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Sandals for Our Scandals

Walking the path of St. Joseph will help men face the challenges of life

By Jason Godin

In the first chapter of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew introduces a man named Joseph. The husband of Mary, he is the last in the long listing of generations that links Abraham and Jesus (cf. Mt. 1:1-17). As the Church celebrates the Solemnity of St. Joseph on March 19, this is an appropriate time to stand in the sandals of the foster-father of Jesus, appreciating the measure of the man during a moment of apparent scandal. Doing so can help us learn what makes those same sandals worth wearing as we walk through the scandals, big and small, of our own lives.

Matthew’s infancy narrative opens with the type of scandal that would be fodder for today’s gossip columns. Mary is “betrothed” to Joseph, but found pregnant “before they lived together.” Joseph, “a righteous man” and “unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly” (1:18-19).

Marriage back then began with betrothal; only months afterward did a husband actually take his wife into his home. Infidelity of any sort during this period was considered adultery, with proven adultery demanding death by stoning.

Now consider Joseph. He no doubt was impressed by the goodness and holiness of the woman whom he loved so much that he was willing to share his sacred family name, open his home, and give himself to her completely, only to find her bearing the evidence of adultery. Just imagine, in his initial desire to follow his faith to the letter, what he sensed and felt in that moment – shock and betrayal, followed by a search for the swiftest, most silent way to end the nuptial (cf. 1:20).

But the stones never flew at Mary because Joseph shielded her from the law. As a husband who looks to lead his family by the Catholic faith, I’ve often asked what held Joseph back from releasing Mary to judgment, as a man following the Mosaic law would. Certainly, his wounded trust and aching pride would have been a strong motivation to do so. What would the townsfolk think and say of Joseph, so obviously bested by another man?

But Matthew sums up Joseph’s decision in a simple phrase: he was “a righteous man” – or “just man,” in some versions. After he decided to “divorce her quietly,” an angel appeared to him in a dream to explain the divine origin of Mary’s pregnancy (cf. 1:19-23).

I think part of the reason behind Joseph’s behavior was that he listened with empathy before acting, with his mouth closed and his mind openly informed by faith. He considered the whole person of his betrothed and not just the outward appearance, and concluded that there was an explanation that was above the law. Mary had never before acted against her faith, so why now?

As husbands, we too should afford our wives an open heart and mind, in matters big and small, even when she appears in the wrong. In Catholic matrimony, spouses are “one flesh” and thus to accuse your wife in haste is to point a figure also at yourself. Small faults sometimes need to be overlooked or let pass; serious sins need to be discussed and dealt with together, with never the thought of breaking a valid, sacred union. It may be, men, that you will suffer shame, misunderstanding and blows to the ego as you exercise the love, patience and protective strength needed to save or improve your marriage. But that is part of what you promised at the altar.

In good times and bad, in sickness and health, in joy and anger, in sin and forgiveness, think of St. Joseph. Put on his sandals and walk the path in the depth of his scandal at the very beginning of his wedded life, and pray. St. Joseph, lead me to the high calling of my manhood in marriage, to be the “righteous man” before God, regardless of what the world may say or think.

St. Joseph, patron of fathers, pray for us!

Jason Godin is associate editor of Fathers for Good