My son Christian was searching the bookshelves yesterday, apparently frustrated by the dearth he saw there. Since we have well over 1,000 titles at his disposal, I wondered what was missing.
A Man Who Heard the Call
"There’s hardly anything on Joseph here! I understand why we need so many Mary books, but nobody says much about Joseph, you know? And he was a hero…" he trailed off.
A hero indeed. Though I hadn’t spoken it, I had been meditating lately about the heroic good of St. Joseph and the Nativity. Commonly, we look at the story of Christmas as a birth story: We have a round-bellied Madonna riding on a donkey until she gets to a cave where animals joyfully welcome a lovely baby. As a mother who has been nine months pregnant during Advent and a mother with a newborn on Christmas Day, it is easy for me to identify with the birth story.
But the Nativity story is also a story of adoption. A strong man heard the call of a God to take into his heart and home a baby that was not his biological child. Despite the raised eyebrows of those around him, and because he dearly loved his wife and the God they served, he traveled a great distance. He wasn’t sure what he’d find there; to say that the accommodations were less than what he was used to is to understate the case. And then, almost immediately, it was his job to rescue the baby, to save him from grave danger.
Once they were safely at home, he raised the child as his own. He shared the faith of his fathers; he taught him the family trade. Certainly, there were challenges in this family that related to the adoption. This child, at 12, left his foster father for three days to return to the home of his real Father. How many children of adoption have experienced that same restlessness and caused the parents who have rescued them the grief that Mary and Joseph felt while they searched for their child?
Strong and Faithful
St. Joseph was faithful. Perhaps he recognized that we are all children of adoption. We are all broken, disenfranchised, wounded and in grave danger. Our Savior makes us brothers and sisters, heirs to His throne. We become one family of faith, like that little family in Nazareth so many years ago.
For some reason, the Lord has surrounded me by the miracle of adoption. I have seven children. Five of them have godparents who are adoptive parents. Most recently, Christian’s godmother welcomed a little boy from Liberia, just in time for Thanksgiving.
When I look at the fathers in these families, I am struck by their courage. Adoptive moms assure me that adoption is rarely ever a man’s idea. And it is almost always an idea born of a woman’s pain. The sorrowful heart of a mother meets the sorrowful heart of a child and together they begin a new life. But how do they get to "together?" They become a family through the courageous actions of a man who sees the pain of his wife and listens to her as she tells him about the pain of the child. Rarely do these women beg and plead. Rather, like Mary, they trust God. They pour out their hearts in prayer and God convicts their husbands. The program director for a Catholic adoption agency assures me that this is not the case of weak, badgered men who cave to whining women. Rather, they are tender, brave men who recognize a mutual need and hear a distinct call.
The father who adopts is strong and faithful. He travels to places like Kazakhstan, Russia, China, Guatemala and even hostile Africa. He saves the baby — often from abject poverty, illness or death. He is the St. Joseph of our times.
There are literally millions of children in this world who need rescuing. We are called in James 1:27 to care for the widows and the orphans. What does that mean exactly? Do we toss a few coins in the poor box or wrap an extra gift at Christmastime — or do we take a risk? Are there brave men out there after the heart of St. Joseph who will travel great distances to difficult places to rescue a baby and give it a home all because it’s the will of God? It is the will of God.
These are the weakest of us, the poorest, the most defenseless. In this country, we cannot fathom children who scurry along the murky puddles in Haiti scavenging for a few slender fish, only to come up without anything. These children are so malnourished that their hair turns orange and falls out in clumps. There are "dying rooms" in China where children who have cerebral palsy or missing hands or missing ears are left in the dark to starve to death.
What Will Become of These Children?
And what will become of the children who grow up orphans if we do not have men like St. Joseph in our midst? According to Shaohannah’s Hope, a foundation begun by Christian music legend Steven Curtis Chapman, who has adopted three daughters,
Statistics regarding the future prospects for children who [are] emancipate[d] from orphanages, the foster care system, or who grow up as street children are profoundly bleak.... Theft, prostitution, homelessness, substance abuse, incarceration and suicide affect the lives of the vast majority of those children who grow up as orphans and never find permanent, loving homes. In short, orphans by definition are children who for whatever reason have found themselves in need of permanent, safe, and loving families. And for such children, being taken in by a family through the "spirit of adoption" is their greatest need. (http://www.howtoadopt.org/)
They were going to stone the Mother of God. Joseph knew the baby was not conceived by him. He didn’t understand it. How could this baby be his to raise? How could he be asked to overcome the opinions of his community, the misgivings of his own mind, and listen to the call upon his soul? Where would he find the courage? How could he possibly provide for the childhood of the child of God Himself? Why couldn’t this be simple? Why couldn’t he marry Mary and just conceive a baby of his own? Instead, he must set off on a two-year odyssey to a distant and hostile land to protect a baby that didn’t even look like him. And what of the future? This was an extraordinary way to build a family; how could he know what the future held, particularly with a beginning like this?
A hero? He was a hero. He was a strong, courageous man of faith. And there are men like him today. They are Paul, and Joe, and Mark, and Chuck, and Scott, and Kevin, and Ed. They are ordinary men who are called to extraordinary measures for a humble, helpless child and the love of the woman who becomes the child’s mother. They are the men of the Christmas story. God bless them!
- Elizabeth Foss is a freelance writer from northern Virginia. Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss can be purchased at http://www.4reallearning.com/.
- (This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)