St. Joseph is the most famous man we have ever heard of whom we know so little about.
Everything we know for certain about Joseph appears in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It isn’t very much by Wikipedia standards.
He came from the lineage of David, was Jewish, a small-town carpenter, was born, served as foster father for the son of God (which meant being husband to the mother of God), fled to Egypt to protect wife and son (based on a dream), cared for his little family, and died.
We can infer a bit; when he learned his wife-to-be was expecting, an angel told him not to worry because it was an action of the Holy Spirit. Joseph trusted and believed. Dads do a lot of that.
Various mystics and visionaries have claimed to have an insight to St. Joseph. Blessed Ann Catherine Emmerich. She wrote that he was devout and prayed a great deal. Unfortunately, he had mean brothers. Other mystics report that Joseph was a cute kid and had a pleasant disposition.
But the fact remains we know little about him and he isn’t quoted in the bible or anywhere else. There is no Book of Joseph. There is no online catalog of the best furniture designs of Joseph the table-maker of Nazareth.
As a father, I find this abundance of obscurity about Joseph deeply consoling. It suggests that he who serves without fame and glory may be the greatest of servants, and that is the turf occupied by most of us dads.
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in “Walden Pond.” Hardly a cheerful analysis, but at least partly true I fear.
On the other hand, when I see how dads are portrayed in the popular media, it is enough to make me feel quietly desperate. Successful television dads are clever, wise, and humorous. They are successful in the ways of the world.
But that isn’t what life is like for real dads. Most of us go to work, do our best to support our families, try to raise the kids and make the wife happy.
(Digression: I fully acknowledge that moms face the same challenges as dads, including a full measure of quiet desperation. However, this column is about dads.)
Joseph likely would have failed as a television dad. But I doubt he experienced much desperation. I expect he was filled will quite satisfaction and holy joy.
The apparent obscurity of Joseph is good for me to remember when I’m feeling unappreciated when I realize that some days the most recognized act I complete is taking out the garbage. I won’t have a professional basketball career. I won’t be the front man for a famous rock band. I won’t own a Lamborghini to drive to the wharf where my yacht is docked.
But with God’s grace, I may walk in the shoes of Joseph and be a simple man of quiet faith and joy.