The Gospels instruct us about Joseph as they draw our attention to the words and actions of Jesus. Applying the principle “Like father, like son” invites an appreciation of the man who was so formative in the life of Jesus.
Mary can also teach us about the character and dedication of Joseph. After all, no one knew him better. She does not speak about her spouse, but her actions and her few words provide valuable insights. What lessons emerge for us as we consider this holy couple?
One central element is the trust that Mary places in Joseph. He invites her into his home as his wife, and she goes. From then on, Mary relies on Joseph to care for her and their child. When eight months pregnant, she travels with him to Bethlehem. At a time when a woman would want the support of her mother and other women, Mary trusts in Joseph and goes. Then, she relies on the dreams that Joseph received from the Lord as they travel into an Egyptian exile to protect Jesus. They return after a time and finally settle in Nazareth. The confidence that Mary places in Joseph in these early days could only grow as they spent years together. He was trustworthy.
A second element that Mary affirms for us about Joseph involves his faith. We often hear how the Holy Family carries out the practices of Judaism. Yet, more must be recognized. Mary’s encounter with Gabriel receives its parallel in Joseph’s dreams. He believes the impossible and she knows that he has placed his faith in the Lord. She realizes that God has acted in the life of Joseph in an extraordinary way, just as in hers. The faith of each supports that of the other. What Mary expresses in her encounter with Elizabeth through the Magnificat finds expression in the day-to-day experiences with Joseph. He was a faith-filled man.
A third element that Mary suggests about Joseph is the way in which they are helpmates. The story of the finding of the teen Jesus in the Temple provides her with an opportunity to speak this truth aloud:
When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” (Lk 2:48)
Mary expresses her concerns and those of Joseph as one. Listen again:
“Son, why have you done this to us?”
“Your father and I have been looking for you,”
“[We were filled] with great anxiety.”
Mary has no doubt but that what has been going on within her, has been going on inside Joseph. They are a couple who think and act alike. They know each other well and support each other’s actions. Joseph is a reliable companion and helpmate.
As a last point, I will insist that Mary knew that Joseph was a man who could love. He could love her as his wife and he could love Jesus as their child. I cannot imagine the Holy Family as other than a loving family. Mary could only give herself and Jesus into the arms of a man who would love them—and whom they could love. This last idea sits at the center of the lessons that Mary can teach us about Joseph. Without it, none of the others matter. Joseph is a loving man.
Mary knew Joseph. As we are attentive to her, we learn about the one who stood beside her for much of her life. What we learn lifts us up and offers guidance on how we should live in following the example of the virtuous St. Joseph.