Joseph's perfect wife and her perfect son

March 19, 2024 at 5:40 p.m.

By Hosffman Ospino, OSV News

A while ago, writing about St. Joseph, I was intent on lifting up his human experience while calling out quick attempts to idealize this important person in Jesus's life. Joseph was a husband, a father, an immigrant, a worker, a neighbor, a friend, a companion.

In response, I received a note from Joe Benevento in July 2021. A professor of English at Truman State University for 40 years who retired in 2023, Benevento is a novelist, poet, musician, family man and committed Catholic. We've continued to correspond ever since.

He shared a similar interest in Joseph the human being, the flesh-and-bones husband and father who has been a source of curiosity and inspiration throughout Christian history, and told me about a novel he had just completed and was accepted for publication.

"My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son" (Addison & Highsmith) was released in 2023. As soon as I received a copy, I paused all other reading and delved into the novel. The work did not disappoint. It is a novel, and thus, readers must expect to encounter the literary freedoms that this genre affords.

The novel is written in the first person. Joseph, Mary's husband, tells a story familiar to Christians, yet he does it from the perspective of a man whose life is not as extraordinary as his wife's or her son's. Joseph speaks as a man who loves Mary and Jesus sincerely, yet struggles to comprehend the demands of that love.

Perhaps this is the novel's greatest achievement. It invites the reader to ponder with Joseph what does it mean to live with Mary, a woman chosen by God from eternity to be the mother of the Savior of the world, and Jesus, God's Word made flesh.

Benevento introduces us to a Joseph who must contend with the fact that he is an everyday human being, married to a woman adorned with many perfections to fulfill God's salvation plan, raising a son who is unlike any other child -- starting with the way he was conceived.

Mary and Jesus throughout the novel seem to have a good sense of God's will for them and about their roles in history. Joseph doesn't! He was not preserved from original sin. He does not enjoy any special knowledge of reality, except for what he hears in dreams.

In Benevento's novel, Joseph is attracted to Mary in the human ways that a regular husband is attracted to his wife. He loves her company, provides for her, seeks her affection and desires intimacy. He also quarrels with Mary and sometimes feels distant from her. Joseph is not devoid of humanhood.

I have read a good number of books and short stories about Joseph that portray him in almost angelic ways. Many of these have been written by unmarried authors. Benevento, who is married and a father of four children, has the audacity to tackle some topics that may seem taboo when reflecting about the relationship between Joseph and Mary. He does it with care, creativity and faithfulness to the tradition.

In his relationship with Jesus, Benevento's Joseph teaches and mentors him as a father; he gets upset and distressed at certain behaviors. He corrects Jesus when necessary. As Jesus grows into adulthood, Joseph must learn to let go. Although not a perfect father, Joseph does not appear as an absentee or disengaged one.

The Scriptures don't tell us whether Joseph ever came to terms with the experience of living with a perfect wife and her perfect son. Benevento, however, imagines Joseph on his deathbed holding their hands with much gratitude and feeling "blessed … perfectly blessed" because of them.

Hosffman Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.


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A while ago, writing about St. Joseph, I was intent on lifting up his human experience while calling out quick attempts to idealize this important person in Jesus's life. Joseph was a husband, a father, an immigrant, a worker, a neighbor, a friend, a companion.

In response, I received a note from Joe Benevento in July 2021. A professor of English at Truman State University for 40 years who retired in 2023, Benevento is a novelist, poet, musician, family man and committed Catholic. We've continued to correspond ever since.

He shared a similar interest in Joseph the human being, the flesh-and-bones husband and father who has been a source of curiosity and inspiration throughout Christian history, and told me about a novel he had just completed and was accepted for publication.

"My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son" (Addison & Highsmith) was released in 2023. As soon as I received a copy, I paused all other reading and delved into the novel. The work did not disappoint. It is a novel, and thus, readers must expect to encounter the literary freedoms that this genre affords.

The novel is written in the first person. Joseph, Mary's husband, tells a story familiar to Christians, yet he does it from the perspective of a man whose life is not as extraordinary as his wife's or her son's. Joseph speaks as a man who loves Mary and Jesus sincerely, yet struggles to comprehend the demands of that love.

Perhaps this is the novel's greatest achievement. It invites the reader to ponder with Joseph what does it mean to live with Mary, a woman chosen by God from eternity to be the mother of the Savior of the world, and Jesus, God's Word made flesh.

Benevento introduces us to a Joseph who must contend with the fact that he is an everyday human being, married to a woman adorned with many perfections to fulfill God's salvation plan, raising a son who is unlike any other child -- starting with the way he was conceived.

Mary and Jesus throughout the novel seem to have a good sense of God's will for them and about their roles in history. Joseph doesn't! He was not preserved from original sin. He does not enjoy any special knowledge of reality, except for what he hears in dreams.

In Benevento's novel, Joseph is attracted to Mary in the human ways that a regular husband is attracted to his wife. He loves her company, provides for her, seeks her affection and desires intimacy. He also quarrels with Mary and sometimes feels distant from her. Joseph is not devoid of humanhood.

I have read a good number of books and short stories about Joseph that portray him in almost angelic ways. Many of these have been written by unmarried authors. Benevento, who is married and a father of four children, has the audacity to tackle some topics that may seem taboo when reflecting about the relationship between Joseph and Mary. He does it with care, creativity and faithfulness to the tradition.

In his relationship with Jesus, Benevento's Joseph teaches and mentors him as a father; he gets upset and distressed at certain behaviors. He corrects Jesus when necessary. As Jesus grows into adulthood, Joseph must learn to let go. Although not a perfect father, Joseph does not appear as an absentee or disengaged one.

The Scriptures don't tell us whether Joseph ever came to terms with the experience of living with a perfect wife and her perfect son. Benevento, however, imagines Joseph on his deathbed holding their hands with much gratitude and feeling "blessed … perfectly blessed" because of them.

Hosffman Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.

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