The definition of patience seems to fit well with the character and personality of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus and the spouse of Mary. Patience can be defined as ‘The ability to suppress restlessness when delayed. It is waiting without complaint. It is being quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence: to work with patience.’
The gospels describe Joseph as a just man. To be just is necessarily being patient; bearing all provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like. Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced to the young virgin that she has been chosen by High God to be the Mother of the Saviour. She struggled with the high profile message and eventually accepted it and submitted herself to God.
But Joseph was not fortunate to be visited by an angel to give him an announcement of God’s will and given an opportunity to discern the will of God. The unfolding events in his life as well in the life of his betrothed spouse Mary, whom he was waiting to marry in the course of few months was not clear to him, but even frightened him. Patience of Joseph was put to test. He was tested to prove his love of God and his long lived virtues of integrity and uprightness was given a litmus test. It was not easy for him to accept the course of events. Things seem to have taken place already and he felt taken for granted and injustice was done to him.
Being a just man wanted to put away his pregnant fiancé quietly rather than bringing disgrace upon her by exposing her apparent lose morals. He knew very well the consequence that could take place. Perhaps it was a manifestation of his love for Mary and how he admired her virtues and her suitability to be his loving wife. Now having met unfortunate events, he wants to solve the problem without a public trail. He knew well that public trail means “mob justice” that will see his fiancé stoned to death.
Someone said, “Patience is the ability to count down before you blast off.” Joseph was made known merely through a dream that God is acting with his betrothed wife and he too is pulled into the picture. It is now only a matter of time to count down for events to unfold. Humanly speaking, he swallows his pride, calmly and quietly accepts the events in Mary’s life and in his own. Now it is his turn to cooperate with God.
Though Joseph’s submission to God is not as dramatic as that of Mary, he willingly cooperates with God. This is his fiat. He too said like Mary, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your will.” His “Yes” brought for him immediate challenges. Now he has to stand by his wife and move along with her in fulfilling everything as God has planned.
Often we describe Mary’s travel to the hill country of Judea to visit Elizabeth as a journey to help a woman in need. We glorify Mary’s willingness to be of assistance to Elizabeth, a co-pregnant woman. But we are not wrong to say that Mary went to a far away country from the spying eyes of his neighbours and acquaintances to hide her pregnancy. Reading between the lines of the gospel stories we can conclude that it was a joint decision that Joseph and Mary took to travel to a distant land where Mary can be in peace and be assisted by an understanding cousin rather than being helpful to her. They never returned to their home for several years.
Now the troubles of Mary are troubles of Joseph as well. The task of bringing forth the saviour is their common task. Challenges of fatherhood, motherhood and parenthood started for them before even the child was born. They tested his character, integrity and personality. Indeed Joseph was a man of patience in great heights.
The life of Joseph explains in practical terms that patience is the state of endurance under difficult circumstances, which can mean persevering in the face of delay or provocation without acting on annoyance/anger in a negative way; or exhibiting forbearance when under strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties. Patience is the level of endurance one’s character can take before negativity. It is also used to refer to the character trait of being steadfast.
Patience can be our virtue only with the strength of the character; it is a will to have it and practice it throughout the day and throughout our life. Patience is a decision that we make our life pleasant, happy and acceptable to others. Perseverance is a requisite for patience. Without determination and temperance patience cannot be practiced and maintained. The life of St. Joseph manifests to us that he never wavered in his decision to accept Mary as his wife and the forthcoming Son as his child to care for. His decision to be patient came with many challenges, not just for a year or two, but for several years, perhaps his whole life.
May St. Joseph’s faithful life continue to inspire us in the virtues of patience and perseverance.
Fr. Lazar Arasu SDB
(Dean of Students, University of the Sacred Heart, Gulu)