Advent Ponderings on the Silent Saint — Part 2
If this were not so, it would have been little shield for Joseph to have taken a pregnant girl into his home as his bride. The townspeople would have forever been under the impression that this child had been conceived out of wedlock. I, for one, cannot think that Almighty God would have allowed there to exist the appearance of scandal at the Incarnation of His Only Begotten Son. St. Bernard corroborates this position. He says, “It was needful that Mary be affianced to Joseph since the vigilance of her betrothed would thus safeguard both her chastity and her public repute. What could more befit the wisdom and dignity of God’s providence? By this providential arrangement there was someone to be entrusted with Heaven’s secrets, and the good name of the Virgin Mother was protected from slander.”
If this premise is established, it then becomes evident that Mary’s pregnancy was a dilemma to no one but Joseph. The townspeople would then think this was just the legitimate offspring of Joseph and Mary, as it is declared in St. Luke’s Gospel when he writes, “When Jesus began his work, He was about thirty years of age, being, so it was supposed, the son of Joseph….”
With the annunciation of her own motherhood fresh upon her heart, we next see Mary setting out with haste to see the sign of her aged cousin’s pregnancy. She went with haste; that is, without making any preparations and without giving Joseph an explanation. She would remain with her cousin Elizabeth to assist her at the time of her delivery and to help care for the newborn infant John. What a gracious nurse the young Mary must have made! After a few months, she left Elizabeth, Zachary and John to return to Nazareth.
Soon after her return, the signs of her own childbearing became evident to Joseph. Immediately he must have been thrown into bewildered consternation. “What is this? How can this be?” His beloved affianced one with child? If the thought of adultery passed through his mind at all, surely it did not lodge there for long. He could clearly see that his promised one was still as radiant and pure as she had been before her sojourn to Aim Karim. Or, perhaps, now she was even more radiant with the Godchild within her very body.
Besides this evident purity and candour emanating from his fiancee’s entire being, a second reason why I do not think that Joseph suspected adultery is because the Gospel tells us that Joseph was a just man, and because he was just he was unwilling to expose her to the law. If he were a just man who thought his betrothed had betrayed him, he would obviously have been obliged to expose her to the law. Is not the Gospel telling us that he was just in the sense of holy, so holy that he could see beyond the external appearances to the spiritual. He could see that his betrothed was still radiantly pure. One look into her eyes would have told him that. Her purity would not allow for such sin. There had to be another explanation.
I have read several authors who have also expressed this belief that it is impossible to imagine Saint Joseph attributing the sin of adultery to his beloved fiancée. The two most prominent are St. Jerome and St. Bernard. St. Jerome says, “Joseph knew Mary’s holiness hid in silence a mystery he did not understand.” St. Bernard tells us, “St. Joseph would not have been just if he had connived with her known guilt. He could not bear to expose her to a trial under the law because he did not think she was guilty of sin. He saw and trembled at the signs of the divine presence in Mary.” Father Denis O’Shea tells us, “Joseph did not think she had been guilty of sin. He was a just man and so would not risk a miscarriage of justice by bringing her before a public court. He knew she had not sinned. He recalled her glorious, steadfast eyes, her lovely face, her modest mien, her air of candour and innocence, her whole person breathing purity. It were profanation to doubt her!”