St. Joseph seems to have been a man of few words but plenty of action. The brief stories that mention him in the Gospels leave us with a vivid impression of a strong, supportive man who revealed his feelings and beliefs more in what he did than what he said. Over the years, I have come to appreciate this humble carpenter who always seems to stand a short distance from center stage. As a foster father he fostered many great traits in his son, Jesus. Through my prayer and reflection I have witnessed four wisdom principles in St. Joseph, the patron saint of fathers, workers and of the universal church.
Every difficult family situation is best met with compassion. “Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly” (Mt 1:19).
The story of Mary’s unexpected and highly unusual pregnancy is so well known that it is hard to appreciate how scandalous this news would have been to Joseph. Few would have blamed him if he had “exposed her to shame.” But the penalty for proven adultery at that time was stoning, and Joseph chose to exercise compassion. He planned to divorce her quietly, rather than “hold her in her sin.” The grace to choose compassion opened up room for God to work in this situation and that made all the difference, not just for Mary, but for all of us.
In my own life as a dad, I recall times when I’ve acted from righteousness and times when I’ve acted from compassion. Compassion always trumps righteousness because compassion flows from human connection rather than separateness. Compassion demands that I see the one in front of me—my wife, a daughter, a co-worker, even myself—as a person and not an object deserving of an object lesson. Thank you, St. Joseph, for your example of compassion.
Expect God to speak to you. And be willing to listen. “Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her’” (Mt 1:20).
Joseph must have been used to listening for the voice of God in his life. Other men would have slept through such a dream or chalked it up to bad falafel. But Joseph listened, and then he acted decisively on what he heard, taking Mary into his home and later, at the urging of another dream, pulling up stakes and moving his young family far from Herod’s reach. I am always inspired by these examples of Joseph’s attentiveness and readiness to take action.
There were a few times while raising our daughters when my wife and I found ourselves bewildered as to what our next best step for them might be. And these words came to us one day—almost as if in a dream: “Love them through it.” We have recalled these words countless times regarding not only our daughters, but also with other family members and friends—and with each other as well. Thank you, St. Joseph, for inspiring me to listen for and act upon messages from God.
Practice your religion; it will help you discover who you are and why you are here. “According to the law of Moses they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord” (Lk 1:22), and “Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover” (Lk 2:41).
Joseph is a great example of how practicing one’s religion can be life-giving and crucial to discovering one’s truest identity and purpose. When Mary and Joseph presented the child Jesus in the temple, they encountered Simeon and Anna, two holy people who spoke of Jesus’ great role in human history and predicted how all of their lives would be extraordinary.
Later in Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus was “lost” in the temple, the family witnessed a deepening of Jesus’ understanding of his identity and his destiny. By observing the practices of his Jewish faith, Joseph experienced God doing what God always does: inviting us to open our hearts, realize who we belong to and discover our purpose in the world.
My family’s religious experiences surely pale in comparison to what happened for Jesus, Mary and Joseph, but a few moments are memorable. During a parish renewal my wife and I signed on for six weeks of small-group faith sharing—which continued on for almost 10 years. Two of those faith sharing gatherings stand out especially. When our older daughter was preparing for first reconciliation and first Eucharist, the group invited her to join us as each person shared generously and passionately what the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist meant to them. They repeated this precious gift when our younger daughter prepared for her first Eucharist. Thank you, St. Joseph, for opening my heart to the value of religious practice.
We are all here to do some work. “I must be in my Father’s house” (Mt 2:49).
This statement of Jesus in the Temple is often translated, “I must be about my Father’s work.” I’m sure St. Joseph understood Jesus’ sense of urgency. When I meditate on Joseph, I think of a life spent building things, solving problems and restoring broken items to usefulness. St. Joseph is known as the patron saint of workers, so it is not surprising to me that his son’s teachings were full of references to work: “A sower went out to sow”; “A man built a tower”; “A woman came to draw water from a well.”
Parenting children is work. Often it is hard work—physically, emotionally and spiritually. How consoling it is as a parent to have the tools of the carpenter at my disposal—compassion, attunement to God’s word, life-bringing religious practices and an awareness that God too is at work in the world and at work in me. And, as my wife and I have discovered, the parenting continues even when the children are raised and out of the house. Thank you, St. Joseph, for inspiring me to embrace the work of being a father, whether near or far.