Although each year it falls during Lent, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph on March 19th affords us an opportunity to celebrate. We remember the humble man chosen by God to fulfill two extraordinary life roles: husband to Mary, the Mother of God; and foster father to her Son, Jesus Christ. By reason of his exemplary fulfillment of these while here on earth, from heaven Saint Joseph assumes a third role, ongoing and continuing: patron for the faithful seeking his assistance.
The spiritual tapestry illustrating these roles in the life of Saint Joseph is woven through with a beautiful, most unusual thread: that of silence.
Turning to Sacred Scripture for insights into Joseph’s life, we learn quickly that we must depend solely on supporting narrative; not one word he ever spoke is recorded there. Appropriately then, in his Apostolic Exhortation Redemptorist Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer), Pope Saint John Paul II characterizes Saint Joseph as a man of action rather than of words: saying nothing, Joseph “simply ‘did as the angel of the Lord commanded him’ (Mt 1:24) … 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)” (17).
~ Husband ~
Although the words Joseph spoke on the occasion are unrecorded in Scripture, he would have declared his intention in the first stage of the traditional marriage ceremony according to Jewish custom. Even though celebrated some months prior to their living together, this ritual united him and Mary legally as husband and wife.
Pope John Paul teaches: “Through his complete self-sacrifice, Joseph expressed his generous love for the Mother of God, and gave her a husband’s ‘gift of self.’” And at the designated time, “Joseph obeyed the explicit command of the angel and took Mary into his home, while respecting the fact that she belonged exclusively to God” (20).
“Joseph, in obedience to the Spirit, found in the Spirit the source of love, the conjugal love which he experienced as a man. And this love proved to be greater than this ‘just man’ could ever have expected within the limits of his human heart” (19).
The Holy Father explains the sublimely spiritual intent of this holiest of marriages: “It was to assure fatherly protection for Jesus that God chose Joseph to be Mary’s spouse. It follows that Joseph’s fatherhood -- a relationship that places him as close as possible to Christ … comes to pass through marriage to Mary, that is, through the family” (7).
~ Father ~
While the silence of Saint Joseph continues as a recurring theme, we know that he would have spoken a most important word on one auspicious occasion. As Scripture recounts: “When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Lk 2:21). Giving the newborn his name was a duty of the child’s father; by doing so, Joseph was recognized legally as Jesus’ father, and Jesus was recognized legally as Joseph’s son.
Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter Patris Corde (With a Father’s Heart), enumerates various characteristics of Saint Joseph in his privileged role as father to Jesus: a beloved father; a tender and loving father; an obedient father; an accepting father; a creatively courageous father; and a working father (1-6).
With no words of his to corroborate them, these qualities shine forth nonetheless from the little that we know of Saint Joseph outlined in a scant few passages of Scripture. They describe a man of strength, courage, gentleness, devotion to wife and child, manual labor, and trusting faith in God.
The Holy Father concludes his description of Saint Joseph as “a father in the shadows … In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way” (7).
~ Patron ~
In his book entitled Through the Heart of St. Joseph, Father Boniface Hicks, OSB, uses beautiful images to provide insights into Saint Joseph’s ongoing role as our patron -- our intercessor and father in faith.
“[St. Joseph] wants to hide us under his cloak, under his wing. He wants to shelter us and be a manifestation of the Lord’s protective power. As he hid the Baby Jesus away from Herod’s wrath, so he will hide us” (p. 133). Like the best of fathers, “St. Joseph never turns us away. He never dismisses us as being too childish or too needy. He makes room for us, even allowing his own peaceful rest to be interrupted so that we will know we are safe in his care” (p. 135).
Thus reassured, when we turn to him for assistance, “With the help of St. Joseph, Terror of Demons, we can trust in God’s tender care for us to protect us, hide us, and deliver us from evil” (p. 153).
~ Conclusion ~
Father Hicks accompanies us as we conclude our reflection. “St. Joseph was a master of silence and carried out his goodness, prayer, and suffering in secret as his Son would later instruct us to do as well” (p. 54); (see Mt 6:1-6).
We know that Scripture describes various occasions when Jesus retreated in silence and solitude to commune with the Father in secret; for example, Mt 14:23 and Lk 6:12. It is not presumptuous to believe that from earliest years through manhood, Jesus had witnessed these habits in the example of Saint Joseph, the quiet, dignified father whose life truly personified strength born of silence.
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