The times may be different, but relating to Mary and Joseph is easier than you would think
By George Valadie
A year or so ago, when The East Tennessee Catholic and I began talking about writing this column, I had but one idea to offer and it was neither philosophical nor theological. Odd I know, given this is a diocesan publication.
Simply put, maybe someone might like to read what a “husband and a daddy” has to say about life and kids, marriage and Catholic schools in this quickly evolving 21st century. A bold idea coming from me I know; egotistical some would say. I know I said it. But maybe.
The only credential of expertise I could offer was my 40 years of experience as a Catholic school teacher, a spouse and a father. Let it be noted that though I am all three, it doesn’t qualify me to be any. But it’s who I am, what I am, and it’s the perspective I bring. And I’ve found that praying for more perspective is exactly what I need.
From the very beginning, Nancy and I knew we wanted children, and while dating we had spoken often of our eventual family, the one we were dreaming we’d begin after getting a job, a running car and a savings account, preferably two of each.
I can’t help but smile thinking of the hearty, deep-throated belly laugh that roared forth from our Creator as He listened in on our dreams.
And so the “eventual” of which we spoke happened far sooner than that. In fact, we had but one job, half a running car and no savings accounts. We affectionately called her Boo-Boo long before we named her Katy. It was an attempt to substitute humor for shock.
We hardly knew how to be adults, much less parents.
I was recalling that very shock and those early days when I heard the Gospel recounting Gabriel’s visit to Mary. Confused, but faith-filled, she agreed to what she could never know. I imagine “confused but faith-filled” is how a lot of moms get this sort of news.
But being a guy and all, my thoughts keep going to Joseph, the father-to-be, and the roller-coaster ride that comes with getting such a news flash.
No, I take that back. I’ve got nothing that compares with hearing what that man heard. “I’m not lying,” Mary must have offered shyly, “an angel told me and then …” He may have had more faith than she.
The Gospels don’t tell us much about the man so I don’t have many mental images of Joseph. There are several that stick more than others.
My favorite comes from the Gospel of Luke telling of when Jesus and his family were returning home after having journeyed with a caravan for the annual Passover celebration.
Not a single miracle happened that trip. Just life. Like at our house.
In fact their experience there was the same as ours. Shopping at the mall, walking through the grocery store, playing at the park. You know that solitary moment when your heart stops dead cold, but the darker angels of your imagination won’t.
There they were, Mary and Joseph, a panic-stricken mom and dad, desperately searching for their 12-year-old after the festival in Jerusalem.
Mom: “Where have you been? You scared us to death! Are you crazy?”
Dad: “You better answer your mother, boy!”
They got an answer all right, but they didn’t understand it. I know the feeling well. It happened all the time at my house.
Luke says, “ … and his mother kept all these things in her heart.” Dads keep them in the pit of their stomach. When I get to imagine the perfect family being imperfect, it gives me hope.
The next image is one completely of my own creation, but I have no trouble whatsoever picturing Joseph the day they hauled his boy off to be killed. They didn’t have to describe all that much for me to see that scene. He apparently did not grieve publicly, that’s not hard for me to imagine either.
And lastly, I can see Joseph, this soon-to-be father, walking alongside Mary and their mule on that first trip to Bethlehem.
If they were every bit the normal couple I hope them to be, it was a rough trip. Pregnant women make lots of restroom stops; hoisting her up and down; too many bumps; and never the right kind of snacks. Glowing … but grouchy.
It was his fault they had to make the trip anyway. After all, Bethlehem was his family’s hometown, not hers. And don’t you know he just dreaded having to tell her the inn was full?
“… But honey, the man said there’s a great barn just out back. Yes, I told him we’ve been travelling all day. Yes, I told him you were gonna deliver any minute. No, I think the animals have to stay. … But it didn’t cost as much as we had planned,” he offered sheepishly, hoping for at least a smile. Hoping.
It’s Christmas! I praise Jesus and I honor Mary, but I admire Joseph. Daddies are a kindred spirit.
Dear God – We thank you for being a daddy, too. It helps us see you as our own. Merry Christmas! Amen. ■
George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.