Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Holy Family Was No Picnic for St. Joseph

The Holy Family is the model for all families. The household of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph was filled with peace, serenity, and love. For 2,000 years, the Holy Family has been the shining example all families strive to emulate.

But consider this: of the three people in the Holy Family, only Joseph was a sinner. That’s right. Jesus was sinless, of course, and the Church has always taught that Mary was uniquely blessed by God to be conceived without sin (the “Immaculate Conception”). Which means, when you boil it down, in that peaceful and loving household, only Joseph fit the biblical truth that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Wow! Talk about pressure! Anytime anything went wrong in that house, two sets of sinless eyes immediately turned and looked at the only family member who was not morally perfect. Poor ol’ Joseph must have struggled to maintain his self-esteem.

Early in their marriage, I wonder if Joseph, like all husbands throughout history, often blurted out the phrase, “I didn’t do it.” For men, that phrase is an instinctive defense mechanism, as involuntary as flinching when someone suddenly tosses something toward your face. When we husbands say, “I didn’t do it,” we are not actually declaring, “I. Did. Not. Do. It.” We are merely stalling for time so we can assess the situation and find out if we’re really in trouble or not.

After a few years, I wonder if Joseph realized the futility of offering that phrase time after time, and just resigned himself to saying with a sigh, “Yeah, I did it. I’m sorry.”

Well, maybe that wasn’t exactly how it happened. Maybe I’m just imagining what it would’ve been like if I was Saint Joseph. However, since the Bible clearly tells us that Joseph was a righteous man, let’s just say all of Christendom is a lot better off that God did not pick someone to be the husband of Mary and step-father of Jesus who spends way too much time hiding in a basement “man cave” watching baseball.

Since Joseph was indeed a righteous man, the occasions when he did do something morally suspect were few and far between. (And by “morally suspect,” I don’t mean the kind of sins that are rampant in our culture today. I’m thinking of things like gossip, discouragement, and mildly profane utterances whenever he hit himself on the thumb with a hammer. You know, what we now call venial sins.)

On the other hand, since Joseph was righteous, whenever he did do something wrong, he most likely admitted it right away and asked for forgiveness. And who better to ask forgiveness from than the two most merciful people in the history of the world? Can you imagine what it must’ve been like to have the Blessed Virgin Mary and/or Jesus say to you, “That’s OK. I forgive you. C’mere, big guy, gimme a hug!”? That must have been awesome. If I were Joseph, I’d be tempted to do things wrong on purpose, just to experience that unconditional forgiveness. (Yet another reason why God was so wise in not picking me for that job.)

Actually, even though we are not a part of the Holy Family, we can experience the same kind of unconditional forgiveness and love Joseph experienced. All we need to do is go to Confession. (Also known as the Sacrament of Reconciliation.) After all, we’re not asking the priest to forgive us. He merely sits in place of Jesus, the One who pours out His unconditional and total mercy on us.

The best way we can emulate the Holy Family is to do what Jesus, Mary, and Joseph did: share the love and mercy of God with each other. We won’t ever become sinless on this side of eternity, but we will be filled with peace and serenity and joy.

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