Sunday, May 3, 2009


The month of March is the time to celebrate San Jose (Joseph), the husband of Mary and thus the (social) father of Jesus. He is saint of carpentry and shake making, among other things, but he is honored primarily for his role as father. After all he agreed to marry Mary in her time of need (being an unmarried mother was not a great alternative in that time) and raised the son of God.

My speculation began while watching a small procession carrying an image of Jose and I noticed he held a small child in his arms. What struck me was the absence of men in the procession: All but one of the main participants were women (not counting the band). The same procession was held the next day and these participants took Jose into the Basilica. Again most of the were girls and small children, again I asked myself: where are the men? (I believe that this procession came from a small P’urepecha pueblo and thus is not representative of Mexico.)

The role of men, and the acquisition of a successful male identity are difficult in many societies. But in Mexico it is thought by many that this struggle to figure out a male identity results in El Macho – the macho man. This identity leads to hiding of the intimate self and the display of an aggressive attitude in the family and in public. If we accept that this is so, then the question becomes one of finding the pathways to this identity. Nelson (1971) in her study of a mestizo pueblo in Michoacan, focuses on the role of the family – the absent and closed father and the over protective mother who evokes guilt as a way to get some of her own needs meet. While sons may go to extremes to protect their mother, she does not become a role model for her son (and this is probably so in many societies). In a Catholic society the holy family is depicted as the ideal family. Mary is indeed the ideal mother – looking out for her son and attending to many of the functions of mother and home operative. She also has the characteristics of being attentive, showing mercy, interceding with the father, patience, loving and so on. (NOTE: for more on the characteristics of Mary review the insiders guide: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Mary (2006).

But what does Jose represent for young boys? According to Nelson (pp. 71-73) many see him as the cuckold. And if Mary really was the perpetual virgin, what does this say about Jose? Who wants to be someone who dies on a cross, and does this for others? He stood up for others but never stood up for himself. Many of these characteristics sound effeminate to young boys. In addition he is presented as the diligent breadwinner and in a land of scarcity and diminished opportunities for the large numbers of children entering the world, this model is bound to lead to stress. In modern societies with the great number of single parent families, blended families, families with adopted children, and strains leading to divorce, Jose is felt to be more important then ever. However, he may not speak very directly to young men. (For more on Joseph see: Saint Joseph: His Life and Role in the Church Today by L.B. Perrotta.) Joseph’s story may have a different significance for older men as they are more acutely aware of the problems of their families arising from the large numbers of young men residing in the USA and promising to return one day. This profound decline in the numbers of young men in many communities has transformed the structure of the family.

The week prior to Semana Santa is set aside to sympathize with Mary for the loss of her son and to honour her. I wandered into a church during a mass in which gifts were brought to Mary and was quite surprised by the gifts: mops, brooms, dustpans and cleaning fluids. This left me wondering what would be brought for Jose!

There are cultural rules around gift giving in all societies. In rural Mexico it is women one sees most often presenting gifts and they draw on their strengths by presenting gifts of food. Men, however, have a long history of giving ritual gifts of alcohol, not really suitable for giving to the saints. The giving of alcohol raises many questions about its origin and about consequences for the culture. A topic for another time.

PS The photo above is not of the San Jose event but from another event in which women make offerings Mary.

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