It was important to me that I study Joseph, foster father to Jesus, the week of Christmas before I wrote his icon. We are so focused on the story of Mary and Jesus (rightfully so), but I think we tend to gloss over the importance of Joseph in the story of the nativity.

Societal constructs at the time indicated that couples were betrothed out of necessity, not out of love, and that many times men were much older than the women they were promised to. Women were giving birth as early as 13 or 14 years old. So this may give an indication of the age difference between Mary and Joseph. It is said that when Joseph was lined up to be chosen as Mary’s husband among other men, his staff bloomed with lillies, and that is why his traditional icons are depicted with a blooming staff.

It was also common at the time that if there was a need for divorce, such as for reasons of adultery, that it was done publicly and ended with the woman being stoned to death. So imagine the consequences that Mary faced when she came back to town after visiting her cousin and was visibly pregnant before she had even lived with Joseph? He could easily have subjected her to a public divorce ending in her death. But even before the angel came to him saying that she was telling the truth of a virgin birth, he said he would quietly depart from her, refusing to sentence her to a sure death. Then after the angel confirmed her story, he stayed, no questions asked, and protected her and Jesus for the rest of his life.

This all says so much about a man of his time. Such integrity, kindness, care, and goodness. He should be an example to every man out there, every caregiver, and every guardian of every family.

Joseph is the patron saint of fathers and happy death. He is also known as the “terror of demons.” For everything was set out against him, to separate him from the holy family, from protecting Jesus, yet he defied all odds and listened to everything God told him to do despite the consequences. Happy death? I’m not sure there is ever a “happy death,” but maybe that is because he was surrounded by love and those closest to him when he died and that’s what we can all hope for.