The solemnity of St. Joseph always calls us to a time of deeper and sober reflection. In recent years, emphasis has been given to the virtue of silence and other virtues as manifested by Joseph. Another dimension of Joseph, that is perhaps worthy of consideration is St. Joseph, a man of self-acceptance.
Joseph was only betrothed to Mary but not yet married to her when it was revealed to him in a dream not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. He thus became the spouse of Mary and the foster-father of our Lord Jesus. To this faithful man was entrusted the responsibility to provide the child the needed space that would foster his healthy growth as a person. Even when it became necessary to flee from the persecution that would result in the slaughter of children, Joseph ensured that Mary, and his foster child, Jesus, could escape to a secure and safe environment.
Joseph seemed to have taken his role as father and husband seriously. He did not only ensure that Jesus was brought up in the usual Jewish tradition, he also accompanied Jesus and Mary and was present to them at all times and in all circumstances. For one to have been able to perform his role as husband and father with such admiration and dignity testifies to a man who had acceptance of self.
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Self-acceptance may be said to be the willingness to claim, to love who you are and the commitment to push that self-definition to its greatest possibilities. Furthermore, it is said that “the more accepting you are of yourself, the more able you are to be accepting of others” (Johnson, p. 322). Joseph, no doubt, accepted himself, thus enabling him to accept his wife and foster child wholeheartedly.
Joseph did not shy away from, or deny, his social class and standing. He wasn’t a medical doctor; he was not a lawyer; he was not an engineer and neither was he a priest nor a religious. He did not have a profession or career that would distinguish him as a man of high repute. But he forged ahead with his duties and was absolutely content with who he was–a man of simplicity, a man of humility, a man committed to his family, and a man who was obedient to God. Whatever talents and gifts he had as a carpenter, he made use of them to care for his family.
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Even when Jesus was performing wonders and creditably well, the people sought to demean him. The Scribes, the Pharisees and others chose to discredit the good deeds of Jesus. “Isn’t he the carpenter’s son?” they queried, thus sarcastically referring to Joseph that he belonged to a social class that was not exceptionally dignified. Similarly, in John 1:46, we read, “He is Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth. Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
In spite of all the ridicule and the dislike for his son, Joseph accepted himself, forged ahead, and carried out his duties as was expected of a father and husband. Like St. Joseph, we are called upon to be people who have acceptance of self. The one question that each of us must answer is “Why am I not myself?”
As a result of his self-acceptance Joseph could deepen his own quest to be in greater communion with God, and thus was a holy man. In the book, Design for Wholeness, the authors write, “The road to holiness is not in trying blindly to follow the virtuous path of another’s footsteps, but in faithfulness to the acceptance of the uniqueness of the person that self-knowledge has revealed” (p.91).
Each of us is unique. May we beseech God for the grace we need so that, like St. Joseph, we will have self-acceptance to enable us to faithfully live up to our commitments. St. Joseph, the Man of Self-acceptance, intercede for us!
This reflection for the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the patron saint of the Holy Cross Brothers, was written by Br. Nee Wayoe, C.S.C., a member of the District of West Africa. Currently, he is the Director of the Institute for Continuing Formation in Elmina, Ghana. Br. Wayoe is also a retreat director and gives workshops to church groups on various topics related to human and spiritual development.