The foster father of the Word Made Flesh is conspicuously wordless in the Canon of Sacred Scripture.
What would he say if he could tell his side of the story?
“He’s the only man in the history of the world to live with two perfect people,” noted Joseph Benevento PhD., author of a new novel, My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son (Addison & Highsmith imprint of Histria Books), to be released on March 28.
“Joseph and Mary had a more interesting ride than most people might imagine,” said the author, a member of Mary Immaculate Parish in Kirksville and a professor of English at Truman State University.
“It had to be complicated,” Dr. Benevento asserted. “Jesus is divine, and Mary was conceived without sin. Joseph was just a regular guy. It couldn’t have been easy.”
Employing humor, pathos, decades of literary prowess and a lifetime of being Catholic, Dr. Benevento gives voice to a man who loves, doubts, obeys, laughs and occasionally weeps in this valley of tears.
“The main idea of the book is that St. Joseph finally gets to speak,” said Dr. Benevento. “It’s just Joseph telling his story of how he did the things he needed to do.”
“We take for granted that he was a righteous man, and once the angel visited him, he was good to go,” the author noted. “In my book, he’s a person who has his doubts and sometimes second-guesses what he should do.”
The story begins with the Annunciation and continues to the moment of Joseph’s death — “which is a little bit before Jesus’s ministry, so it covers essentially 30 years,” said Dr. Benevento.
“We don’t know anything about those years, except for when Jesus stayed behind with the Elders in the Temple,” he noted. “The rest is something I could use my imagination to think about what it might have been like.”
Early chapters focus on messages from angels, Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, the journey to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus, and the arrival of the shepherds and the Three Wise Men — all documented in the Bible.
“Then, my imagination kicks in,” said Dr. Benevento. “There are chapters on their time in Egypt, on Jesus growing up and learning the craft, on Joseph and Jesus going fishing together.”
The book is true to Catholic teaching, including that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life.
“That figures into their married life — what Joseph gave up out of respect for what God desired for Mary,” said Dr. Benevento.
Joseph’s narration is disarmingly candid.
“It’s my attempt to think of him as fully human,” said Dr. Benevento.
The author pointed out that numerous saints throughout history — St. Augustine, St. Francis and St. Paul, for example — struggled to find their way before fully absorbing God’s grace.
“Why wouldn’t we think that Joseph had difficult things to get through in order to get to where he finally needed to be?” he asked.
“Et beáti Ioseph”
In My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son, the angel who visits Joseph is not the Archangel Gabriel, who visited Mary.
“Joseph’s is more of a wisecracking angel named Shlomo, who’s a bit disheveled,” Dr. Benevento noted. “All of which makes Joseph wonder if he’s really being visited by an angel at all.”
The reader follows Joseph from frustration, doubt and confusion to a deeper, more complete relationship with Mary, along with clear determination that he hasn’t lived in vain.
“I wanted to be sure that I was doing right by these characters as much as I could,” said Dr. Benevento, “because they are people in heaven and I’m just me.”
Positive early reviews for the book include one from Jesuit Father Patrick Gilger, a theology professor at Loyola University in Chicago.
He told the author that it “feels like an experience of Ignatian prayer at times” — which includes immersing oneself in the stories of the Bible as an active participant.
Chapter and verse
My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son is Dr. Benevento’s 16th book and his sixth novel.
He’s published several collections of poetry and fiction, including a three-book mystery series involving an erring priest, his wisecracking brother and a quest for redemption.
Dr. Benevento’s first novel, Plumbing in Harlem, is based on his mother’s battle with cancer.
“She had a great devotion to the saints,” the author noted. “Through treatment and the intercession of the saints, she wound up recovering and living until she was 91.”
He has also had poems, stories, essays and reviews published in nearly 300 publications, including U.S. Catholic, Dappled Things, St. Anthony Messenger and The Catholic Missourian.
He edited and wrote the foreword to Brief Tracks, a collection of poems by friend, mentor and fellow Mary Immaculate parishioner, the late Jim Thomas PhD.
A grandson of Italian immigrants, Joseph Benevento was born and raised in the Queens borough of New York City.
It was a time and place where a person’s saint day was almost as important as his or her birthday.
“You’d get a card, and people would always wish you a happy name day,” he recalled.
At the same time, St. Joseph’s feastday was and remains an important observance in New York neighborhoods.
“The Italian bakeries make a special pastry just for that week,” said Dr. Benevento.
His family was unabashedly devout, with proud ancestral ties to Pietrelcina, Italy, birthplace of St. Padre Pio.
“I’m from a family of seven children,” said Dr. Benevento. “My home parish was St. Teresa of Avila. Two of my sisters still live in the neighborhood, so I still get back to that church from time to time.”
He went to Catholic grade school and a seminary high school, where he explored a possible calling to Priesthood.
“I wound up realizing that that wasn’t for me,” he said.
His childhood piety receded during his undergraduate and graduate studies at New York University, Ohio State University and Michigan State University.
“I never would have ever said, ‘No I’m not Catholic anymore,’” he stated. “But certainly, I would skip some church and I’d do a lot of thinking.”
“The most sense”
Dr. Benevento moved to Kirksville 40 years ago to teach creative writing and literature courses at Truman State.
“I came here for a first job,” he said. “I thought I’d be here for just a while, but I met and married a girl from Palmyra. We raised our four kids here. I love it here.”
His wife and their children helped rekindle his ardor.
“But to be totally honest, I’m still the kind of person that questions aspects of the faith, the Church,” Dr. Benevento acknowledged. “I’ve been dismayed by some of the scandals.
“But I always come back to — I believe in Christ, and the Catholic way of looking at things makes the most sense to me,” he said.
After four decades, he’s now preparing to retire at the end of the current semester.
His farewell reception, including a book-signing and reading from his and some of his favorite authors’ and poets’ works, will be at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 15, in the Kirksville Newman Center near the Truman State campus.
The theme will be, “Saying Goodbye: How Did It Go So Fast?”
Friends from Mary Immaculate Parish, along with former students from as far away as Arkansas, plan to attend.
“I’m very flattered and humbled by that,” said Dr. Benevento.
The first poem he plans to share will be “Sister Mary Leo,” about his first-grade teacher, who was kind and taught him how to read.
“We’ll also have music,” he stated. “I like to sing. I like to read out loud.”
My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target and other online outlets and at Dr. Benevento’s book-signing events.