This article was originally published in The Catholic News Herald of the diocese of Charlotte
My favorite way of preparing for Advent the past few years has been to read about and meditate on the Holy Family. Last year, I read the book “Joseph of Nazareth” by Frederico Suarez, and it gave me such a new appreciation for this powerful saint.
There is so little that we can know about St. Joseph for certain, but Suarez’s book is a beautiful meditation on what the life and mind of this man must have been. Though no words of his own are recorded in the Gospels, and his passing from this world is left unmentioned, St. Joseph’s significance is clearly testified to in the role that he played as husband to the Virgin Mary and foster father to Jesus. One of the beauties of meditating on the Holy Family is the richness and clarity about what it is that makes a family, which is also meant to mirror for us the love that exists among the Holy Trinity. For God had the power to order His own family exactly as He wished.
With the many crises of faith and culture that our world is facing today, there are few examples of what fatherhood truly is, and we are suffering for it as a society. There is no greater example needed than that of St. Joseph.
I was in my late 20s when my own father passed away from cancer, and it left a hole that will never be entirely filled again on this side of heaven. There are many life events and experiences that I will not be able to share with him, there is advice I will not be able to receive, and there is a love that I can now only look for from above. But I know that I am still luckier than some who perhaps never knew their fathers or had abusive or toxic relationships with them. I was lucky to know a father’s love for nearly three decades, and I credit that with helping me to better understand our Heavenly Father’s love. How much of society’s current lack of faith comes from a lack of being properly fathered?
With constant attacks on the family and on masculinity in our culture, it’s difficult for current generations to know what true fatherhood, what true manhood, is even supposed to look like. Even for those who do understand what a man is called to be, it takes great courage and fortitude to stand against the tide of cultural trends that label all masculinity “toxic” and seek to eradicate it. Men and women alike suffer from these attacks, from the confusion of what is to be expected.
St. Josemaría Escríva says of St. Joseph, “He is an ordinary man, a family man, a worker who earned his living by manual labor.” These are not the accolades that the world normally equates with greatness, especially in our modern times. Our culture today is one of noise and busyness, where fame and money are preeminent, and everyone is shouting to be heard and striving to be seen. But St. Joseph shows us an example of just the opposite, with his silence, his obedience, his poverty, and his love and dedication to God and to his family above all else. He was a humble worker, though he came from a line of kingship, and lived a life of quiet simplicity. Among my favorite titles for St. Joseph are “Mirror of Patience,” “Lover of Poverty,” “Light of Patriarchs” and “Terror of Demons.”
Meditating on the Nativity narratives, it’s clear that St. Joseph would have needed not just meek humility, but also strength and courage. The journey to Bethlehem and then later the flight into Egypt would have required of the patriarch great physical stamina to be able to protect and care for the Blessed Mother and her Child. When the shepherds and later the magi came to adore the Christ Child, St. Joseph had the proper understanding of his own humbleness in the presence of the Child and His mother, so that he could attentively and reverently stand by while they were given their own due respect. And fleeing to the foreign land of Egypt would have put to the test all of his resources and ingenuity to be able to provide for the Holy Family.
St. Joseph was entrusted with the most serious and prestigious task given to a mortal man: he was given the care of the Christ Child and of the Blessed Virgin Mary. God chose this man to serve as His very own father on this earth, to protect Him and His mother, and to be an example of true fatherhood as he acted as the head of the Holy Family. If the Virgin Mary was the most perfect and grace-filled creature since the Fall, how beloved by God must St. Joseph have been to be given her as a wife? Yet he was not a great king, he was not rich, and not a single word of his has been left in recorded history. He was, quite simply, a good man and one that should be an example to us all.
The most important work is not always the most obvious to the rest of the world, and sometimes it can be as commonplace as the raising of a family.
As Suarez says in his book, “God relies on ordinary men to work great deeds.”