By Andrew Fernandes, Archdiocesan Catechetical Office (ACO)
The biblical image of Joseph and Mary is emblematic to families who face challenges in their effort of “becoming one”. Shrouded in mystery, and scandalous in nature, the environment of the birth of Jesus seemed to have been painted with brushes of the human experiences, where each stroke tells a story about humanity in its various forms.
The Nativity story highlights the humility of Mary as she accepts the will of God in spite of the drama surrounding her decision – one that was pivotal to the divine mission. But the person Joseph must not be devalued, as it is his actions which permit the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah to be fulfilled.
Joseph, like the men of his time, was traditional, cultured, and lived by the law (Mosaic). While the gospel generally had him silent, there is no doubt that much can be said about him.
Coming from the Davidic linage, his family was one of stature and prominence. Yet his character seemed modest in nature, deep in persona and with divine purpose.
As the story goes, having found out about the pregnancy and being a “man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, he decided to divorce her informally” (Mt 1:19). Clearly, this was not the norm, but he believed it was the right thing to do – a man with a moral conscience.
But God knew his heart and gave him another option (choice). “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” – an honour he graciously accepted.
Being obedient to God, Joseph then took the woman he loved, pregnant with a child that was not his, and left his community to start a new life with his ready-made family.
Oblivious to what lay ahead, Joseph became a stepfather, a role often misunderstood, misrepresented, misinterpreted and uncelebrated.
In our Caribbean culture, most men would have buckled under the pressure of ridicule and embarrassment and left. But what about those who choose the next option, took their ready-made families, and tried to start a new life?
Who highlights their stories?
It is said that the image of the Caribbean father is generally one that is not laudable. As such, stepfathers have stepped up – no pun intended, and picked up the slack in many cases, yet they remain unrecognised and uncelebrated.
Are you a stepfather? Do you know your role? Perhaps you may want to consider Joseph as your role model and see how you measure up.
Joseph loved God – his love for God helped him through his dilemma. At times, we question God’s love for us when faced with trials, but like Abraham, every now and again God will test our love for Him. It is this deep love for God that allowed Joseph to be obedient and accept what was before him. He trusted God and therefore trusted His will.
Joseph loved Mary – He came from a patristic tradition, where women were undervalued and their roles defined, yet there was no depiction of Mary as being beneath Joseph. To the contrary, he honoured her. Children should experience your love for their mother, especially if her past was difficult. The love Mary and Joseph shared created the ideal family atmosphere for Jesus to be born in.
Joseph loved Jesus – He looked after Jesus as his own. Even after being reminded he was not Jesus’ father, Joseph remained steadfast to his role and purpose with love. Joseph knew his role and most importantly he accepted it as his mission without reproach.
The role of a stepfather can at times be a very lonely, unappreciated one. Like Joseph, their characters can often be subdued, silent, and with guest appearances only when solicited. Unfortunately, we cannot negate that some stepfathers failed in their duties and even tarnished the image.
Thankfully, there are those who wear the title with pride, humility, grace, and love, giving honour to such noble responsibility.
In 2021, the Church celebrated Joseph, husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus. It was an opportune time to highlight the value of the stepfather in the home, especially Christian homes.
Let us pray for all the men who “were not afraid” and like Joseph, said ‘yes’ to taking their ready-made families and starting a new life. The role of a stepfather can also be humbling, enriching, and rewarding if you allow God’s will to be done.
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