Last week we looked more closely at St. Joseph’s relationship with God. In particular, we noted that he was man of trust and a man of action. Indeed, it is these two visible characteristics that tell us that he was a man filled with that invisible, intangible, supernatural virtue called Faith.
This week we will begin to explore the three remaining verses of Bishop DuMaine’s prayer that speak to how the vertical dimension of our Saint’s relationship with God manifested itself in the horizontal dimension of his human relationships with Jesus and Mary as the head of the Holy Family. This, after all, was St. Joseph’s vocation; and it was an incredibly important and critical one. As Pope Francis reminds us in Patris Corde, his Apostolic Letter on St. Joseph announcing this year dedicated to him, “The greatness of Saint Joseph is that he was the spouse of Mary and the father of Jesus. In this way, he placed himself, in the words of Saint John Chrysostom, ‘at the service of the entire plan of salvation’” (PC 1).
Let us then consider the very next verse of the prayer (sidebar):
With a husband’s love you cherished Mary, our Mother.
I think it is a fair question to ask: “How did the Bishop know this? How can he state this as a fact?” The Gospels tell us little about Mary and Joseph’s relationship. How can we make any kind of statement about it all? In fact, during the Middle Ages, the consensus view as that Joseph was an older man and was more like a guardian than a real husband.
It is true that the Gospels do not say much about this subject, but Scripture does speak a great deal about how God created man and woman and their relationship. As Genesis chapter one tells us, God created humankind, not in “his image” but rather in “our image”— in the image of the Holy Trinity— “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:26-27). Chapter two speaks more experientially about what this meant to our first parents. We hear Adam exclaim: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of man this one has been taken” (Gen 2:23). As St. John Paul II noted in his Theology of the Body, Adam had previously discovered his lack of completeness, his alone-ness; a loneliness that was finally relieved when he found the one who completed him and made him whole, Eve.
This is heady stuff! This is God’s original plan for marriage. This is (theologically) why sex is such a powerful force in our lives. Sex is the way we become—the way we experience—completeness. It should come as no surprise to us that after “the fall” it became the most distorted and difficult emotion/passion to control. Neither should we be surprised that the first thing Adam and Eve did after committing their great sin of disobedience was to hide from each other and make loin cloths for themselves. They both recognized that they could use—and be used by—the other for purely selfish gratification; a far cry from the mutual self-giving and self-forgetful love that they had experienced up until then.
So, while the good Bishop might not be able to provide the Scriptural proof-text for this prayer verse, he can challenge us with some questions: Would God have deprived the Blessed Mother—she who was “full of grace”—and St. Joseph from the awesome beauty and joy of the male-female relationship as he had originally intended it to be? Would God have deprived his only Son, Jesus, from experiencing what a real family was like? Would he have deprived him from gaining an understanding how true self-giving love between a husband and wife is exchanged? Clearly Bishop DuMaine’s answer to these questions is “NO!”
While “the entire plan of salvation,” to which both Mary and Joseph committed themselves, required that their relationship remain virginal—and this was certainly a sacrifice—the absence of sexual intimacy did not deprive them of the other wonderful human experiences that comprise a happy, joy-filled marriage. Married love was intended by God, from the beginning, to image the passionate desire for the other, ordered by a selfless, self-giving love; both found in equal measure within the Holy Trinity.
Now, I know that many reading this would say that such a view of marriage is “a nice ideal”, but would insist that it is also an impractical and impossible goal for any human couple—other than Mary and Joseph—to achieve; and this is an understandable position. But in making such a claim, are they not also emptying the Cross of Christ of its power? “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible (Mt 19:26).”
Could St. Joseph help you improve your marriage? Ask him!!