How shall I approach you, Joseph, you, the shadow
of the Father? The stories vary. But who
were you, really? Were you young? Old?
A widower, with children of your own, as the Proto-
evangelium says? I have been to bloody Bethlehem
and seen the orphaned children there.
A small town, where Palestinian gunmen roamed the Church
of the Nativity, while Israeli snipers watched
from the adjoining rooftops. It is a scene not all that
different from Herod’s horsemen hunting down a baby,
though you, dreamer that you were, had already heeded
the midnight warning and fled with Mary and the baby,
And though they failed to find him, you found him, Joseph,
and raised him, teaching him your trade, two day laborers
who must often have queued up, looking for work.
How difficult it must have been, standing in, as every father
must sometimes feel. But where else did your son find
his courage and sense of outrage against injustice,
how did he become the man he was, if not for you? ’Didn’t you know
I had to be about my father’s business?’ Thus the boy, at twelve,
there in Jerusalem. Words which must have wounded
though they put the matter in its proper light. After that, you drop
from history. Saint of happy deaths, was yours a happy death?
Tradition says it was, logic seems to say it was,
with that good woman and that sweet son there by your side. For the past
two months my wife and her sister have been caring for their
father, who is dying of cancer. There is the hospital bed,
the potty, the rows of medicine to ease the growing pain. From time
to time he starts up from his recliner to count his daughters
and his aged Irish bride, thinking of a future he no longer
has. When she was little, my wife once told me, she prayed daily
in the church of St. Benedict to St. Joseph that she might
have a daily missal. One day, a man in coveralls
came up to her--and without a word-- her one with your name
on it. Oh, she said, her parents would never allow it.
Put a penny in the poor box, then, he said, and
turned, and disappeared forever. Who was he? I asked.
You know as well as I do who he was, is all she’d say.
Joseph, be with her now, and with her father, as he faces
the great mystery, as we all must at the end, alone. You seem
like so many other fathers, who have watched over
their families, not knowing what the right words were,
but willing to be there for them, up to the very end. Be with them now,
as you have been for countless others. Give them strength.
And come, if need be, in a dream, as the angel came to you,
and came to that other Joseph in Egypt so many years before. Be there
as once you were in Queens and Bethlehem and Nazareth.
You, good man, dreamer, the shadow of the Father.