St. Joseph's Silence

Recently, Pope Francis announced that this would be a jubilee year of devotion to St. Joseph, a year for us to all grow in knowledge and love for the foster father of the Lord. 


St. Joseph, famously, does not play a speaking role in the gospels, rather, his entire time “in focus” is spent either sleeping, considering what God is telling him, or acting on those commands. He is portrayed as one of the first great contemplatives, a prayerful man whose way of life can be summed up in the benedictine maxim ora et labora, prayer and work. This is one of the many reasons St. Joseph is such an important figure for us to consider as Advent draws to a close and Christmas draws near: By teaching through his example, and through his silence, we can learn the value of silence and action in a world which would like to turn Christianity into a private intellectual pursuit, devoid of real-world action or practice. Through meditating on his work, we learn to honor the dignity of the worker. Through meditating on his prayer, and his closeness to Jesus and Mary, we grow in desire for the contemplative life to which we are all called. It’s incredible how much meaning is packed into one man’s silence.


In this year of St. Joseph, then, it’s important for us to consider how we can best imitate this great model for the Christian life. Our following of his model breaks down into three basic components, as listed above: his prayer, his work, and finally, his silence. 


First, we can seek to understand St. Joseph’s life as an example of prayer. The most important part of his life, self-evidently, was spent in the company of Jesus and Mary, and as a good husband and foster-father, he was deeply invested in and devoted to them. In deep, true, love for others, it is impossible for our will to be unchanged. We begin to want what our beloved wants, just as we desire to spend time with them. It stands to reason, then, that as a byproduct of living with and loving the rest of the Holy Family, St. Joseph’s will would have been more and more conformed to their perfect wills.The object lesson for us is simple, we have to spend time with Christ and with Our Lady, especially in Eucharistic Adoration and through the rosary. 


Second, we can and should look to St. Joseph as an example of work, and as an impetus to honor the dignity of human labor. St. Joseph not only teaches us that we ought to work to provide for those we love, and that there is an inherent good in labor, as the church teaches, but also that we as Catholics have an obligation to uphold the dignity of the worker. St. Joseph’s example is one of universal care, respect, and honor, an example we should carry in our minds as we work and engage in local and national government. 


Finally, we return to the example of the silent St. Joseph.  What ought we take away from his example of not speaking, especially in this time of preparation for the nativity of our Lord? While we often talk (rightly) about the need to create space and silence for God to work in our lives, there’s more to it than that. The silence we see from St. Joseph stands in stark contrast to the silence of Zachariah, the Father of John the Baptist. Zachariah is struck silent by Gabriel as a sign, after he argues with the Archangel regarding the possibility of his son’s birth. St. Joseph, on the other hand, chooses silence, even though he has far more to complain about. Zachariah argues when God promises a miracle. St. Joseph quietly accepts the imposition of the incredible responsibility to be the foster father of the Lord. What we can take from this silence then, is both encouragement and challenge: in an uncertain and difficult time, we are asked not to complain or argue with God, not because it’s impossible, but because we choose to accept and obey his will. 


Let’s begin this year of St. Joseph well, then, by following his example and asking for his intercession. The past year has been incredibly difficult for so many: our ability to pray in our churches has been limited, many have lost jobs, and it is incredibly easy to complain, but God shows us through the example of his chosen foster father what actions we can take, and what attitudes we can pursue.


St. Joseph, pray for us.


Andy Brandt is a Senior at Kansas State. You can find him writing about Catholicism, Politics, and Justice at https://medium.com/@AndyCBrandt, though he discourages it in the strongest possible terms.

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