Just because Scripture doesn’t record any words St. Joseph spoke doesn’t mean he lived life in the background. Surely he didn’t look on in silent passivity but rather excelled as the moral and spiritual head of his household. The May 1 feast of St. Joseph the Worker reminds us that he’s also an active role model — not only as a hard-working provider but also a loving spouse.
“Joseph’s first role is to be husband of Mary,” explains Oblate of St. Joseph Father Larry Toschi, pastor of St. Joachim Parish in Madera, Calif. “He’s the model of husbands and the model of fathers. Any good father exercises his fatherhood by first of all loving the mother. By Mary and Joseph being united in love, Jesus is raised in a home filled with love.”
Father Toschi knows whereof he speaks. In 1985, he founded the Holy Spouses Society to help couples grow deep in their dedication to one another, strong in their covenantal commitment to their family and mature in the practice of their Catholic faith.
“The Holy Spouses Society has helped us come to the understanding of how God intended marriage to be,” says member Mary Shearer. “When we respond to marriage in the way Joseph and Mary did, with humility, there’s a great joy. You grow spiritually as a couple, and your family and community benefit.”
Indeed. After attending a Life-Giving Love workshop, one of eight simple commitments the society asks of its members, Mary and husband Alan eventually became workshop presenters at their St. Joachim parish as well as at a neighboring parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Bakersfield, Calif.
They coordinate their parish’s additional six-week course in marriage prep, and have brought more than 200 adults to — or back to, or more fully into — the faith.
“It all basically started that weekend we took Life-Giving Love,” says Alan. “Spiritually it has had a tremendous effect on the family as a whole.” Their two middle children graduated from Franciscan University and their oldest has taken vows as an Oblate of St. Joseph.
The Holy Spouses Society is the vision of Father Toschi, a St. Joseph scholar. He wanted to heal marriages and prepare engaged couples to live, he says, “according to the Church’s teaching on the twofold and inseparable purpose of marriage: union in love between husband and wife, and openness to life.”
Father Toschi adds that he wasn’t finding those inseparable ends taught fully in the available programs for marital preparation and enrichment. What he saw “didn’t deal with the issue of children being appreciated as the greatest fruit of marriage, the crown of marriage, as the Church says.” The older programs “would not talk abut the immorality of contraception or the benefits of natural family planning.”
That’s why he developed the Holy Spouses Society and its Life-Giving Love weekend, and planted it on the firm foundation of Scripture, the Catechism and Pope John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World).
Oh, and he also drew from the lives of Joseph and Mary, the two holiest spouses ever.
Members attend the Life-Giving Love weekend, pray at least part of the Holy Spouses Rosary together weekly, and enthrone a Holy Spouses picture in their home. They also commit to living marriage as a vocation, valuing children as marriage’s greatest fruit, actively supporting Church teaching on marriage’s two inseparable aspects — the unitive and the procreative — and eschewing artificial contraception.
The Holy Spouses Rosary includes St. Joseph in 10 mysteries and in a prayer patterned after the Hail Mary. It’s a unique way of asking Mary and Joseph’s joint intercession.
Newlyweds and society members Marcos and Gloria Espinoza find they’re more closely united after praying this way. Marcos discovers little difficulties or misunderstandings that can be part of newly married life melt away when they pray it.
“It reminds us why we got married,” he says. “We want to be holy spouses. We’ve got to be committed to helping each other get to God.”
Praying part of this Rosary daily is also a key part of Tom and Michele Spencer’s prayer life together.
“I actually now have a much closer relationship with Joseph than I had before,” says Tom, “and a lot of it has come from that prayer.” He’s also felt led to deepen his other devotions to St. Joseph.
The Holy Spouses Rosary inspires him to meditate, for example, on Joseph’s role as familial guardian. “What an awesome task, protecting and caring for the two holiest people on our planet,” he says. “Meditating on that helps me realize how important it is for me to realize the role of being guardian of my wife and children, and trying to do that faithfully.”
The Spencers were married 25 years and joyfully open to life when they attended the Life-Giving Love workshop. (Today their 11 children range from 8 to 31 years old.) Michele says the workshop gave them a new understanding of the role children play in a marriage as God’s gifts. Today the Spencers actively work with the society’s Life-Giving Love weekends. Several of their adult children have attended too.
Love Gives Life
At St. Joachim’s, Father Toschi has made the Life-Giving Love workshop a requirement for marriage preparation. They also must attend a six-week marriage-prep program and natural family planning classes wherein the Holy Spouses become models for periodic abstinence for married couples.
“Often we have couples stop having premarital sex,” says the priest. “They prepare spiritually for the remaining months. Many testify how their relationships deepened after they stop having sex out of wedlock.”
Meanwhile married couples stop contracepting.
Husbands and husbands-to-be learn to imitate St. Joseph in myriad ways. For example, just as Joseph led his family to Egypt when Jesus’ life was threatened by King Herod, so today’s husbands and fathers must be ready to take action, says Tom Spencer.
“In many respects, we’re called to do truly heroic things to protect our family,” he adds. “We lead them where they need to be led in order to avoid falling into today’s evil traps.” Which also come in myriad forms.
Whatever the road to becoming the kinds of husbands and fathers St. Joseph the Worker would be proud of, men in the Holy Spouses Society join with their wives in walking that way faithfully, joyfully and with full faith that Christ will show them the way.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.