“I shall be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me…Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.” is locked I shall be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me…Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.

Though little is known about Saint Joseph, and still less extrapolated, there is something profoundly important in our remembering him: he is the quiet figure standing in the background of salvation history, one whose greatest role is simply being there.

He is there for Mary, an honourable man who refuses to abandon her to certain disgrace and possible death when she is found to be pregnant and unmarried. He is there at Jesus’ birth and leads the Holy Family into exile in Egypt. He is there when Jesus makes his premature debut as a public intellectual at twelve in the Temple. And, just as the canonical gospels tell us no more of Jesus’ childhood and youth, sweeping us into his public ministry, Joseph disappears from the picture. From what we know of him, loyal and protective that he is, we can be certain that he does not abandon Mary and Jesus, but dies. In an age of widespread marital disarray, divorce, and single parent families, his example of fidelity is a challenge to all parents.

In another sense, he is also a model of the anonymous disciple, the follower who never gains, let alone claims, the limelight. He is everyone who does his or her job without making the 8pm news.

Both before and after 1994, we saw him in the millions of South Africans who tried to live a normal life in situations varying from hardship to chaos. He – and more often than not ‘Joseph’ was also she – battled to earn a living and offer a semblance of ordinary family life. Before 1994 s/he was often misunderstood as a ‘collaborator’ for not being on the barricades or at the negotiation tables in Kempton Park. After 1994, where millions of ‘Josephs’ queued for hours to vote in the Election, s/he was once more relegated to the shadows of ‘normality’ as politicians strutted their stuff in parliament, where ‘experts’ pontificated in front of cameras and in board rooms and factories where the new and old elites divided up the spoils of victory.

Will ‘Joseph’ vote in 2019? Or will s/he decide that a day’s paid leave offers more important things to do than once again elect the same celebrities who have to a large degree not made much difference to Joseph’s life. ‘Joseph’, if you’re reading this, please vote: just as your role model never gave up on Mary and Jesus, don’t give up on our democracy.

Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

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Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ entered the Society of Jesus in 2005 and underwent the usual course of studies in his formation, which took him to such varied places as Canada, France, Ireland, Kenya, Spain, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Whilst working at the Institute, Matthew managed the background technical aspects of much of the Institute's work and was involved in the Spirituality work, completing the Advanced Spiritual Directors Training Course and the Spiritual Exercises Training run by the Institute. He is a member of Spiritual Directors International and was also a part-time lecturer in Sacred Scripture at St Augustine College of South Africa. He is currently the Director of Communications for the Jesuits in Southern Africa, based in Lusaka, Zambia.

m.charlesworth@jesuitinstitute.org.za @mcharlesworth
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