Little is known about St. Joseph, other than what Scripture tells us. There are, in addition, many pious traditions and legends, which help us understand the great love that surrounds this saint. He lived 2000 years ago, and yet he is still honored and venerated today. Why is St. Joseph important for our modern world?
A Man of Mystery and Silence
St. Joseph led a hidden life. His life was so hidden, in fact, that Sacred Scripture does not give us a single word of his. St. Joseph is, possibly, the least quoted saint, simply because we have none of his sayings written down for us. And yet, in this shrouded lifestyle, Joseph teaches us how to contemplate the face of God in our daily life. His silence can be seen as an awe-struck adoration before the King of kings, whom he held in his arms! Joseph also reminds us that, despite all the distractions of our modern society, we need time for silence and reflection. This is especially true today, since there is an overpowering attempt to make loud all that should be kept silent, and to uncover all that should be held as a mystery. At one point in history, seeing a woman’s ankle was considered shameful. Today…well, I won’t describe what is considered shameful, for it ventures into a pornographic realm. Suffice it to say that anything veiled seems to suffer the buffets of a culture of revelation, in which nothing should remain mysterious, and thus, nothing should remain sacred. Joseph’s example of silence in the presence of the mystery of the Incarnate Word is a reminder of what our attitude should be before God. Since the Second Vatican Council, many unfortunate abuses and “creative” additions have evolved in the Sacred Liturgy of the Catholic Church. Some of these attempt to demystify the very mystery of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and thus make it a Protestant-style Catholic event for worship. By way of clarification, I am not here in any way criticising or condemning any of our Protestant brothers and sisters; rather, I am claiming that we, as Catholics, need to be Catholic. We are different, and that is part of our vocation—to maintain and uphold the beauty of our faith. In his earlier days, St. Joseph, too, had doubts about his vocation and the path he was to follow. Recall how he painstakingly pondered over the idea of secretly divorcing Mary, his betrothed. It was then that an angel of the Lord appeared to him, and gave him a clear direction for his life. He was never the same again.
A Man of Chastity and Solitude
In the family home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, there was a strange solitude in the heart of St. Joseph. He alone was not physically involved in the conception of Jesus. It was our blessed Mother who carried Him in her immaculate womb. Joseph’s role was to defend her purity and virginity by his own pledge to chastity. A unique marriage indeed! And yet, what great love it expresses. Many couples today sadly rely on sex as a standard of love. Some even ask, “without sex, is there love?” as they continue to live out a falsification of this act. In Joseph, we find the courage to live a chaste life, as appropriate to our state in life. For the single person (heterosexual or homosexual) that means abstinence from all sexual activity. For the married couple, it means fidelity to each other in all matters, including sexuality. At times, chastity can feel like a deserted island, where we stand alone. However, St. Joseph chose to follow his vocation to love Mary even more deeply than could be expressed through the limitations of the body—he was called to love her with a much greater purity than is required of most married couples. This should give us hope as we strive for our own chastity. Yes, it may be challenging, but often the source of challenges is the over-sexed media images we see and hear. My husband and I do not have cable TV for many reasons, but one of them is the seductive nature of so many TV ads today. I do not need to fill my mind (and my heart) with such images and ideas. In days gone by, people practiced custody of the senses, meaning that they guarded carefully what they received through their senses. The senses are a gift from the Lord, though which we experience the world around us, and thus come to know and love God more and more. Disordered sexuality or seduction do not lead us toward God, and therefore must be avoided. Most temptations require a head-on battle. Temptations against chastity, however, require us to flee into the pure Hearts of Jesus and Mary, for we are often too weak to face these alone.
A Man of Devotion and Prayer
Walk into any Catholic Church for daily Mass. Who do you see? Most of our churches are filled with devout woman. This is beautiful, but at the same time alarming. Where are the men? It is true that in many families men are the primary “bread winners” so to speak, but what about the rest? It seems that, over the ages, religion has been relegated to a feminine quality. St. Joseph was a man of deep prayer, and he can be a source of renewal in the hearts of men. Even though we do not know how he prayed (e.g. we do not have any of his prayers transcribed for us), we do know that he, indeed, must have prayed! Each act of love for his spouse and foster-child was a prayer offered to the Lord. Furthermore, his devotion to Mary and Jesus must have flowed from a heart filled with prayer. Why else would he have stayed when things got tough? Consider the flight to Egypt—Joseph was asked to take his spouse and child and flee to Egypt. He could have thrown in the towel then, and claimed it was too difficult. Afterwards, it was more than a simple walk through the park! Had he not already walked enough on his trip to Bethlehem? I am sure that, thought his life, Joseph had many opportunities to turn away, and leave the Holy Family, even if just for a time. And yet he stayed. St. Joseph’s courage in times of trial, and devotion to his family in times of difficulty is proof of a prayer-filled soul. Couples who pray together share an intimacy that is beyond a physical one—they share in the life of the soul. It is the vocation of spouses to draw each other toward Heaven, day by day. How else can a husband or wife know how to help his/her spouse on this pilgrimage unless they pray together? It is through prayer that the Lord speaks to our hearts. My husband and I take a few moments each day to pray together (yes, out loud). It was very difficult at first, I will admit, but I think that this is simply due to the fact that Satan knows the power of prayer, and even more so, the power of a sacramentally married couple who is praying as one.
St. Joseph is a model for all Christians, men and women alike. As head of the Holy Family, he is a great beacon of hope for all men in a particular way. Our culture often tries to artificially equalize the sexes. In St. Joseph we find a powerful reminder of the beauty of Christian fatherhood and manhood. For myself as a woman, I find in St. Joseph the courage to live out my vocation as wife and mother, since I know that I have a husband who is striving to be like Joseph: prayerful, faithful and chaste. St. Joseph, pray for us, that we may always run toward Heavenly things in a world full of noise and distraction!