Shadow of the Father

How shall I approach you, Joseph, you, the shadow
of the Father? The stories vary. But who
were you, really? Were you young? Old?

A widower, with children of your own, as the Proto-
evangelium says? I have been to bloody Bethlehem
and seen the orphaned children there.


A small town, where Palestinian gunmen roamed the Church
of the Nativity, while Israeli snipers watched
from the adjoining rooftops. It is a scene not all that

different from Herod’s horsemen hunting down a baby,
though you, dreamer that you were, had already heeded
the midnight warning and fled with Mary and the baby,

And though they failed to find him, you found him, Joseph,
and raised him, teaching him your trade, two day laborers
who must often have queued up, looking for work.

How difficult it must have been, standing in, as every father
must sometimes feel. But where else did your son find
his courage and sense of outrage against injustice,

how did he become the man he was, if not for you? ’Didn’t you know
I had to be about my father’s business?’ Thus the boy, at twelve,
there in Jerusalem. Words which must have wounded

though they put the matter in its proper light. After that, you drop
from history. Saint of happy deaths, was yours a happy death?
Tradition says it was, logic seems to say it was,

with that good woman and that sweet son there by your side. For the past
two months my wife and her sister have been caring for their
father, who is dying of cancer. There is the hospital bed,

the potty, the rows of medicine to ease the growing pain. From time
to time he starts up from his recliner to count his daughters
and his aged Irish bride, thinking of a future he no longer

has. When she was little, my wife once told me, she prayed daily
in the church of St. Benedict to St. Joseph that she might
have a daily missal. One day, a man in coveralls

came up to her--and without a word-- her one with your name
on it. Oh, she said, her parents would never allow it.
Put a penny in the poor box, then, he said, and

turned, and disappeared forever. Who was he? I asked.
You know as well as I do who he was, is all she’d say.
Joseph, be with her now, and with her father, as he faces

the great mystery, as we all must at the end, alone. You seem
like so many other fathers, who have watched over
their families, not knowing what the right words were,

but willing to be there for them, up to the very end. Be with them now,
as you have been for countless others. Give them strength.
And come, if need be, in a dream, as the angel came to you,

and came to that other Joseph in Egypt so many years before. Be there
as once you were in Queens and Bethlehem and Nazareth.
You, good man, dreamer, the shadow of the Father.

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10 years 11 months ago
Just a note to express how much the poem and the icon, “Shadow of the Father,” in the issue of Dec. 23, 2002, meant to me. It truly stopped me in my tracks. I have read the poem and looked at the icon many times, and through that St. Joseph has given me peace, forgiveness and hope. I could not ask for a better Christmas present. My thanks and prayers go out to all at America, especially to Paul Mariani and William Hart McNichols.

10 years 11 months ago
Your Christmas 2002 issue arrived by sea mail last evening! It was a wonderful gift to help me celebrate my patron saint’s feast day. I class Paul Mariani’s poem on St. Joseph with G. K. Chesterton’s. No higher praise can I give. And the icon, “Shadow of the Father,” by William Hart McNichols, I will treasure. I have put both poem and icon up on the wall of my room. They will be an inspiration as I, Joseph, try to be a “shadow of the Father” to Christ-in-the-poor here in the Himalayas.

15 years 1 month ago
What a thing of beauty. Thanks.

Mary Fisher
7 years 7 months ago
I silently think heartfelt things about Joseph.Thank you for expressing it. I believe that he was as strong and loud in Jesus' and Mary's real life each day,allowing them to be who they became, as he was portrayed soft and silent. Thank you for being able to put the plain goodness of reality into it's rightful place of beauty.


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