Because Joseph has the unique status of being both a married man and a virgin, it is reasonable to ask if Saint Joseph can be a model for other men. After all, how can a virgin be a model for a married man? And how can a married man be a model for a priest or religious who has taken a vow of celibacy? It seems that Saint Joseph’s special calling makes him incapable of being a model for anyone else.
But the truth is that Joseph can be a model for every man in every state of life. The reason for this is that Saint Joseph offers the supreme example of a virtue which should be common to all men in every state of life: single, married, or consecrated. And that virtue is self-mastery over the power of reproduction. What defines a male of the human species is the active ability to generate life in another. A man is someone who, when mature, ought to have the ability to beget life in another. And once that life is begotten, he has the duty to protect and foster that life. But it is also true that all men are subject to original sin. And one consequence of original sin is the disobedience of our reproductive power to reason. Often enough, we feel the urge to use our reproductive power in times or circumstances when it is unreasonable to do so. This is universal to human experience. The married man finds a woman other than his wife attractive, and so feels a temptation to use his power of reproduction with her. The man who has taken a vow of celibacy finds women attractive and is tempted to break his promise to God. The unmarried, young man desires to use his reproductive power with his girlfriend, or some other woman to whom he is not married. The list goes on and on. Therefore, every man, regardless of his state of life, ought to acquire the virtue of self-mastery over his reproductive power. Saint Joseph can be a model for every man, as well as a powerful intercessor in this matter.
Saint Joseph is a model for every married man even though he never exercised his right to sexual intercourse. When a man marries a woman, he hands over to her the right over his body for acts apt to generate children. He gives the right over his generative power to another. But someone cannot give what he does not first possess. And a man who does not have self-mastery over his generative power is not able to hand the right over this power to his wife since he does not fully possess or control that power. A man who is a slave to his sexual desires cannot always control those desires. So sometimes he will end up using his generative power without his wife’s consent, or at least not in a way that respects her legitimate rights over his generative power. When a man is a slave to his sexual desires, his wife becomes a slave to those same desires, and this is extremely harmful to the sacred bond of marriage. He sometimes uses his generative power in a way that does not achieve the good of his wife and family. Saint Joseph offers a supreme example of a man who possessed control over his generative power. Though he had the right to make use of this power with his wife, he let go of this right for the sake of a higher good and vocation. For this reason, he can be compassionate towards men who are struggling to deny their lower desires in order to do the right thing. I know of many cases where due to no fault on the husband’s part, he is deprived of the legitimate use of his reproductive power. Sometimes because his wife is seriously ill, sometimes because his wife has abandoned him, sometimes because his wife refuses his reasonable requests for marital intimacy. In these instances, some husbands might say something like, “I didn’t take a vow of celibacy, so I should be free to find another wife.” But the truth is that every wedding vow is potentially a vow of celibacy because a man and a woman unilaterally and unconditionally promise fidelity to their spouse. The word “if” does not appear at the beginning of your wedding vows. And that means even if your spouse is unfaithful or unable to fulfill her part of the vow, you are still bound. And that might mean celibacy for the rest of your life. That is a sobering thought. But if wedding vows were conditional, all married love would simply be self-love. Authentic love means taking a risk. In this respect, Joseph is the greatest saintly model for every married man. He understood the struggles of being celibate and married, and he became a perfect model of selfless, married love.
This article is taken from a chapter in Saint Joseph: The Man Closest to Christ by Fr. Sebastian Walshe, O Praem, which is available from TAN Books.