A Unique Fatherly Mission
Fr Jean Galot, S.J., professor emeritus of Dogmatic Theology at the
Gregorian University, prepared this reflection for the Solemnity of St
Joseph, 19 March 2002. Fr Galot presents the spiritual mission of St
Joseph who had a formative influence on Jesus in the house and workshop
of Nazareth. Here is a translation of his French meditation.
While Mary's motherhood is easily understood and her exalted
mission is expressed in the title: "Mother of God"; the
fatherhood of St Joseph is more delicate to explain. To distinguish it
from ordinary human fatherhood, a putative fatherhood has been ascribed
to Joseph in the sense that others thought of him as a father when in
fact he was not. This notion of putative fatherhood is based on the
declaration in the Gospel of the identity of Jesus as "the son (as
was supposed) of Joseph" (Lk 3,23). This poses a problem: why
should there be a difference between what was thought and the reality?
It would seem to suggest that Joseph's fatherhood had nothing real about
it, that it came from an erroneous opinion concerning Jesus' origins.
Therefore it is important to make an effort to determine the best way of
describing Joseph's fatherhood according to the testimony of the Gospel.
One is struck by the fact that the Gospels do not hesitate to
attribute a role as father to Joseph. The Evangelists, who have shown
the most clearly that Joseph played no physical part in the conception
of the Child, are the very ones that highlight the fatherly role that
Joseph played in Jesus' childhood. Thus Matthew's Gospel tells us that
Joseph was not informed of the origin of the Child and that he learned
of it by an exceptional message from on high. But Matthew is careful to
mention that Joseph received with this message the father's
responsibility of giving the Child the name of "Jesus" (Mt
2,21). We observe that it would be impossible to conclude that his was
merely a "legal fatherhood", on account of Joseph's being a
descendant of David. Indeed, the fatherly responsibility entrusted to
him goes beyond the mere assigning of the Child's name. Just as he is
asked to take Mary, his wife, into his home, he is called to exercise
the role of father in the family of Nazareth. At the invitation of the
angel, the divine will is manifested.
We find the same thing in the Gospel of Luke. The narrative of the
Annunciation makes us understand that Joseph had no part in Jesus'
conception. Later, however, in the accounts of the presentation of Jesus
in the temple, then of his being lost and found at the age of twelve,
Luke is careful to note Joseph's participation together with Mary in
these events. It is both Joseph and Mary who went to make the offering
of the Child in the temple, who heard Simeon's prophecy and were filled
with wonder at the messianic future of the One who is the light destined
to enlighten all peoples. Moreover, it is Joseph and Mary who suffer
together in losing the Child and rejoice together in finding him. These
Gospel accounts show that Joseph assumed his responsibility as father in
the family life at Nazareth.
Thus it is difficult to ascribe to Joseph a merely putative
fatherhood, for his is a real fatherhood toward Jesus, even if his
fatherhood does not involve any cooperation in the conception of Jesus.
The qualification of merely legal paternity would have the disadvantage
of implying that his fatherhood was only a juridical property. Joseph's
fatherhood consists rather in his personal involvement in fatherhood,
that comes to him by means of a juridical title, which was consecrated
by the nobility of the mission entrusted to him.
Thus it is important to recognise in Joseph a real fatherhood, with a
fatherly mission, fatherly sentiments and fatherly responsibility. The
fact that he was not Jesus' father from the physical point of view, does
not in the least prevent him from exercising fatherhood at a higher
level. In particular, he fulfilled a task of outstanding importance:
with his fatherly education, he helped Jesus grow and develop in the way
most suitable for his mission. We can consider an aspect of this
development in Jesus' learning the carpenter's trade which Joseph wanted
to transmit to him along with the skill required by the trade. However
there are other aspects, for education deals with the interior life of
the person. Joseph must have received remarkable divine gifts in order
to communicate to Jesus good example in everyday life and encourage his
progress in the spiritual life. By being incorporated into the life of
Jesus, this example has been a blessing for humanity.