Mary and Joseph: the model married couple

July 20, 2018

The Pastor's Page

Holy CoupleIf Jesus, Mary and Joseph are the Holy Family, then Mary and Joseph are the Holy Couple, and if the Holy Family serves as the model for Christian families, then Mary and Joseph serve as the model for Christian couples that are living the Sacrament of Marriage.

Before they lived together (Mt 1:18). Mary and Joseph were betrothed, a Jewish ritual ceremony in which the bride and groom dedicate themselves to each. The period of betrothal lasts approximately one year, a time when the bride and groom live apart, usually in their parent’s homes, and abstain from sexual relations. Mary and Joseph did not cohabitate before marriage, and the moral standard that they followed still applies to couples that intend to be married today. Decisions about living arrangements before marriage are not to be governed by apartment leases, home purchases, insurance coverage, work or school schedules, or concerns about compatibility, but rather by the conscious decision to reserve one’s self totally for one’s spouse, and to share the intimacy of marriage only after their commitment to love each other for life has been sealed by God in the Sacrament of Marriage and witnessed and ratified by the Christian community gathered at worship in church.

Joseph, “a righteous man”(Mt 1:19), and Mary, “favored one” (i.e., “full of grace”) (Lk 1:28). Even before they were married, Joseph already was a righteous man and Mary already was full of grace. They knew God’s laws and obeyed them, had an established pattern of upright living, practiced the virtues, prayed regularly, and had a strong desire to please God. It was their firm intention prior to marriage to set their union on the solid rock of their faith in God and their spiritual values. Every prospective bride and groom while a child, adolescent, or young adult, before dating or while dating, should spend their days making spiritual headway as devout believers and dedicated disciples, growing in wisdom, favor, and grace (see Lk 2:40), learning and obeying the Gospel, receiving the sacraments, and becoming good and holy people, so when they exchange their vows, their marriage will be anchored upon the foundation of their faith that is deep and solid and constructed over many years.

Obedient to angels. Joseph and Mary received appearances from angels. An angel told Joseph to take Mary as his wife (Mt 1:20), to take Jesus and Mary and flee to Egypt (Mt 2:13), and once harm had passed, to take Jesus and Mary and return to Israel (Mt 2:20), and in each instance, Joseph obeyed immediately without resistance or delay. The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she would be the mother of the Son of God (Lk 1:31,35), and she replied, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). The angels were messengers of God and conveyed God’s will, and both Joseph and Mary trusted God and obeyed. Likewise a Christian couple, both before they are married and after, pay attention to God’s will, however it is conveyed, and without resistance or delay, obey promptly and completely.

[Joseph] took his wife into his home (Mt 1:24). Joseph and Mary began to live together at the angel’s bidding, and for them to establish a home, it also presumed that their betrothal had ended and that they were married within the Jewish faith. Wherever they were living, probably in Nazareth, they would have gone to the synagogue and exchanged their marriage vows before a rabbi according to the prescribed ritual in the presence of fellow Jews that were members of the local synagogue. Similarly a Catholic, when the engagement ends and before they live together, brings the marriage to a Catholic church, the couple exchanges their consent before a priest or deacon according to the Catholic form, and does so in the presence of their family, relatives, and friends who represent the local parish and the universal Church.

At home together. Mary and Joseph shared a beautiful mutual love. They were not married singles, individuals that happened to be living under the same roof, selfishly pursuing their own interests, with personal gain and fulfillment as their main objectives. Rather, Mary gave her life as a total gift to Joseph, and Joseph, in turn, gave his life as a total gift to Mary. Their love was selfless. Their approach was not, “What is in this for me?” and “What would make me happy?” but rather, “What would make my spouse happy?” They were not focused on compromise, “I get my way some of the time and you get your way some of the time,” but rather, “It is my aim to please you and promote your wellbeing all of the time.” They shared their lives completely. They communicated with each, shared their dreams and disappointments, joys and worries, ate meals together, willingly performed household tasks together, prayed together, and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company.

A home filled with love. Love is a virtue (1 Cor 13:13), it was the bond between Mary and Joseph, and it permeated their home. They were consistently kind and patient with each other. They were humble and modest; polite and respectful; supportive, positive, and encouraging; appreciative and complimentary; calm, composed, and self-controlled; able to see things from their spouse’s point of view; willing to give the benefit of the doubt; compassionate, forgiving, and reconciling; open, truthful, and honest; gentle and tender; generous and grateful; joyful, peaceful, and faithful. By practicing the virtues together, Mary and Joseph made God the center of their marriage. They had the wisdom to know that one spouse goes through the other to God. The more a spouse loves the other, the more the person loves God, and conversely, the less a person loves the other, the less the person loves God.

Mary conceived (Lk 1:31,35). God blessed Mary and Joseph with a miraculous conception. Even though the circumstances at the beginning of their marriage were awkward, and the child in the womb might have been considered a hardship or an inconvenience, Mary and Joseph embraced the new life, safeguarded it, remained unwavering in their love for each other, brought the child to full term, and were overjoyed at his birth. A Christian couple eagerly anticipates the prospect of having children, and if God blesses them with a miraculous pregnancy, even if not under ideal circumstances, the couple welcomes the new life, protects it from all harm, and does everything possible to insure the child’s birth.

[Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son (Lk 2:7). When Jesus was born Mary instantly shifted into service mode when she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. Married love is generous. Mary and Joseph’s marriage did not revolve around themselves, their pursuits, careers, hobbies, and standard of living. They knew that a child would require time, attention, and sacrifice, and they gladly dedicated themselves to the care of the child that God had entrusted to them. A Christian married couple is not only loving and generous with each other, but eager to share their ever-increasing love with their children.

Traveling partners. Mary and Joseph made one journey after another together. During their early years they traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Bethlehem to Jerusalem, Israel to Egypt, Egypt to Judea, and Judea back to Nazareth. After they settled in Nazareth they made an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover. In addition to the long journeys, they made many short trips, to the synagogue, the markets, and friends’ homes. The journey may have been to obey a government order, fulfill a spiritual duty, or for safety and security. Some were made at an easy pace, others made hastily and under great duress. No matter the situation, Mary and Joseph were inseparable, step by step, helping each other along the way, sharing each other’s burdens. Their marriage journey continued for many years and they were ever-faithful. A Christian wife and husband are traveling companions for life, helping each other wherever they may go, particularly when travel conditions are most difficult.

Synagogue and Temple. It was Mary and Joseph’s custom to go to the synagogue on the sabbath day (implied in Lk 4:16), and each year they went to the Temple in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover (Lk 2:41). They were a church-going couple and worship was the centerpiece of their week. They attended sabbath after sabbath and faithfully obeyed God’s commandment (Ex 20:8-11; Dt 5:12-15). In the same way, a Christian marriage is in a spiritual partnership, and in addition to a wife and husband’s daily prayers together at home, they go to church every weekend, and their week revolves around the celebration of the Mass. It is their shared opportunity to give God praise and thanks for their blessings, to be nourished by Word and Sacrament, and to give and receive support from the other members of the community.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

View all posts by Father Michael Van Sloun