known, so maybe striving to be more like Joseph is a very good goal this Lent.

Joseph is a strong role model for someone who accepts the will of the Lord and lives it out. One of my favorite depictions of the Nativity scene is by artist Michael Myers, who created a life-size version with Mary asleep on the floor of the stable, holding the infant Jesus close to her. Joseph sits next to them, pulling the blanket up over the Mother and Child. He looks to the heavens in wonder – in awe, but also in confusion – as if to ask God, “How will I handle this great responsibility you have given me?”

It’s a question we could all ask ourselves. How will we handle the responsibility God has given us?