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Kaya OakesMarch 20, 2023
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for the Solemnity of St. Joseph

Find today’s readings here.

When I was a child attending Catholic school, statues of Mary and Joseph flanked the school’s entryway. Although my class was ethnically diverse, Mary and Joseph were depicted in white porcelain. What I mostly remember about that particular St. Joseph was that he had a prominent bald spot on top of his head. Later I’d see depictions of burly and bearded Joseph in a carpenter’s apron, Joseph old enough to be a great-grandfather carrying a plump infant Jesus, and thin and haunted-looking Josephs in dark church corners all over Rome. All of them were acts of imagination.

Every Joseph is mostly an act of imagination, because in the Bible, Joseph never actually speaks. Aside from the passing reference to his being a carpenter and the dream conversation he has with an angel in today’s readings, we really know almost nothing about Joseph, and much of what we think we know is made up or assumed. Compared to Mary, who gives us the Magnificat, Joseph is notable in his silence. But, somehow, there is still something about him that radiates goodness.

The real Joseph wasn’t made of white porcelain, and who knows if he had a bald spot, but even if he rarely spoke, his actions reflected his character.

Maybe that’s the extracanonical mythology about St. Joseph speaking, or maybe that’s another act of the imagination, or maybe it’s that so many of us dealt with addicted, violent, angry or absent fathers. Cast in the role of an idealized father, Joseph sparks the imagination of artists and writers alike. The idea of this silent man carving in a woodshop with a son by his side taps into our collective longing for a father figure, one who would risk his reputation, so important in his era, for the sake of a child who wasn’t biologically his own. No, the real Joseph wasn’t made of white porcelain, and who knows if he had a bald spot, but even if he rarely spoke, his actions reflected his character.

Even for those of us who aren’t fathers, and even for those of us who don’t have fathers or whose fathers were far from perfection, like St. Joseph, it’s our willingness to risk our reputations for the sake of others that makes us righteous.

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