“I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes that you are incapable of responsibility, that you are incapable of true love. I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage ‘to swim against the tide.’ Have the courage to be happy.”–Pope Francis, in reference to the decreasing popularity of the life-long commitment of marriage.
If anyone had a reason to coin the phrase, “Everybody’s doing it,” it would be St. Joseph. After all, he was married to a beautiful woman and lived during a time when marriage and procreation were expected of almost everyone; he remained celibate even when their acquaintances all assumed that Mary’s changing figure was physical proof of her and Joseph’s intimacy; and after the baby arrived, he surely must have experienced temptations while living in such close proximity to a truly amazing woman.
He knew who he was, and he knew who his wife was. He was so grounded in his personal identity that he was unwavering and unhesitating in answering God’s call to match his family members’ level of holiness.
“Identity is tied up with belonging, and for us belonging means participating in what Jesus grounds–and Jesus grounds us in his Church, in his holy and faithful people, for the glory of the Father.”–Pope Francis, Open Mind, Faithful Heart
Joseph recognized that Mary’s true spouse was the Holy Spirit, but that the scandal of her seemingly untimely pregnancy meant she needed the protection of an earthly husband. Joseph was truly grounded in God and willing to follow His path wherever it led. He recognized that God was calling him and Mary to a different kind of fruitfulness than their culture expected from a married couple.
“Only Mary and Joseph, who lived the mystery of [Jesus’] birth, became the first witnesses of a fruitfulness different from that of the flesh, that is, the fruitfulness of the Spirit. ‘What is begotten in her comes from the Holy Spirit.’ (Mt. 1:20)” –TOB 75:2
Indeed, you might say that Jesus was the physical manifestation of the many spiritual gifts that can become ours through the pursuit of chastity. Chastity is not just abstinence. We are all called to be chaste, according to our state in life. We are all called to direct our sexual urges and desires according to God’s will.
What is essential here is that the voice of God drowns out the voice of instant gratification, licentiousness, and entitlement. Chastity teaches us to be a gift before we receive, to look out for the best interests of others before seeking to fulfill the desires of ourselves, and to maintain the self-control that allows us to be who we are.
“Man is person precisely because he possesses himself and has dominion over himself.” –TOB 123:5
St. Joseph taught us that a real man says yes to God when he is called to bring a new life into the world, no matter how many obstacles his human heart fears. He taught us that abstinence is, indeed, possible while living under the same roof as a beautiful woman. He taught us the way of peaceful joy and joyful peace by directing his physical manhood down the spiritual path that our Lord gave him. He truly swam against the tide in every way in order to be a source of strength and inspiration for all married couples who lived after him.
Yes, we too are called to be chaste! Single people, married people, widowed people, priests, sisters, monks–we are all called to a life of chastity. St. Joseph shows priests and sisters that a life of celibacy for God is possible; he shows married couples the many types of fruitfulness we are called to cultivate through our vocation; even his assumed early death left Mary in a position to inspire widows and single people to remain faithful to God. St. Joseph, in his raw humanity, managed to convey every facet of living chastely–yet another aspect of the Mystery of the Incarnation.
While all married couples are called to honor the dignity of their bodies through the practice of Natural Family Planning, not all married couples are called to live as Mary and Joseph did. In fact, most married couples are not called to that level of abstinence. But some married couples are certainly called to more abstinence than others. When these times of saying no to physical intimacy become difficult–when they seem unfair and impossible, we can call on the example of St. Joseph for strength.
God knew that us humans sometimes need a radical approach to remove the scales from our eyes and allow us to see how we are called to live. Like literally transforming the most vulnerable among us, a newborn baby, into the image of God; like baptizing the pure and sinless Jesus; like Mary receiving her first Holy Communion–the Body and Blood of the Person she once carried in her womb; like an innocent Lamb succumbing to death on the Cross; like a human body rising from the dead and ascending into heaven.
Jesus proved time and time again that going against the tide is the way to live! St. Joseph shows us that we are capable of responsibility, of true love. He was not a super natural human, nor was he a sinless human. He just lived a super natural faith, cultivated by obedience, trust, and love. And when we, too strive to live a super natural faith, we will pass on the heritage that Joseph established to our own children; we will be that parental figure of self-control, humility, and an unshakable sense of identity that is grounded in God.
So was St. Joseph crazy? Perhaps, but so is God. He is crazy in love with us and waits with open arms to welcome us home to heaven when our earthly, fallen life dies. He will continue to send people like St. Joseph to go against the tide, to do “crazy” things, and to die to self over and over again, so that others may live. This is the call to true happiness. How will you answer?