What’s in a name? In the case of St. Joseph — whose solemnity the Church marks March 20 — there’s plenty.

Dominican Father Michel Gasnier, author of Joseph the Silent (Scepter, 2002), notes that the humble carpenter’s name is an acronym pointing to his most outstanding virtues: Justness, Obedience, Silence, Experience (wisdom), Purity and Humility.

So it is that St. Joseph says so much to us even though he spoke not a single word that ended up in the Bible.

Let’s start with the first of those, urges Oblate of St. Joseph Father Larry Toschi, pastor of St. Joachim Parish in Madera, Calif. Justness, he explains, is often translated  as “righteous” and applied to the greatest of the patriarchs, such as Noah and Abraham.

“To be just means to be holy as God is holy,” adds Father Toschi. “Being just means being centered in God. It encompasses all the virtues in the Bible. The upright man is a man of faith and trust in God’s providence.”

There you have St. Joseph in a nutshell. And there you have a model for today’s men.

“We can imitate him by putting God first in our lives,” says Father Toschi, who wrote Joseph in the New Testament (Guardian of the Redeemer Books, 1993).

But we’re only getting started. For Joseph is also an obedient man. He never questions what God tells him and follows the Lord’s lead without delay, explains Father Toschi. The flight into Egypt, he says, is a prime example of joyful, active obedience.

“Then there’s the obedience in his daily life as father, husband and worker,” continues Father Toschi. “He obeys God’s will for him in the ordinary duties of daily life.”

In Flowery Branch, Ga., like so many fathers, Mark Fiorentino puts this self-sacrificing obedience in action on those days when everything seems to be going wrong and there can be a temptation to feel like staying in bed and skipping work.

Fiorentino knows his duties and goes to work joyfully even on days when his enthusiasm for the particulars of his job might be lagging. “There’s a peace,” he says, “knowing you’re doing what God wants you to do.”

Fiorentino tries to practice “the responsibility of the present moment — what God calls you to every second of the day, really living a consecrated life, basically abandoning every minute to God and asking him to guide you through your day. To me, St. Joseph was the epitome of that.”

He’s trying to instill in his children — his wife, Nancy, points out that he and their four sons have “Joseph” as part of their names — that feelings should never take priority over faithfulness. On nights they don’t feel like feeding the dog, he reminds them that, if they go by their feelings on the matter, the beloved family pet would starve.

Prayer and Action

As Brian Holt, a father of seven youngsters in Corcoran, Minn., sees it, “St. Joseph did things. He didn’t talk about them. Men are doers, not talkers.”

That brings up silence, another of Joseph’s virtues needing especial imitation in today’s noisy culture. Father Toschi reminds that Joseph was a man of contemplation as well as action.

“He’s called the man of silence because Scripture records no words he said,” Father Toschi points out. “The one word we know he had to say was ‘Jesus’ because he was told by an angel what to name Mary’s child.”

“We must say the name of Jesus as Joseph did: with faith,” he counsels. Using it with reverence counteracts the way many people today use Jesus’ name to express anger or shock. Such irreverence, he says, is a byproduct by our culture’s lack of silence.

As for experience (wisdom), what more do we need to know about St. Joseph than the simple fact that God chose him to teach Jesus how to be a man? ’Nuff said there.

Today we also need to look to Joseph’s purity. He didn’t enter marriage with Mary seeking self-satisfaction, explains Father Toschi. Likewise, married couples have to always express self-giving and be sensitive to one another. 

“It’s important not to use contraception,” he says, “because it offends against purity.”

Of course, true purity is even more about what we should do than what we shouldn’t. “Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance,” the Catechism reminds us (No. 2521). “Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.” St. Joseph personified.

In Whitehouse, Ohio, Kathy Montion says mirroring St. Joseph’s virtues of purity and prudence in the workplace are important for her husband Pete, a carpenter with a strong devotion to St. Joseph.

She admires the way he gets up and walks away when his co-workers start “trash talking” during break time. “He doesn’t participate in that kind of talk,” she says.

“He actually took a stand against pornography at his old company,” she says of the material one worker posted. “Pete told them, ‘Either that goes or I go.’ He said he couldn’t imagine St. Joseph working in that environment.”

The company removed the offensive material. The bonus: “People said to Pete, ‘I really appreciated your stand on that.’”

The Montion family — including eight children — have a daily devotion to St. Joseph, thanks to Pete. He made him the family’s special patron.

Kathy sees her husband also imitating St. Joseph’s humility.

“He never put himself on a pedestal, she says. “He does beautiful carpentry work and doesn’t take credit for it. He does that all the time.”

Kathy points out that, many times in the carpentry business, men will only work on jobs they think are interesting and fun. But her husband has always done less “glamorous” work, such as roofing, “because he’s happy to provide for the family,” even though he’d much rather be doing the creative and artistic works he’s capable of.

This is exactly the kind of humility St. Joseph would have, Father Toschi indicates. Today’s society tells us we have to be first, stand out in the crowd and pile up possessions, money and big accomplishments.

St. Joseph never tries to stand out; he never tries to put himself first,” says the priest. “He puts God first and he puts his wife above himself. It’s an awareness of the truth of who we are before God. He did the ordinary things every day with love.”     

In his 1989 encyclical Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer), Pope John Paul II quoted his predecessor Paul VI on this very principle about St. Joseph:

“[H]e is the proof that in order to be a good and genuine follower of Christ, there is no need of ‘great things’ — it is enough to have the common, simple and human virtues, but they need to be true and authentic.”

That’s the stuff that makes us saints. We have no better model of that to follow than St. J-O-S-E-P-H.

Joseph Pronechen writes from
Trumbull, Connecticut.