The Marriage of Mary and Joseph

Feast of the Holy Family
Emphasizes the Value of Marriage

SAN FRANCISCO, December 27, 2010 -- In the Gospel for the Feast of the Holy Family, Joseph received instructions in a dream telling him how best to care for and protect his wife and newborn son. In our modern language, we call Joseph “Jesus’ foster father”. While it may be the best we can do, the connotation is that Joseph is temporary or interchangeable. Is that really true?

What is not well understood today is the meaning of the term “betrothed”, the state in which Mary and Joseph were at the time of the Annunciation. In those days, marriage was a two-step process. First, the couple became married in the law, or “betrothed”. Some time after this, the wedding feast would take place and the couple would begin living together in the same house. So, Mary and Joseph were actually officially married at the time of the Annunciation. That is why Joseph considered quietly divorcing Mary until an angel intervened in a dream. Though Mary was a virgin, she was not “unwed”.

Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary; Mary gave birth to Jesus who is called the Christ.
(Matthew 1:16)

Why is this important? Because, Joseph is not just a “foster father”, but someone more fundamental and more connected than we have a word to describe. The betrothal of Joseph and Mary, at which time they made themselves irreplaceable to each other in marriage, precedes the Annunciation. John Paul II says, "the fatherhood of Joseph, a relationship that places him as close as possible to Christ, comes to pass through the marriage to Mary, that is, through the family.” (Redemptoris Custos, 7)

What does this mean for us? A recent Pew survey found that 44% of 18-29 year olds now believe that marriage is obsolete. Cohabitation has increased by 1,200% since 1970 and 41% of children are now born to unmarried mothers. There is a crisis of marriage in our culture and it is getting worse.

Our role as lay Catholics is to take the image of the Holy Family and translate that reality into terms understood by the culture, understood by our children. Catholics for the Common Good Institute forms lay Catholics for action to promote the centrality and integrity of marriage for children and society. Formed in the teaching of John Paul II and the social teaching of the Church, our volunteers are able to actively evangelize culture and bring the reality of marriage to the media, to legislators, and to their friends and family.

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