It seems as if we live in a world where the person with the most impressive number of retweets, the highest Q-rating, the loudest megaphone and the most vitriolic opinions get all the attention. We’re drawn to controversial views and high decibel levels like bees to honey.
Largely forgotten in all this white noise is a time-honored maxim that honors a person’s true character: “Actions speak louder than words.”
We’d be hard pressed to find a better example of this wise saying than the life and legacy of St. Joseph, husband of Mother Mary and foster father of Jesus.
“It’s important for us to have people who are ordinary, those who don’t make the headlines all the time, in order to be good examples for us,” says Fr. Christopher Smith, rector and episcopal vicar of Christ Cathedral. “Most people can identify with that kind of person, someone not in the limelight all the time. Joseph is a good example of that, and that’s partly why he’s such a good role model.”
St. Joseph is a good role model for fathers in particular, since his actions revealed character traits that would make anyone a fine dad. In fact, the Bible contains no actual words that St. Joseph ever spoke. As Fr. Christopher puts it, “He has no lines.”
“He’s literally a silent figure,” says Katie Dawson, the Diocese’s director of Parish Faith Formation. “We’re told about his character, but we don’t actually hear from him at all.”
It’s what this humble, responsible man did, and how he lived, that has made a lasting impact on the world.
St. Joseph was compassionate. When he learned that Mary was pregnant, he knew that the child was not his. Even before learning that she was carrying the Son of God, and knowing that women accused of adultery could be stoned to death, he chose to not expose her to humiliation or worse.
“Knowing that he wasn’t the father, St. Joseph was willing to divorce her, or separate from her quietly, because this is what the law required,” Fr. Smith says.
St. Joseph was a man of faith. In the Book of Matthew, an angel came to him in a dream and told him, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.”
“Trusting in God’s presence – that is what he did,” Fr. Christopher says. “He was told in [another] dream not to return to his hometown after Jesus was born for the safety of the child. He listened and obeyed … in order to keep his child safe from King Herod. He was willing to settle his family in a whole new town, Nazareth, again by paying attention to a dream and trusting in the presence of God. He accepted his then-12-year-old son’s explanation when Jesus was found in the temple preaching after having been lost, that Jesus had to ‘be about his Father’s business,’ again trusting in God’s presence. By any standards, these were very challenging circumstances and through it all Joseph placed his and his family’s lives in the hands of God, even though he surely did not always understand what was being asked of him.”
A carpenter by trade, St. Joseph was hard working and responsible. “He was a lover of his work,” Dawson says. “And he led Jesus. He showed Him how to do things. He walked with Jesus. Jesus probably shadowed Joseph during the day.”
For all of these good deeds, and so many more (with nary a word in Scripture), the foster father of Jesus was proclaimed patron of the Universal Church, by Pope Pius IX in 1870. Although he was also named patron of fathers, unborn children, workers, immigrants and a happy death, “The most important title is patron of the Universal Church,” Fr. Christopher says. “Pope Francis has proclaimed this year, beginning December 8, 2020, as the Year of St. Joseph.”
Along with these accolades, Catholics celebrate two feast days for the man who eschewed the limelight: March 19, for St. Joseph the husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus; and May 1, for St. Joseph the Worker.
Closer to home, last month the Diocese’s Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry did a 30-day consecration to St. Joseph, studying “Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father,” by Fr. Donald Calloway.
Dawson notes that St. Joseph’s greatest gift to Jesus may have been that he was always there for Him. “The critical place of St. Joseph in Jesus’ life is that he was present. The presence of a father in a child’s life is so very enriching.”
“The scripture says that, with Mary and Joseph, Jesus grew in wisdom, age and grace,” Fr. Christopher says. “How beautiful for fathers to describe their own fatherly roles as helping their children in 2021, and beyond, to grow in wisdom, age and grace. Fathers everywhere can look to the example and prayers of St. Joseph to help them accomplish such an honorable goal.”