Something very characteristic of sons is that, when they like something in their fathers, they say to themselves specifically that they want to do something similar someday.
It happens all the time, in matters large and small. Once I took my children on the Skyline Drive to see the fall foliage in an old Mercedes station wagon with a sunroof. At a rest stop, from a scenic overlook, a warm breeze gently blowing, my eldest looked around at the brilliant colors, simply pleased, and exclaimed, “When I grow up, I am going to take my children on the Skyline Drive!”
Just yesterday, my son – a senior in high school – couldn’t start his car. I said, “Try turning the wheel.” He turned it, and the car started. Astounded, he said out loud, “So this is one of those things you know because someone tells you. When I have a son, and he can’t start his car, I am going to tell him to try turning the wheel.”
These are charming stories that I remember because my sons spoke their thoughts aloud. But sons have many thoughts like that unspoken, and many intimations not even voiced within.
The question then arises: Among the things that Jesus said or did, are there any which, we might suppose, he deliberately did, intending to do what Joseph had done? If so, then in doing so he was reflecting St. Joseph.
We know that Jesus thought of his relationship to his heavenly Father in that way. He said that he did nothing except what he saw his heavenly Father do (Jn. 5:19). So this was a mark of the Lord’s human personality. It’s obvious, too, that in his carpentry work, at least, Jesus would have been following Joseph.
We might make something of a challenge out of it for the Year of St. Joseph: try to find passages in the Gospels where Jesus might plausibly be reflecting Joseph. The exercise can only lead us closer to Jesus and to Joseph.
One obvious place to turn is prayers. In general, sons learn private prayers from their mothers – but within the household, in communal settings, from their fathers, who lead such prayers. Does the Lord’s Prayer, then, reflect the common prayers in the household of the Holy Family, which Joseph led?
It also helps to have some kind of “instrument” or “method” of investigation. Here’s one. Suppose we take the Patriarch Joseph to be a “type” of St. Joseph, as the Church has traditionally believed, and as Popes have taught. For example, Leo XIII in Quamquam Pluries says this:
The Joseph of ancient times, son of the patriarch Jacob, was the type of St. Joseph. . . .the first Joseph won the favor and especial goodwill of his master. . .through Joseph’s administration his household came to prosperity and wealth. . . .(still more important) he presided over the kingdom with great power, and, in a time when the harvests failed, he provided for all the needs of the Egyptians with so much wisdom that the King decreed to him the title “Savior of the world.” Thus it is that We may prefigure the new in the old patriarch.
Let us suppose that, even though St. Joseph in Nazareth did not preside over great wealth and prosperity, nonetheless there was a magnanimity and magnificence in his character, which Our Lord as a child had noted and had wanted, then, to honor when he was a man, through imitation.
The obvious example would be the Marriage Feast of Cana. St. John says explicitly that Mary was invited, and that Jesus and the disciples accompanied her. (Jn. 2:1-2) This way of putting it seems meant to suggest that Joseph was no longer alive: Jesus accompanied his mother in Joseph’s stead. What he did, then, may naturally be taken to be “in Joseph’s stead,” in imitation.
His care for the newly married couple, shown in his creation of about 800 bottles of the finest wine, seems exactly a realization of what the Patriarch did, while also being a type, of what St. Joseph still does today for the Church, as Universal Patron.
Take this to be the first obvious reflection of St. Joseph in the actions of Our Lord.
But wouldn’t a second be what Our Lord said from the Cross, when he turns to St. John and confers Mary to him, with “Behold, your mother,” and Mary to St. John, with “Behold, your son.” (Jn. 19:26-27)
Again, let us assume that Joseph was no longer alive. The Fathers say that that was one motive for Our Lord’s taking care of his mother in this way. But then cannot we also say that Jesus was also reflecting a prior conferral? When Joseph was dying, he would have entrusted Jesus to Mary, and Mary to Jesus, not to effect a bond, but to affirm it, as if “take care of each other.” That Jesus had this act in mind and wanted to imitate his earthly father at the hour of his death, seems eminently plausible.
When I was doing a radio interview last week about my recent book, which is an investigation of the “reflections” of Mary in the gospel of John, my host asked me whether Mary, in turn, reflects anything about Joseph, a fitting question for the Year of St. Joseph. I fumbled and said something like, “As Mary is likened to the moon because she reflects God’s light, maybe Joseph can be likened to the earth, which reflects the moonlight. After all, like the earth, Joseph is solid, grounded, and, in his humility, a foundation.” I didn’t answer the question.
On second thought, now I might say, simply, married couples grow to be alike: to know Mary, then, must be to know Joseph.
But also, if we want to know Joseph better, then look to those places where, we can guess, the Son in Mary’s presence is specifically aiming to be like him.