Friday, March 11, 2011

St. Joseph and the Fullness of Love in the Theology of the Body

(cross-posted at Cinema Catechism)

At first, it appears that we know very little about St. Joseph, and it is true that not much is said about him in the Gospels. Nevertheless, we can discern a great deal from scripture, as well as from Sacred Tradition. But the Blessed Virgin Mary also has something to teach us about her Joseph.

As with Mary, God chose Joseph for his role in salvation history. When an angel appeared to tell him to not be afraid to take the pregnant Mary into his home as his wife, that she had conceived through the Holy Spirit, and that he should name the child “Jesus,” Joseph complied and placed himself at the service of the Lord without hesitation. He took Mary, not only into his home, but into his heart, as his wife, and he took Jesus as his own son, accepting the vocations of faithful spouse and father.

Indeed, one might argue that Joseph’s “Yes” to God was a greater act of faith than the “Yes” given by Mary at the Annunciation. After Mary had disclosed that she was with child, all of the evidence pointed toward Mary being unfaithful -- she was pregnant, he had not been with her, she didn't have a prior husband, she didn't claim to have been accosted, and that story that she was with child through the Holy Spirit lacked all credibility. But Joseph also knew that such infidelity and lying were totally against Mary's character, which he knew to be good (but certainly he could not know exactly how good and holy), and he knew that he loved Mary.

So, he had a quandry. He was conflicted. His head told him one thing, but his heart wanted to tell him something else.

When the angel visited him, Joseph could have very easily disbelieved it as merely an act of his subconscious during a dream. It is true that one in Mary's position could also have easily dismissed the visit from the angel at the Annunciation as an overactive imagination (even though being full of grace), but the message to her was soon confirmed by her pregnancy and the fact that Mary knew that she had not been with a man. However, Joseph had nothing of this world to confirm that she had not been with another man, but had instead conceived through the Holy Spirit. Joseph had only Mary’s word for it, and the word of what easily could have been his imagination in a dream.

Now, the Gospel states that Joseph was a righteous man, a just man. God is also righteous and just, but He tempers His justice with mercy, which, properly understood, does not contravene the Law, but fulfills it. It is interesting, then, that some 30 or so years later, when Jesus was confronted with the woman caught in adultery, the penalty under the Law for infidelity being death by stoning, He would respond in similar fashion, with mercy.

In saving Mary (and the unborn Jesus) from stoning to death – which Joseph had decided to do before the visit from the angel -- his was an act of mercy. It is a mercy born of love. Joseph loved (and loves) Mary, even after the stunning revelation that she was pregnant. Here was evidence of infidelity staring him right in the face, but he did not want to believe it. He loved her, and besides, he knew her character, that she would never do such a thing. So, he acted with mercy, which was the just and righteous thing to do, even if it did not appear so to worldly men, especially since Mary was, in fact, entirely innocent.

After the angel’s visit, notwithstanding good reason for doubt, Joseph placed his trust in Mary and his faith in God. He reasoned with his heart, rather than his head. Instead of demanding proof, instead of putting God to the test, without having any evidence – against the worldly evidence even – Joseph made a supreme act of faith. Joseph acted on love.

It was not until the shepherds showed up at the stable after the birth of Jesus, explaining that an angel had appeared to them announcing the good news of the birth, that Joseph had any tangible confirmation that he was right to believe in Mary – he was right to act on love and have faith in God.

Joseph was a model of love – true love – not the false so-called “love” of feelings and emotions, of making himself happy, of satisfying his own wants and desires, but true and complete love, the intense longing of purified eros and sacrificial gift of self of agape (See Deus Caritas Est). The spousal love of Joseph for Mary, and the spousal love of Mary for Joseph, was made complete by their spousal love for God, and it was in that fullness of love that the virginal marriage of Joseph and Mary was both unitive and procreative.

The spousal meaning of the human body, male and female, is not merely one of complimentariness, but shows that we are made for relationships that are (a) unitive, which brings about, not simply a partnership, but communion with the other, a mystical transcendental joining with the other such that many become one, and (b) creative, a fruitfulness that is not limited to the biological (sexual), but is transcendent; it was by the love of the Logos that the universe itself was created. In this way, although Mary and Joseph never “consummated” the marriage in the flesh (i.e. sexually), one can say that the marriage was a real marriage, made complete and whole spiritually, in the spirit of love. Their virginal marriage was unitive and fruitful in that very virginity, i.e. in their complete gift of self to God and, therefore, complete gift to each other, intimately receiving the other’s heart into his or her own person in the fullness of love.

The Holy Family is the “Church in miniature” and, together with Jesus, Joseph and Mary mirror the Trinity, a loving communion of three persons in one family, one body. Their spousal love resulted not only in communion with each other and God, but was fruitful — not only the Child they raised together and shared in spirit, if not the flesh (cf. St. Augustine, De nuptiis et concupiscentia, I:12-13), but also all those children who call His Father their Father. Joseph is protector and defender of, and provider for, Mary and Jesus and, hence of the entire Church. As such, he is a father to the children of the Church.

There is also an eschatological significance to their relationship, that is, their marriage looks forward to the New Jerusalem when we will not be given in marriage in heaven. That is, relationships will not be sexual, but will be as the virginal spousal love between Mary and Joseph. If we wish to know what eternal life in the resurrection of the body will be like, we do well to look at Joseph and Mary, a loving communion of persons, a love that is more complete and bears more fruit than any that can be conceived of in this world.

The Eschatological Significance of the Marriage of Joseph and Mary
Venerable Pope John Paul II
Catechesis on the Theology of the Body, March 24, 1982
In the kingdom of heaven “they take neither husband nor wife” (Mt 22:30). It is a charismatic sign. The human being, male and female, who, in the earthly situation, in which “they take wife and take husband” (Lk 20:34), freely chooses continence for the kingdom of heaven, indicates that in that kingdom, which is the other world of the resurrection, “they will take neither husband nor wife” (Mk 12:25), because God will be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).

This way of existing as a human being, male and female, indicates the eschatological “virginity” of the risen man, in which, I would say, the absolute and eternal spousal meaning of the glorified body will be revealed in union with God Himself, by seeing Him “face to face,” glorified moreover through the union of a perfect intersubjectivity that will unite all who participate in the other world, men and women, in the mystery of the communion of saints. . . .

Mary's motherhood is virginal, and to this virginal motherhood corresponded the virginal mystery of Joseph, who, following the voice from on high, did not hesitate to "take Mary...for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 1:20). . . .

The history of the birth of Jesus is certainly in line with that "continence for the kingdom of heaven" of which Christ will speak one day to his disciples. However, this event remained hidden to the men of that time and also to the disciples. Only gradually would it be revealed to the eyes of the Church on the basis of the witness and texts of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The marriage of Mary and Joseph (in which the Church honors Joseph as Mary's spouse, and Mary as his spouse), conceals within itself, at the same time, the mystery of the perfect communion of the persons, of Man and Woman in the conjugal covenant, and at the same time the mystery of this singular “continence for the kingdom of heaven”: a continence that served the most perfect “fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit” in the history of salvation. Indeed, in a certain sense it was the absolute fullness of that spiritual fruitfulness, since precisely in the Nazareth conditions of the pact of Mary and Joseph in marriage and in continence, the gift of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word was realized. (emphasis added)


See also Pope John Paul II, Mary and Joseph Lived Gift of Virginity
Fr. Walter Schu, Virginity and Theology of the Body
Fr. Florent Raymond Bilodeau, The Virginity of Saint Joseph in the Latin Fathers and Medieval Ecclesiastical Writers

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