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The husband of Mary had a perfect spouse, untouched by original sin. He was foster father to a boy who was the Son of God and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Yet St. Joseph, the least perfect member of his household, was still the head of the family. Authority does not always flow from moral or intellectual superiority. Authority in the Church, in particular, is God given. Because God chooses a certain person to fulfill a task in His household of faith, that person acts with a divine mandate to teach, sanctify, and govern the people and things entrusted to him. St. Joseph is a model for how God uses imperfect instruments to exercise His perfect will. God does not want robots, machines, or zombies to mindlessly implement His plan for mankind. The history of the Church is replete with imperfect tools who have caused scandal and division. Others have caused the Church to lose regions and whole countries to less than the fullness of Christianity. Yet despite all these unworthy instruments in the hands of the Divine Master, truth and shelter have been provided, and are still provided, for those baptized into the Master’s family.

God wants personality. God wants us to have character. God’s angels are created spirits who lack the restrictions imposed by a human body. But in not having a body, the angels also lack what makes us unique. They lack the spit, vinegar and spark that make a man a man.  Every man is an enfleshed soul, the coming together of a body and a soul. This coming together is not half soul and half body, like the mythical centaur with the body of a horse but the head of a man. When copper and zinc are welded together they form one piece of metal. But the union is not complete and does not form something new. The copper is still copper and the zinc is still zinc. But when copper and zinc are melted down to their chemical essentials and then mixed together they form brass. Brass is not copper and zinc. It is an entirely new substance. The union of a body and a soul together compose a human person, a child of God unlike any other. And this unique person is meant to have a unique personality, characteristics, dreams, and plans. God created us each to be entirely unique. And that uniqueness shows when God’s instruments fulfill their roles in His Church. The saints, in particular, were unique people often possessing strong temperaments, forceful personalities, and unbending wills. They placed their uniqueness at the service of God and His Church and helped to change the world. God did not make, and does not want, vanilla ice cream. Everyone likes vanilla. But no one likes it too much. God wants flavor.

St. Joseph was, like all the saints, unique. He probably had personal traits which were less than perfect. These imperfections were absolutely no obstacle to Mary and Jesus obeying him, loving him, and ceding to him authority in the Holy Family of Nazareth. Mary and Jesus would have happily bent to the will of their God given guide, despite their metaphysical, moral, spiritual, and intellectual superiority.

Ancient traditions hold that St. Joseph was considerably older than the Virgin Mary. Other traditions tell that he was married previously and that the “brothers” of Jesus were half brothers from St. Joseph’s previous marriage. A firmer tradition teaches that St. Joseph died long before his Son. This is based not on biblical evidence but on the lack of it. It can be reasonably presumed that St. Joseph would certainly have been physically present at his Son’s crucifixion, as was Mary. Yet no mention is made of him being there. From this absence of mention, biblical scholars have, from the beginning of the Church, surmised that St. Joseph was by then dead. Thus, St. Joseph is the patron saint of a happy death because he presumably died with Jesus and the Virgin Mary at his side. This is how all of us want to die, with Christ holding our hand on one side of the bed and the Virgin Mary seated beside us on the other side. St. Joseph died in the best of company. May we do so as well.

St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church, guide all those under the care of their pastors to see not their imperfections but their God given obligation to fulfill God’s plan. May your humble and faithful service inspire all fathers to lead their flocks with tenderness, wisdom, and strength.