For the Feast of the Patron of the Universal Church on 19 March
We hear not a word from the lips of St Joseph in the Gospels and yet his sanctity shines through his silence. His total fidelity to God can be seen in his actions as he accompanies the Blessed Virgin Mary to Bethlehem and becomes the first man to see the Christ-child; as he leads his family to safety into exile and ultimately brings them home to Nazareth; as he searches with Mary for his young charge and finds him in the temple after which, Scripture tells us, Jesus lived under his parent's authority.
It is because of the grace given him by God as a member of the Holy Family and the virtues that he exercised that St Joseph holds an understandably high place in the affections of the faithful. The Sacred Liturgy praises St Joseph in thanksgiving to the heavenly Father as "that just man, that wise and loyal servant, whom you placed at the head of your family. With a husband's love he cherished Mary, the Virgin Mother of God. With fatherly care he watched over Jesus Christ your Son, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit". Pope Paul VI once said, "St Joseph is the model of those humble ones that Christianity raises up to great destinies ... he is the proof that in order to be a good and genuine follower of Christ, there is no need for great things — it is enough to have the common, simple and human virtues, but they need to be true and authentic" (19 March 1969).
Bl. John Henry Newman's devotion to St Joseph encapsulates the thoughts and words of many when he wrote, "He was the true and worthy Spouse of Mary, supplying in a visible manner the place of Mary's Invisible Spouse, the Holy Ghost.... He was the Cherub, placed to guard the new terrestrial Paradise from the intrusion of every foe.... He is Holy Joseph, because his office, of being spouse and protector of Mary, specially demanded sanctity. He is Holy Joseph, because no other Saint but he lived in such and so long intimacy and familiarity with the source of all holiness, Jesus, God Incarnate, and Mary, the holiest of creatures".
St Bernardine of Siena reflected that St Joseph "is verily the key which unlocked the treasures of the Church of the Old Testament, for in his person all the excellence of Patriarchs and Prophets comes to the completion of achievement, seeing that he alone enjoyed in this life the full fruition of what God had been pleased to promise aforetime to them. It is therefore with good reason that we see a type of him in that Patriarch Joseph who stored up corn for the people. But the second Joseph has a more excellent dignity than the first, seeing that the first gave to the Egyptians bread only for the body, but the second was, on behalf of all the elect, the watchful guardian of that Living Bread which came down from Heaven, of which whosoever eats will never die" (Sermon on St
In our own day, Pope Benedict XVI has reflected a number of times on the virtues of the very saint's name given to him at Baptism —Joseph. In the year of our Holy Father's election, 2005, he wrote that "St Joseph's silence does not express an inner emptiness but, on the contrary, the fullness of the faith he bears in his heart and which guides his every thought and action.
"It is a silence thanks to which Joseph, in unison with Mary, watches over the Word of God, known through the Sacred Scriptures, continuously comparing it with the events of the life of Jesus; a silence woven of constant prayer, a prayer of blessing of the Lord, of the adoration of his holy will and of unreserved entrustment to his providence....
"It is no exaggeration to think that it was precisely from his 'father' Joseph that Jesus learned — at the human level — that steadfast interiority which is a presupposition of authentic justice, the 'superior justice' which he was one day to teach his disciples (cf. Mt 5: 20).
"Let us allow ourselves to be 'filled' with St Joseph's silence! In a world that is often too noisy, that encourages neither recollection nor listening to God's voice, we are in such deep need of it".
This reflection of Pope Benedict XVI is particularly pertinent during Lent. Perhaps the example of St Joseph might lead us to add to fasting from forms of food and drink a form of fasting with regards our sense of hearing. So many of us surround ourselves so often with so many types of sounds, be they musical or spoken. It is always striking that this is the season of the year when our, Holy Father goes into his annual silent retreat — a week of Spiritual Exercises to refresh his soul. Whilst we may not be able to do the same, the example of St Joseph encourages us to ponder with him in silence the life — the grace — of Christ as he seeks to grow in our minds and hearts through this holy season of Lent.
*Priest of the Archdiocese of Westminster