Today we celebrate the “divine cuckold.”

Today, March 19, is the feast of St. Joseph, husband of Mary, father of Jesus.  He has always been my favorite saint.  Even after I left the Catholic Church more than 50 years ago, I remain devoted to St. Joseph.  The quiet father who took care of things behind the scenes in the drama of his son and wife.

Some people describe Guanyin as the Buddhist “Virgin Mary.”  I think that St. Joseph is an even better model of the bodhisattva, who sacrifices everything for the sake of others.  I recently posted about how much the story of Guanyin, in the form of the bodhisattva Avalokitesavara, influenced my journey since the death of Laura.  This story also played a big role in my attraction to Buddhist practices, and I now see that as a continuation of my devotion to St. Joseph

Joseph the Worker.  The name that my first wife Mary and I gave our first born.  Joseph Mubundi, who grew up to become a skilled auto mechanic.  “Mubundi” is a word in Kimeru, the local language where Joseph was born, equivalent to the Swahili “fundi,” skilled worker.  Joseph the Worker, the only religion of my marxist years.  I used to say that I didn’t believe in god, but I believed in St. Joseph.

René Fortin, one of my English professors at Providence College in the early 60s, loved to throw intellectual hand grenades into the placid pools that were the minds of young men raised in the Catholic ghettos of the 1950s.  I still remember the shock when he paraphrased Leslie Fiedler’s description of St. Joseph as the “divine cuckold.”  Shock, because I then believed it was literally true, even if I wouldn’t express such a sacred doctrine as the Virgin Birth so bluntly.  Here is the passage from Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel that Dr. Fortin was referring to:

The orthodox Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost has yielded in art and the popular imagination to the baroque trinity, derived ultimately from Venus, Vulcan, and Cupid, and still, despite the new names of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, what it always was: an archetypal representation of cuckold, mother, and son, the last degradation of fatherhood.

Enough with the smartass cuteness.  I’d like to end this memory of Joseph with the powerful monologue of his widow in Colm Toibin’s Testament of Mary.  She is reflecting on a chair in her room, a chair that is never to be used.  It belonged to

a man who will not return, whose body is dust but who once held sway in the world.  He will not come back.  I do not need to keep food for him, or water, or a place in my bed, or whatever news I could gather that might interest him.  I keep the chair empty.  It is not much to do, and sometimes I look at it as I pass and that is as much as I can do, maybe it is enough, and maybe there will come a time when I will not need to have such a reminder of him so close by.  Maybe the memory of him as I enter my last days will retreat into my heart more profoundly and I will not need help from any object in the room.

She says it all.


  1. Dear Ken,
    A lovely posting, as always. The passage from Colm Toibin reminds me of Edie, a woman whom I met in Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church, where I used to go. Edie had lost her beloved husband Warren, and despite being coquettish and perennially youthful, her pain remain palpable several years after Warren had died. One day Edie and I were commiserating on how it’s the little things you miss, and she told me how she will never get rid of Warren’s chair because many times when she passed by it Warren would caress her butt, a playful gesture that said all there was about their marriage.

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