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Joseph of Nazareth: The Strong, Silent, Just Man

Joseph of Nazareth has been a trusted confidant, beloved father figure, and favorite saint to me over a span of many years. Researching his life, I am reassured; I have chosen my mentor well. The same sterling characteristics – faithful, compassionate, humble, hard-working, obedient, strong, protective – reveal themselves over and over again in his story. Those, and countless other positive adjectives, make up the portrait of a righteous man whose life was centered on God and family.

But when we turn to Sacred Scripture, attempting to flesh out this man, chosen by God to fulfill an incomparable role, we encounter what appears to be a major stumbling block: not one word of Joseph’s can be found there. As a result, over time, the list of his characteristics typically has included the adjective “silent.”

When we combine that trait with what we can learn from his actions recorded in Scripture, an image emerges of a man who enjoyed a rich, full interior life. In his 1989 Apostolic Exhortation entitled Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer), Saint  John Paul II comments on this silence that characterized the life of Joseph: “The Gospels speak exclusively of what Joseph ‘did’. Still, they allow us to discover in his ‘actions’ – shrouded in silence as they are – an aura of deep contemplation.”

Saint John Paul continues, “…at the moment of Joseph’s own ‘annunciation’ [see Mt 1:18-24], he said nothing; instead he simply ‘did as the angel of the Lord commanded him’. And this first ‘doing’ became the beginning of ‘Joseph’s way.’ The Gospels do not record any word ever spoken by Joseph along that way. But the silence of Joseph has its own special eloquence, for thanks to that silence we can understand the truth of the Gospel’s judgment that he was ‘a just man’ (Mt 1:19).”

By his very silence, Saint Joseph gives testimony to the strength and power that come from a life centered in God, receptive to His voice, and obedient to His will. This critically important aspect of Joseph’s life underscored his relationship with God – a relationship based on faith, trust, and the special brand of familiarity that comes only from time spent together, from contemplation of the Other. The Father knew exactly what kind of man He wanted to assume earthly responsibility for His beloved Son; and Saint Joseph’s attitude of receptivity, fostered by an intensely profound prayer life, made him the ideal candidate.

Prayer kept Joseph open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit; these directed his everyday activities and strengthened him to fulfill God’s plan. His role in salvation history is an incomparable one, based on divine confidence in his ability to protect Jesus and Mary, to support them by the work of his hands, and to provide the perfect image of fatherly love and concern, gentle yet strong.

The example of Joseph’s life is sufficient; his words are not necessary. In the beauty of its simplicity, his life demonstrates the tremendous power inherent in qualities that the world might consider less than desirable – humility, willingness to place others’ needs before one’s own, satisfaction with a place in the background. Yet those very characteristics made Joseph the chosen one of God the Father, and defined his earthly roles as husband to Mary and foster father to Jesus.

Saint Pope John Paul II elaborates: “Through his complete self-sacrifice, Joseph expressed his generous love for the Mother of God, and gave her a husband’s ‘gift of self’ ….. it was from his marriage to Mary that Joseph derived his singular dignity and his rights in regard to Jesus.”

Never wishing to call attention to himself, Saint Joseph continues to draw our eyes to Jesus and Mary, encouraging us to make them first in our lives, just as he did in his own.

In honor of his feast day, perhaps we can spend a few quiet moments with Saint Joseph, asking him to help us strive toward his faith-filled, reflective spirit and receptivity to the will of the Father for our lives.

Perhaps we can consider the words of Saint Teresa of Avila, who encourages us to turn often to that most highly esteemed of father figures for spiritual growth and heavenly favors.

“Would that I could persuade all men to be devout to this glorious saint, for I know by long experience what blessings he can obtain for us from God,” she wrote. “I have never known anyone who was really devout to him, and who honored him by particular services, who did not visibly grow more and more in virtue, for he helps in a special way those souls who commend themselves to him.”

Toward this end, Saint Joseph’s feast day would be the perfect time to make the following a standard component of our daily prayer life:

Memorare to Saint Joseph

Remember, O most chaste spouse of the Virgin Mary, that never has it been known that anyone who asked for your help and sought your intercession was left unaided. Full of confidence in your power, I hasten to you and beg your protection. Listen, O Foster Father of the Redeemer, to my humble prayer, and in your goodness hear and answer me. Amen.

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