Friday, July 25, 2008

St. Joseph: Extraordinary Husband

Today we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, the Church's clarion call for couples to embrace God's original design for married love. One quote in particular caught my attention:

"Men rightly observe that a conjugal act imposed on one's partner without regard to his or her condition or personal and reasonable wishes in the matter, is no true act of love, and therefore offends the moral order in its particular application to the intimate relationship of husband and wife." Humane Vitae #13

Have you ever thought about what it was like for St. Joseph to live with Mary without ever touching her? Imagine the gentle beauty that must have radiated from his young wife, how difficult it must have been for him to live within arm's reach of her year after year ... and never touch her?

Some say that St. Joseph was much older than Mary, as though age alone would have put out the fire. But is there ever an age when a man looks on his loving wife and does not feel a stirring within? My father's eyes still gleam when he watches my mother bend over the stove, saying, "Just 'cuz there's snow on the furnace doesn't mean there's not fire in the furnace" or "God gives a man only so many hormones ... If some choose to use theirs to grow hair, that's their business."

Others contend that St. Joseph was a virgin from the beginning (and that the "brothers and sisters of Christ" were in fact cousins) ... but even those who have never experienced married love are not immune to the charms of a woman. Unless he was on a steady diet of saltpeter, at some point Joseph must have had to choose to contain his own urges for the sake of his beloved.

The vows of celibacy taken by priests at their ordination mirrors this kind of sacrificial self-giving. For the sake of a greater good -- the good of the Bridegroom for the Bride -- he remains faithful to her regardless of what it costs him personally. Like the Lord himself, he offers himself up -- body and soul -- and denies himself what others might perceive to be "normal" appetites to satisfy a higher calling.

It is this satisfaction that gives priests everywhere the insight they need to counsel husbands who are being called to a higher level of self-sacrifice themselves. Called to love. Called to give.

Called to worship.