1:16. And Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, called Christ.

It is truly a marvelous thing that the Savior of the world comes at the end of a long line of promise and fulfillment, prepared by God for centuries in advance. But it is even more marvelous that this Savior is not a mere man, a great human being who has been “touched” and “chosen” by God, but remains merely human; what is most marvelous, rather, is that this Savior is God himself made man, God living as a human being in our midst.And the verbs used in the text unveil this to us: egenesen (fathered) becomes egenethe (was born). The active verb becomes passive, implying an activity far deeper: the activity of God, before which the human person can only acquiesce in faith, hope, and love. Here active begetting becomes receptive birthing, origin from man blessed by God becomes origin directly from God entrusted to man. From the focus on the man and his begetting capacity, there is a shift, subtle and yet all-important, to the conceiving and bearing potency of woman, and to man’s care for the mystery alive in her: from Jacob fathered (egenesen) Joseph, we come to Joseph being the husband of Mary, of whom was born (egenethe) Jesus, called the Christ.

In other words, in the midst of this human “fathering,” at the climax of the genealogy of Jesus, there occurs a subtle and yet all-important shift: “And Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, called Christ” (1:16). Here the line of begetting, the line marked by the initiative of man, the human male, ceases, and instead a birth begins in a wholly other way: a birth from a woman who is untouched by man, and yet entrusted to a man (Joseph) who is called to shelter this child conceived of her chastely from God. In place of the man, the husband, now stands God; and in place of God stand the man, Joseph, as the representative of his paternity and the custodian of his Son. What a marvelous interchange! O admirabile commercium! Here human and divine things are interchanged, drawn so close together that they abide in a ceaseless circulation, like heart and arteries, in a ceaseless respiration, like breath within and air without.

God is here, in the conception and birth of Jesus Christ, the Father. God is the Begetter. God is the source of the life and being of Christ, the Anointed One, the Savior of the world. And the birth of his Son through Mary, and entrusted to Joseph, in fact brings to fulfillment the deepest meaning of both masculinity and femininity, revealing their innermost meaning as incarnations, expressions of the life of God himself as Father, Son, and Spirit, as Begetter, Begotten, and Womb-of-Love. The Holy Family is, thus, a living icon of the Trinity, a human reflection of the hidden life of God. Though he does not stand at the origin of Christ’s existence, Joseph is nonetheless a true father, the true husband of Mary and father of Jesus, albeit in a virginal way that does not spring from conjugal (sexual) union with Mary nor from his begetting of her child. Indeed, in the relationships of the Holy Family, all is made virginal, in anticipation of the love of eternity, the love that awaits all of us at the end of time, in which temporal sexual expression will pass away while gender finds its consummation in the virginal embrace of the Triune God.

And the masculinity of Saint Joseph is a beautiful and necessary medicine for the sickness of our contemporary world, particularly in the areas of manhood and fatherhood. Without the slightest trace of machismo or unhealthy self-assertion, without a touch of violence or force, Joseph enters into the space of greatest sacredness, the sanctuary of holiness. And he does so not to make himself known, to extend his own ego or to prove himself, but to simply offer himself in loving service and tender sheltering of the mystery that comes from God: the mystery of the woman and of the child. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). The man comes into his own, not merely as the doer and achiever, as the breadwinner, but as custodian of the holiness that his heart has a particular capacity to feel, to see, and to reverence. It is his gift and task, as man—as a beloved son of God who is also, from this space of his own belovedness, called to be husband and father and friend—it is his gift and task to be the representative of God’s tenderness, and the channel of his care.

How deeply needed is this medicine today! How far we are from true manhood, with so many men begetting children whom they abandon, and so many men with a gaze corrupted by lust in our pornified culture, seeing women not as a sacred mystery—each woman as a sister entrusted into the care of her brother—but as an object of sexual desire, exploited through the power that man supposes to have over her, but in which, in fact, he loses himself and becomes the slave to his own disorder. And ultimately, this is because we are far from standing in the light of the gaze of the true Father, the Creator of heaven and earth and the Cherisher of each human heart! May he find us in our waywardness, in which as a society we have set him aside and marked out a path for ourselves far from his face. May he come and lift us up, drawing us back from our sin and stupidity and revealing to us anew the precious communion that we have lost, Father and child, Bridegroom and bride.

How refreshing it is to see, in this respect, the true God-centered masculinity of Saint Joseph. How refreshing it is to see the chaste receptivity of Joseph, that as man he is capable of seeing, of being sensitive with a listening heart, a heart silent and pure that looks only to cherish, to care, and to protect. Regardless of the fact that so many in our society, and in fact throughout history, have despaired of any man being capable of authentically loving with tenderness, without any trace of violence or control or manipulation (or apathy and indifference on the other hand), Saint Joseph’s silent presence tells us again and again what man truly is. He, as belonging to God, is the custodian of the mysteries of God. He is the brother into whose care the mystery of woman is entrusted. He is the father into whose protection, education, and love the child is placed. He is the priest into whose hands God himself is surrendered as bread and wine, as Body and Blood, as forgiveness and truth and new life and healing anointing. Yes, the whole world, indeed, is given to man, not to dominate and control for the purposes of his own supposed power.

Rather, he is invited to stand before all in the disposition of total powerlessness, the powerlessness and vulnerability of love—that precisely thus, lifting all up in hands wounded and heart pierced, he may offer all back to God whole and entire, in resurrection and life, in the gift of his own self: “This is my body, this is my blood, given for you.” The true life of man is eucharistic, joined to the Eucharist of Christ, the true Man, and manifesting the love of the heavenly Father himself. He lives the truth inscribed in his being not when he achieves and creates by mere force of the will, or when he dominates over others, but whenever his whole being, body and spirit, is made a gift to God and to others in the passion of love, made a eucharist in union with the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. Flowing from the sanctuary of belovedness, a son within the Son, beloved within the Beloved—and never departing from this place—he finds the strength, the true power, to walk the path of vulnerable love to the very end, unto the total gift of cherishing tenderness for God’s little ones, for God’s sacred mysteries entrusted into his care, and into the fullness of intimacy with the Trinity and with every person, in this life and the next.