44 Days of St. Joseph – March 31 – Joseph, Most Just

The Gospel tells us that Joseph resolved to divorce Mary quietly on learning she was pregnant. How then was this, as the Gospel also tells us, the result of Joseph being “a just man”?

Different interpretations of the affair may answer the question differently.

Some believe Joseph thought Mary was unfaithful, and yet he did not wish her to pay the penalty of this unfaithfulness. He would thus be understood as being merciful to Mary.

Others say Joseph believed Mary’s account, but held himself to be unworthy to be her husband. Thus, divorcing her quietly would spare her the notoriety of a divorce.

In either case, it is difficult at first to see what justice has to do with it. If Joseph believed Mary, didn’t he still owe it to her to help her with this child, and therefore wouldn’t Mary be the victim of an injustice? However, if Joseph believed Mary had been unfaithful, then would he be the victim of an injustice?

Justice, however, is not primarily about what is owed — about what is out of balance. Justice, being a virtue, resides in action and will. Primarily, it is not a matter of “what is owed,” but it is a matter of “paying what I owe.” Justice is not an abstract category or descriptor of a situation. Justice is something I do.

The just man is not the man who stands for justice, who preaches justice, who advocates for justice, who passes legislation or demands justice on social media forums.

The just man is one who does justice. As the poet Hopkins has it, “the just man justices.”

What did Joseph owe, then? What was it he paid to Mary (whether he thought her unfaithful or untouchable)?

Honor. And he was willing to put himself aside to give it to her.

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