Throughout the past couple of weeks leading up to Christmas we heard quite a bit about the Blessed Virgin Mary and John the Baptist, but one of the often forgotten figures of Advent is the earthly father of our Lord, St. Joseph.
Someone recently asked me about why we hear so little about St. Joseph nowadays, especially about seeking his intercession. I couldn’t agree more! It seems that the only time we hear anything about praying to St. Joseph anymore is when one is trying to sell their house by burying a statue of him in their yard.
There is so much that St. Joseph teaches us about how we are to respond to the will of God in our own lives. Joseph is the virtuous man that was chosen to be most chaste spouse of Mary and the earthly father of God’s only Son.
In the Biblical passage about the conception of our Lord in the womb of the Virgin Mary we hear that Joseph, upon finding that Mary was pregnant, decided to leave her quietly, that is, until the Angel of God comes to him and a dream and reveals God’s plan to him. Joseph abandoned the thought of leaving Mary to do what was right – trusting to God’s divine plan.
Pope Benedict XVI explained that St. Joseph is “certain of doing the right thing.” In following the directives of God, said the Pope, “Joseph joins the ranks of the humble and faithful servants, like the angels, prophets, martyrs and apostles.”
I think that St. Joseph could be portrayed as one of those “behind the scenes” sort of guys. He is one of those biblical figures that doesn’t get much praise or acknowledgement, but one who is essential and irreplaceable in God’s plan. His entire role in the Gospel is to protect and watch over God’s only Son and his mother, Mary.
A recent article I read pointed out three things that we can learn from St. Joseph. The first is the “Treasure of Silence.” How many words of St. Joseph, the man closest to Jesus, are there recorded in the bible? Not a single one! But it is in his silence that God speaks to us. We hear in the psalms, “be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). We are all busy and know how much noise there is in our lives. St. Joseph teaches us to be quiet and listen to God in the silence of our hearts.
The second point is that “actions speak louder than words. When God wanted to communicate something to St. Joseph, he spoke to him in his dreams. Most of us would say that there is only so much credibility that one can place on dreams, but for St. Joseph, he was certain that it was God’s will. Sacred Scripture tells us that when he awoke, “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Matt 1:24). God wasn’t just asking him to be a better person, to pray more or to do random acts of kindness, but was asking for total trust. St. Joseph doesn’t question or ponder how to respond, he just does it. Here we see St. Joseph embracing what Jesus would teach many years later “not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven (Matt 7:21).
The final thing that St. Joseph teaches us is how to embrace “grace under pressure.” If we think about the stressful situations that St. Joseph finds himself – his betrothed wife is found to be pregnant and he knows that he is not the father; as his wife is about to give birth they are called to travel a long distance to Bethlehem; early in Jesus’ life, they are told to flee to Egypt; and let’s not forget that he and Mary lost God’s only Son for three whole days when he was only twelve years old. In all of these situations, we see that Joseph, a simple carpenter, relied on God’s grace to handle difficulty and challenges with firm trust and faith in God.
As we prepare for Christmas, let us look to St. Joseph as a model of how we are to be faithful to Christ and how we are to live out that faith, trusting in God’s will for our lives and always being open to his grace.
Pope Benedict XVI explained that “In Joseph, faith is not separated from action. His faith had a decisive effect on his actions. The life of Saint Joseph, lived in obedience to God’s word, is an eloquent sign for all the disciples of Jesus. His example helps us to understand that it is only by complete submission to the will of God that we become effective workers in the service of his plan to gather together all mankind into one family” (March 18, 2009).
In 1889, Pope Leo XIII explained that “It is fitting and most worthy of Joseph’s dignity that, in the same way that he once kept unceasing watch over the holy family of Nazareth, so now does he protect and defend with his heavenly patronage the Church of Christ.” We look to St. Joseph, a simple and ordinary man, and from his saintly example we learn how to virtuously respond in faith to the many challenges that we face in our everyday lives.
Through God’s grace and the intercession of St. Joseph, may we all strive to live holy and virtuous lives!