Live the ‘Joseph Option’

BOOK PICK: ‘Through the Heart of St. Joseph’

‘Through the Heart of St. Joseph’ encourages readers to live like the beloved head of the Holy Family.
‘Through the Heart of St. Joseph’ encourages readers to live like the beloved head of the Holy Family. (photo: Amy Smith / Emmaus Road Publishing cropped book cover)

Through the Heart of St. Joseph

By Father Boniface Hicks, OSB

Emmaus Road Publishing

224 pages; $17.95

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As this Year of St. Joseph brings long overdue attention to St. Joseph, attention he so richly deserves, one of the new books devoted to this beloved saint — Through the Heart of St. Joseph by Benedictine Father Boniface Hicks — takes a slightly different route, presenting the whys and ways we should turn to St. Joseph that eventually leads to something unique that he calls living a “Joseph Option.”

Father Hicks emphasizes that St. Joseph is a father to us because we are brothers and sisters of Jesus. We can count on him being there for us in all our circumstances.

“He was willing to be there with Jesus in countless experiences that would be lost to history,” Father Hicks writes. “This encourages us to find St. Joseph as a father and friend in the ordinariness of our own lives. ... In fact, it is striking that such an extraordinary man in such extraordinary circumstances actually lived such an ordinary life.” Many similar observations throughout the book uplift and encourage readers to turn to St. Joseph always.

After all, as Father Hicks adds, “St. Joseph wants to include us among those most dear to him. He wants to be our patron, father, and even counselor. He wants to defend us and care for us.”

Many of these affirmations eventually lead to, and underscore, how to live in “Nazareth” with Joseph, Mary and Jesus, all based on the Church’s tradition that life in Nazareth was ordinary for the Holy Family, different from ours only in being free from sin. 

“St. Joseph helps us understand that the most amazing life can be lived in the simple, tender love of the most humble circumstances,” writes Father Hicks. “It also means that we can begin to pierce the veil of Nazareth quite fruitfully simply by reflecting on our own experiences of everyday life. The way that St. Joseph woke up in the morning, walked to work, ate lunch, interacted with customers, and taught his trade to his Son was completely the same as ours.”

Father Hicks encourages readers to see St. Joseph “as a father and friend in the ordinariness of our own lives” as we find “such an extraordinary man in such extraordinary circumstances actually lived such an ordinary life.”


Extraordinary Courage

Ordinary, yes, but St. Joseph was also courageous and bold carrying out the will of God even though the task seemed impossible at first. He faced major problems — such as fleeing into Egypt to save his wife and the child put under his care. Here, the author urges readers to turn to Joseph to hold the lantern and navigate them along life’s inevitable “nights,” rather than stumbling in the darkness of false self-reliance — and complete trust in God. “He knows what it is like to wander without a map,” he writes. “To surrender to a plan that is beyond anyone’s imagination. He gives us the protection we need to become childlike. We can find in him a loving father, a human sign of the Heavenly Father. He leads us by this lantern into an exile that is uncomfortable, but it is safe from the murderous Herod of our self-sufficiency.”

On the way to what Father Hicks calls the “Joseph Option,” readers learn why Joseph can be called the new Abraham, discover the devotion to the sleeping St. Joseph, and understand why Joseph is the “Terror of Demons.” Hint: “It is in these hidden, humble, obedient ways that St. Joseph terrorizes the demons,” Father Hicks writes. “They cannot find him, let alone touch him. … By placing ourselves under his paternal care, we can benefit from his protection like Mary and Jesus did.”

The route to the Joseph Option is well marked by quotes and references to Scripture, various saints (including Paul, Alphonsus Ligouri, Thérèse of Lisieux, Mother Teresa, Popes Paul VI and John XXIII), and Pope Francis’ apostolic letter Patris Corde (With a Father’s Heart). Another inspiring stop teaches readers about the Cloak of St. Joseph devotion, where he “wants to shelter us and be a manifestation of the Lord’s protective power” as he “hid the Baby Jesus away from Herod’s wrath.”

Everything learned in earlier chapters and that is needed to model one’s life after St. Joseph comes with the reader as the foundation when arriving at the aim of the Joseph Option. By adopting it, it can have a powerful influence on individuals and become a leaven for renewal of culture and society, as the author relates. One major facet is to cultivate Nazareths in home life, visit Nazareth in prayer, and spend time in the midst of the Holy Family.


Destination: Sanctity

With this option, “we can develop an environment and live in it in the way that helps others to encounter Jesus and Mary through the heart of St. Joseph,” Father Hicks affirms.

Being a Benedictine, Father Hicks masterfully connects this option with St. Benedict, known from the “Benedict Option,” who “was just living out the Joseph Option. The original model for the sanctification of daily life and love was in Nazareth under the headship of Joseph.”

In clear and easy-to-understand ways, readers will see the connections in St. Benedict’s Rule that illustrate it as, foundationally, the Joseph Option: “Joseph had no small task. It was his responsibility to teach Jesus to do the will of the Father! At first, it seems overwhelming, but as we press into it, we discover how ordinary God's will really is. When Joseph asked Jesus to do his chores and complete certain tasks necessary for their carpentry projects, when he asked him for a cup of cold water, or when they went together to visit a sick neighbor, in each case they were doing the will of the Father.”

The author talks about St. Benedict’s healthy balance of worship, work and recreation as part of the Joseph Option.  Overall, the Joseph Option basically means that people can come close to Jesus through the heart of St. Joseph; and through the virtues described in early chapters, readers will glean how to more closely imitate Christ.

Besides Benedict, the author details several saints who practiced the Joseph Option — Teresa of Avila, Francis de Sales, Bernadette and André Bessette.

By the end of this book, readers will be encouraged to choose the Joseph Option and intentionally create Nazareths where others can find a heavenly home and be part of a Holy Family by entering through the heart of St. Joseph.