While scrolling through the newsfeed of my account, I found a link that someone had posted. It read “The Birth of Jesus in Art: 20 Gorgeous Paintings of the Nativity, Magi and Shepherds.” The site did not disappoint. Indeed the paintings were gorgeous and they depicted very creatively the wonderful scenes that we’ve all come to associate with Christmas. The paintings were dated sometime between the 1400s and the mid 1700s.
Except, something did not sit very well with me – almost all of their portrayals of St. Joseph had him a little to the side, mostly in the shadows, a little way off from the Blessed Mother and Baby Jesus. Maybe it was intended to show that he was a person of humility, or maybe it was intended to show that his role, although important could not have been as important as the Mother and the Child.
How sad, I thought, to be relegated to the background, not to mention to be portrayed as a tired old man who barely seems able to walk let alone provide for his family through the work of his hands. Although, I’m pretty sure St. Joseph doesn’t mind it one bit. He doesn’t seem to like being in the spotlight anyway.
So maybe I’m the one who has issues? I’m very fond of St. Joseph, you see. As my faith has grown so has my appreciation for the Holy Family. And while I‘ve always been close to Mary, it wasn’t until I had matured in my faith that I began to be drawn to St. Joseph.
And the St. Joseph I have in my head is a rather young man, strong and capable, hardworking and determined, humble but dignified. And I see him cradling Jesus as any father is wont to do with his newborn son. I see him laughing with his child, playing with him and eventually teaching him to pray and holding his hands when he first learns to walk, and teaching him the trade of carpentry. And always, I feel he must have carried with him the knowledge that nothing he did or ever would do would ever enable him to deserve such a grace to have Mary as his wife and Jesus as his son. How he must have loved them and treasured every moment with them! For although Jesus was not his biological son, I doubt any father loved his child more than Joseph loved Jesus or any man love his wife more than Joseph loved Mary.
And that was what made them a family, the best kind. The one where there was just love and acceptance and sacrifice and strength all around. Some families are formed by nature. But some families too can be formed from love and God’s grace.
Joseph’s love for Jesus and Mary shows us that we don’t all need to be biologically related to treat each other as fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. In fact, over the years, I seem to have collected a good number of people I’ve come to regard as family, whether they are biologically related to me or not. And I am very grateful for them. And I hope St. Joseph teaches me to be grateful for them every moment of my life.
I wish I were an artist. Sadly, stick figures are the only things I’m capable of drawing. But if I were to draw or sculpt I would definitely create more artwork that showed a joyful, vibrant Holy Family – one whose holiness came not because they had more, achieved more, earned more. But precisely because they had less but loved more.
[Originally written in TACKED THOUGHTS for The Freeman
by Nancy Unchuan Toledo]
ABOUT NANCY UNCHUAN TOLEDO
When Nancy started teaching high school at age 21, she didn’t really think she’d make a career out of it. She was right. Ten years later and she realized teaching isn’t her career, it’s her passion. Writing is her passion, too, and she writes a bi-monthly column for the Freeman. Mostly she writes about her family, her friends, her students, her experiences in teaching, her love of books and her faith. Because those are the things that she cares about the most–although not necessarily in that order.
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