It’s May: get to know the silent greatness of St Joseph

This month is a great opportunity to get to know a truly remarkable saint who so often seems to be in the background. Yet, writes Bishop Richard Umbers, Joseph is a saint from whom we can learn so much ...

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Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus are depicted in a wooden creche. Even in this photo St Joseph is slightly out of focus; attention is traditionally on Our Lady and the infant Jesus. Yet Joseph is the last and greatest of all the patriarchs of Israel; into his hands was placed the care of our Blessed Mother and the Incarnation. Photo: CNS, Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier

“Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.” (Patris corde, Introduction)

St Joseph is silent throughout the Gospels. He doesn’t say a word. Yet, he is a strong, certain and undeniable presence. Although he might be silent, we can say with certainty, he is a man of action: he is attentive to God, he acts rather than reacts, he undertakes the work God calls him to do and he trusts God’s plan without knowing exactly how it will work out.

In our own lives, wherever we find ourselves in the course of our daily work – whether that be as a corporate worker, raising a family, instructing or caring for others or plying a trade like St Joseph – we are using our God-given talents in the daily duties that occupy our lives. And every day, we are faced with the difficulties, challenges, joys and enjoyment that are part-and-parcel of the life of a worker. With the challenges and the joys we are given the opportunity to choose exactly how we will respond on a daily basis.

If we look at the life of St Joseph – a silent, yet active one – he can be a model for our own working life.

Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child are depicted in the ”Flight into Egypt” fresco by Giotto in the Basilica of St Francis of Assisi, Italy. Photo: CNS photo courtesy Scala/Art Resource

Attentive to God

“He (St Joseph) didn’t fulfil the will of God in a routine or perfunctory way; he did it spontaneously and wholeheartedly. For him the law which every practising Jew lived by was not a code or a cold list of precepts, but an expression of the will of the living God. So he knew how to recognize the Lord’s voice when it came to him so unexpectedly and so surprisingly.” (Christ is Passing By, 41)

For someone to be so attentive to the voice of God – even in his dreams – is witness to the depth of his faith. St Joseph recognised God’s voice and what God was telling him. This can only be testament to the life of prayer he pursued throughout his daily life. Not only did St Joseph hear God’s voice, he also acted upon it.

Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus are depicted with Native American features in “The Nativity” by Father John Giuliani. The painting is one in a series of 14 Marian panels hanging in the Church of St Denis in Crow Agency, Montana. Photo: CNS, courtesy Father Giuliani

A man of action

“At the end of every account in which Joseph plays a role, the Gospel tells us that he gets up, takes the child and his mother, and does what God commanded him (cf. Mt 1:24; 2:14.21).” (Patris corde, 5)

How many times do we – myself included – know we have to do something, yet distraction sets in and we busy ourselves with other tasks? Procrastination, anyone?! St Joseph teaches us to act, and act with intention, direction and fortitude. Can we put distraction aside and commit to doing the task before us? By the grace of God, yes. It might take some habit-building, dedication and perseverance at first. Ask St Joseph’s intercession for the grace to be men and women of action. The will of God is often before us, in the daily living of our work and family life. Choose to act when God calls you – even if it seems mundane, but especially then.

St Joseph is depicted in a mosaic at Galway Cathedral in Ireland. St Joseph’s experience would have included daily prayer and a great expectation of the promise of salvation. Photo: CNS, Crosiers

A worker

“At the workbench where he plied his trade together with Jesus, Joseph brought human work closer to the mystery of the Redemption.” (Redemptoris Custos, 22)

St Joseph was a man who held down a trade, worked diligently day-in and day-out to provide for his family, and taught his son, the Son of God, how to work himself. And within all this, St Joseph would have likely encountered difficult customers, challenging circumstances of looking for work in a new country and establishing a new customer-base, and the physical burdens of the labour he undertook as a craftsman. Pope Francis states in Patris corde: “Saint Joseph was a carpenter who earned an honest living to provide for his family. From him Jesus learned the value, the dignity and the joy of what it means to eat bread that is the fruit of one’s own labour” (no.6). The dignity of work – and its necessary place in our lives – is “a means of participating in the work of salvation, an opportunity to hasten the coming of the Kingdom, to develop our talents and abilities, and to put them at the service of society and fraternal communion. It becomes an opportunity for the fulfilment not only of oneself, but also of that primary cell of society which is the family.” (no.6)

A depiction of St Joseph holding a carpenter’s square is seen in a stained-glass window. The feast of St. Joseph the Worker is 1 May 2021. Photo: CNS, Gregory A. Shemitz

Trust in God

Not only did St Joseph listen to God’s voice, and act upon it, he also trusted in God’s plan. The responsibility of his vocation would have been none other than overwhelming due to the incredible nature of his role as husband to the Blessed Virgin Mary and father to the Son of God. The trust he had to have to cooperate with the grace needed to fulfil his vocation bears witness to St Joseph’s humility, faith, hope and love of God. Trust in God doesn’t always come easy. “Even through Joseph’s fears, God’s will, his history and his plan were at work. Joseph, then, teaches us that faith in God includes believing that he can work even through our fears, our frailties and our weaknesses. He also teaches us that amid the tempests of life, we must never be afraid to let the Lord steer our course. At times, we want to be in complete control, yet God always sees the bigger picture.” (Patris corde, no.2)

I will leave you with these words of St Josémaria which capture the importance of all our work: “Anything done out of love is important, however small it might appear. God has come to us, even though we are miserable creatures, and he has told us that he loves us: “My delight is to be among the sons of men.” Our Lord tells us that everything is valuable — those actions which from a human point of view we regard as extraordinary and those which seem unimportant. Nothing is wasted. No man is worthless to God. All of us are called to share the kingdom of heaven — each with his own vocation: in his home, his work, his civic duties and the exercise of his rights. St Joseph’s life is a good example of this: it was simple, ordinary and normal, made up of years of the same work, of days — just one day after another — which were monotonous from a human point of view.” (Christ is Passing By, 44)

As we meditate on the life of St Joseph the Worker during this month of May, may we contemplate just how near he is to us in our daily life of work, and go to him whenever we encounter any cynicism that seeks to distract us from the present moment and the purpose to which God calls us to each and every day.

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