A True Father of Faith

THE JUBILEE OF ST. JOSEPH: Seven Spiritual Lessons for Mature Manliness

LUCA GIORDANO, ‘THE HOLY FAMILY WITH ST. JOSEPH AT THE CARPENTER’S BENCH,’ C. 1696
LUCA GIORDANO, ‘THE HOLY FAMILY WITH ST. JOSEPH AT THE CARPENTER’S BENCH,’ C. 1696 (photo: Public domain)

In this Year of St. Joseph, there are many ways all the faithful of the Church can learn from St. Joseph how to be just, to obey God, to center one’s life on Jesus, to love the Blessed Virgin Mary, to live the gospel of work and to prepare for a holy death. 

But there’s a particular need for men and boys to learn from this great saint. Western culture is experiencing a crisis of masculinity brought about by several factors: a patriarchy-smashing radical feminism that tries to shame men simply for being men; gender theory, in which masculinity is reduced to a psychological concept; poor role models among celebrities, athletes and even clergy; caricatured depictions in movies, on television and in contemporary literature; and perhaps, most of all, from a crisis in fatherhood, which reduces fatherhood to a biological phenomenon and often leaves children without the human and spiritual dimensions of mature manliness. 

What lessons can men and boys learn from St. Joseph during this special holy year and beyond? We can focus on seven. 

First, St. Joseph shows us how to be a “just man” (Matthew 1:19) by “ad-justing” his whole life to what God was asking. About King Saul, the prophet Samuel said, “The Lord sought a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Saul didn’t live up to that divine desire. St. Joseph did. 

Second, St. Joseph shows us what real faith means. “Throughout all of history,” Pope Benedict XVI said in 2009, “Joseph is the man who gives God the greatest display of trust, even in the face of such astonishing news.” 

He shows us that obedience to God isn’t a threat to one’s freedom. Four separate times, he obeyed promptly and completely God’s commands conveyed to him in dreams, which he refused to deconstruct or dismiss. His whole life, like Mary’s, was a fiat. Many saints have compared him to Abraham: Both were willing to leave one’s own country at God’s command without knowing the future; both trusted that God could give a child outside the laws of nature; and both were willing to allow a chosen and beloved son to be sacrificed, knowing that God had the power to raise him. Like Abraham, St. Joseph is a true “father in faith.” 

Third, St. Joseph reveals to us the characteristics of authentic fatherhood and the role of the father in the family. “Fathers,” Pope Francis writes, “are not born, but made. A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility to care for that child.” 

Joseph’s fatherhood was not grounded in biology but in his marriage to Mary, in his naming Jesus, and in the faithful and loving spiritual commitment he made with Mary to be at the service of Jesus’ life and growth. A true father, he provided for the Holy Family from his hard work as a carpenter. He was also a protector, someone saints have called the “savior of the Savior of the world.” 

God the Father, to whom Joseph’s fatherhood pointed, had such trust in his capacity promptly to defend Jesus and Mary that he waited until the last second, in a dream, to tip him off that Herod’s assassins were approaching. It’s no wonder why the Church has been similarly entrusted to his paternal care. Regardless of one’s state in life, every man can learn this type of spiritual fatherhood from him. Pope Benedict encouraged all dads to “take St. Joseph as their model,” since he shows the “deepest meaning of their own fatherhood.” 

Fourth, St. Joseph shows us how to love chastely. Chastity is a precondition of love, because it keeps eros selfless rather than selfish, loving rather that lustful. Even though Mary was the most sublime creature God ever formed, and even though Joseph lived with her for 12 to 30 years, he protected her vocation to virginal maternity. 

Some people like to imagine that Joseph was 250 years old and therefore well beyond the stage of physical attraction, but this just robs him of his virtue, not to mention infelicitously puts him in the category of really old men who marry really young women. St. Joseph lived with the most integrally beautiful woman of all time and loved her, ardently, but chastely, showing us that real spousal love can and ought but does not need to be expressed uniquely in genital relations. 

Fifth, St. Joseph shows us how to work hard. He was a tekton (“builder”), a word that sums up his entire life. He built stuff by the sweat of his brow and callouses on his hands. He traveled with tools. St. John Paul II said he was the “very epitome of the Gospel of work,” the one who taught Jesus human work. “If the Son of God was willing to learn a human work from a man,” John Paul II continued, “this indicates that there is in work a specific moral value with a precise meaning for man and for his self-fulfillment.” St. Joseph helps every man find that value and meaning. 

Sixth, St. Joseph shows us how to become men of prayer. 

He is a contemplative man of eloquent silence, whose only recorded word in Scripture was pronouncing the Savior’s name at his circumcision. His life was an extended meditation — like a Rosary — on Jesus: Jesus’ life-giving words, example of humility and patience, diligence, charity and other virtues. 

Joseph’s ruminative silence, St. John Paul II commented, “reveals in a special way the inner portrait of the man. The Gospels … allow us to discover in his ‘actions’ — shrouded in silence as they are — an aura of deep contemplation.” 

Pope Benedict prayed that, in a world that is often too noisy, we would all be “infected” with St. Joseph’s silence. 

Finally, St. Joseph shows us how to become men of the Eucharist. It’s wonderful that at the beginning of his pontificate Pope Francis decreed that St. Joseph’s name be mentioned after the Blessed Virgin’s in every Mass because his life was like a Mass, for “the little house at Nazareth was as the outspread square of the white corporal,” as Father Frederick Faber commented. The Holy House was a tabernacle where he and Mary lived in the Real Presence with adoration. 

Before Jesus ever would say the words of institution, Joseph gave his body, blood, sweat, tears — everything — for Jesus. Pope St. Paul VI said that the secret of St. Joseph’s greatness is that he “made his life a service, a sacrifice, to the mystery of the Incarnation and to the redemptive mission that is joined to it.” Serving Christ, “with love and for love,” was “his life.” In an age in which belief in the Real Presence must be strengthened, St. Joseph shows men how to live Eucharistic lives. 

Pope Francis says that St. Joseph “reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.” “Great things” are not needed, but ordinary virtues, lived fully and authentically, are. 

Joseph shows us those human and manly virtues. The name “Joseph” means “increase,” and this holy year is a particularly auspicious time for men and boys to increase in devotion, learning from him how to serve God, their family, the Church and society with similar manly zeal. 


Read the PDF of the Register special section on the Jubilee of St. Joseph, or browse the other articles here: 

Dr. John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, discusses religious freedom at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 16, 2013.

Catholic University’s John Garvey (Sept. 25)

Catholic University of America’s president has announced he is stepping down at the end of the school year. John Garvey’s time at the university has widely been recognized as a period of strengthening Catholic identity and shoring up the academic offerings in the Catholic intellectual and cultural tradition. His work has paid off: student retention has increased and fundraising goals have been topped at record levels. President John Garvey joins us today to tell his story about not only about building up a university but about falling in love with Catholic U.