When I was a child, I resolved to love Joseph. This was, in part, contrarianism. Mary felt like the person I should love as a child—because of her higher profile, of course, but also because Mary was a woman and I was a girl and so there was a degree of species resemblance. Joseph was not a woman, and no one I knew really cared about him, so he could be “mine” in some sense—a way of distancing myself from gender expectations, and perhaps a sign of my superior taste and judgment. (None of these things were true.)
But I still love Joseph. I’m not sure more is asked of anybody in the Nativity story—Mary included. Unlike Mary, Joseph is unnecessary. You can imagine an alternate Gospel in which he simply walks out. And he certainly disappears quickly enough from the story. He doesn’t show up with Mary to mourn his son’s death. There’s not a similarly rich tradition of art for him as for Mary.
What distinguishes Joseph isn’t his obscurity, but the quality of his faith. Joseph doesn’t see angels; they appear to him only in dreams. Joseph doesn’t conceive in virginity; but he does make the choice to believe such a thing can occur, however unlikely it might be. Nearly everything that happens to him leaves room for doubt. Joseph’s choice is to step past the doubt, to uproot his life over and over because he’s willing to believe even when not compelled to do so by direct experience.
Joseph, in other words, is us.
Joseph’s feast day often falls, as indeed it did this year, during Lent, which seems fitting. But the day that’s always reminded me of Joseph is actually Holy Saturday, perhaps my favorite day of the year. Much like how Joseph is a part of the holy family, but easily erased from it, Holy Saturday sits right between two days of supreme importance, as if the day has little to offer other than that it’s a mandatory period of waiting—holy filler.
But I’m not sure I understood something important about Holy Week before I noticed Holy Saturday. The first Holy Saturday I remember really observing was a beautiful day; I took a long walk through the town where I lived, ate a platter of eggs and buttered toast at a diner. The world felt pregnant, full of secrets, and I had the sense that beneath my feet and in the air around me something tremendous was taking place. (In a certain prosaic sense, this was true: it was, after all, spring.)