When we think about Joseph, we often think about a rugged looking man in brown. He has a beard and often, he is teaching Jesus his trade or holding the baby Jesus in his arms, or leading Mary through the desert to Egypt or Nazareth. The Joseph we hardly think about is the one in the bedroom with Mary, the VIRGIN mother of God. We know Mary was a young woman and that Joseph had asked for Mary’s hand in marriage before the news that she was pregnant, so we know that he desired to be with her in a marital, sexually intimate relationship, and yet the Church teaches that Mary remained a virgin throughout her married life. Thus we can conclude that Joseph, too, remained a virgin throughout his life.
How hard this must have been! We know he was not conceived without sin and yet we also know that he won the battle for sexual purity throughout his life and remained the chaste spouse of Mary. By what graces was he able to do this and by what virtues?
Lust, as we all know, is one of the seven deadly sins, but according to Dante’s Inferno, it is the least serious of the deadly sins. And yet, as Mark Shea points out, it is the one that gets the most attention in our world today (and probably throughout history). While I understand this to be the case, it doesn’t make sense that if Lust is truly one of the least of the deadly sins (obviously, deadly means deadly serious – as in immortal-soul-is-in-danger serious), why is it the focus of our society today? Perhaps it is the initial hook by which evil grabs us and pulls us further down into despair, but I don’t think that’s the case.
In reflecting on St. Joseph and who I believe St. Joseph to be, I find that one of his defining characteristics is his humility! And what a fantastic virtue to attain! Humility, of course, is the virtue by which we conquer the vice of PRIDE, the most severe of all the deadly sins. In fact, pride is found at the base of Mt. Purgatory (again, in Dante’s Inferno) as the foundation of all other deadly sins, including lust!
And so, perhaps here we find the answer we are looking for. Lust is so tough because we are trying to tackle it from the top down rather than attacking it at the ground level as St. Joseph did. Isn’t it the case that when we lust have after another person, it is our pride which sustains the thoughts? “I could definitely see myself with her” or other much worse things. We will naturally see beauty and be attracted to it, but when we lust after someone, isn’t it nothing more than our pride telling us that we “deserve the enjoyment of that person” or that we have the ability to attain the enjoyment of that person? Pride turns our focus internally and denies the fact that everything we have, including our very own bodies, is a gift from God. Beauty is a gift from God meant to raise our thoughts toward God. Even those moments when we notice death, destruction and evil can be seen as gifts that help us to recognize and truly appreciate the life, creation and good that is God. In pride we see these things as things to be used for us and in lust, we see people in that light.
Humility, though, is the virtue in which we empty ourselves and allow God to fill us as he sees fit. We remember as we hear on Ash Wednesday, that “we are dust and to dust we shall return.” We are NOTHING, we have NOTHING, and we can achieve NOTHING without God, our creator! And St. Joseph, above all (those conceived without sin), knew this and put it into perfect practice. He could have easily “claimed his rights as a husband” and he had every right to do so, but instead he remained humbled by the gift of responsibility both he and his wife were called take on (remember, it was his ancestral line through which Jesus, the savior, was prophesied to be born! Matthew 1:1-17).
When we are able, as Joseph was for his entire life, to recognize all that we have as gifts from God; to recognize that we are nothing without God; to stand in awe at the many wonderful things and responsibilities God has given us; and to see even beauty as another gift from God to raise our minds toward Him, then, by the grace of God, we can start to conquer pride through the virtue of humily and in so doing we will be able to break free, eventually, from the sin of Lust.