Pregnancy and the impending birth of a child is a time filled with joy and anticipation for a couple. The choice of a name for the baby, shopping for clothing and furniture for the nursery, parenting classes; life revolves around the birth and raising of this new member of the family; a blessing, a gift from God.
This can also be a time of profound anxiety for a couple. An unexpected pregnancy initiates worries about housing, finances, child care, perhaps custody rights if the child has been conceived out of wedlock. Instead of joy the mother and father are fearful of the future, questioning their fitness as parents, perhaps doubting the fidelity of the other partner. Anger, frustration, doubt, and suspicion turn a beautiful event, a holy event, into an extended time of stress, suspicion, accusations, tears, and sometimes, abandonment and divorce.
In the midst of turmoil is an infant who expresses love, trust, innocence, and delights in response to his or her parent’s attention and love. God enters lives during these moments changing hearts and minds; redirecting a parent’s energy and attention towards loving an infant profoundly, unconditionally; that same love that Mary and Joseph showered upon their son, Jesus.
First century or twenty first century? It is difficult to separate this real situation and confine it to a specific era. This joyful moment, this anxious moment, is experienced daily, over millennia, and God’s love floods each expectant parent preparing them to receive and nurture new life. God’s love flooded the beings of Mary and Joseph; God’s love floods the beings of today’s expectant mothers and fathers. God’s love floods the hearts of men and women of adoptive and foster parents through the example and intercession of St. Joseph.
This is my experience, indirectly. I have not adopted or fostered children, but I have first- hand witness of the power of the intercessory prayers of St. Joseph and the effect these prayers have upon children who have been left without the love of a father.
My brother married during the summer of 2005 and became a father on the day of his wedding. My sister’s-in-law first husband died suddenly leaving her to raise an infant and pre-school child on her own. My niece and nephew have only known my brother as their dad, and he always introduces them as his daughter and son.
Many of us know adoptive parents, foster parents, grandparents or aunts and uncles, men and women who are nurturing and loving children who otherwise would not know of the love a father and mother showers upon their child. What makes this possible? How is it that men and women feel and express parental love for children whom have no one to love them? Parental love; God’s love manifested through St. Joseph. Love that compels a foster or adoptive parent to protect and nurture a child, whether in just the moment (to rescue a child in danger), or for a lifetime.
This love is rooted in God’s redemptive love, shared with humanity as a defenseless infant, loved and nurtured by a humble, poor couple. Mary’s and Joseph’s married life was fraught with struggles, uncertainties, worries, and the fear of oppression from a conquering army just as couples today are faced with the loss of employment, overwhelming debt, illness, the special needs of a child who is handicapped emotionally, physically, or mentally.
Think of the anxieties and uncertainties a man or woman experiences when marrying into an established family. Relationships, initially established, are fragile, resentments rise to the surface, rejection, anger all can be manifested in this early stage of a new family. Patience and love can break down barriers of resentment and anger, and the awkwardness that is frequently present in a newly blended family slowly fades. Parental love, the same parental love that St. Joseph felt for Jesus, and the spousal love he had for Mary unified and strengthened the family, the Holy Family.
The Holy Family’s life was typical and representative of family life. Daily life was a struggle. There was the daily acquisition of food by purchase or barter, the gathering of kindling and firewood for cooking and heat during the cooler months, Joseph’s daily labor and the provisions he would require to sustain his strength and vitality as he worked tirelessly to support his family.
Mary and Joseph had to raise a child in a hostile environment. They had to be protective, vigilant, and loving. Mary’s love nurtured Jesus as all mothers’ love nurtures. Her love provided a secure and peaceful respite for Jesus in their Nazareth home. Joseph’s love, as the love of any devoted father, encouraged, praised, strengthened, and emboldened Jesus as a young man approaching adulthood. Joseph’s love, I believe, was foundational for Jesus’ ministry to the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, those afflicted with leprosy, epilepsy, mental illness, and many other afflictions which caused fear among the people during this era.
Jesus needed parental love just as much as we need parental love. Parental love grounds us, gives us a feeling of security, assuredness, purpose.
The love that nurtured us, nurtured Jesus, a perfect love, was rooted in Mary and Joseph. They were asked to assume a role of which neither one fully comprehended, but they had faith, they trusted, and they both gave their consent to bear this child and raise Him as their own son.
St. Joseph was asked to assume the role of the father of a child who was not biologically his own child. He would have experienced shame, humiliation, gossip, scoffing, ridicule from the villagers of Nazareth; he suffered. A loving father will endure suffering because of a deep love he has for his children, a love rooted in the Divine. St. Joseph’s love is the same love any doting father showers upon his children. This love pours forth from the Father, our merciful and loving God. The God, the Child who St. Joseph loved, cradled, played games, trained as a tradesman/carpenter, and entrusted to his son, Mary, his wife.