Archbishop William E. Lori
Editor’s Note: This article is part three in a special series on men’s spirituality.
No words spoken by St. Joseph are recorded in the Gospels. But in the words of Blessed John Paul II, “the silence of Joseph has its own special eloquence, for thanks to that silence we can understand the truth of the Gospel’s judgment that he was ‘a just man’” (Redemptoris Custos, 17; cf. Mt 1:19).
In light of the feast of the Holy Family, which was celebrated on the final Sunday of December, and following last month’s column on the spiritual leadership of St. Joseph, I would now like to delve deeper into Joseph’s role as the father of Jesus and the head of the Holy Family.
As so many Knights of Columbus can attest, the day-to-day role of father and head of household is complex, requiring a diverse skill set. After all, a father is called on to do many things from making repairs around the house to protecting his family from harm and helping to form the faith and moral foundation of his children. Fathers play a critical role in the stability of families, and Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, was no exception.
The importance of St. Joseph’s example as a husband and father is perhaps best summarized by John Paul II in his apostolic exhortation on St. Joseph. “St. Joseph was called by God to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood,” the pope wrote. “In recalling that ‘the beginnings of our redemption’ were entrusted ‘to the faithful care of Joseph,’ the Liturgy specifies that ‘God placed him at the head of his family, as a faithful and prudent servant, so that with fatherly care he might watch over his only begotten Son’” (Redemptoris Custos, 8).
Although the Gospels do not provide many details about Joseph, we know that he supported Jesus and Mary by his work as a carpenter and that he was a man of prudence, protective of his family and ever attentive to God’s voice. Like many fathers, Joseph taught his son a trade, and the Son of Man learned from his earthly father how to make a living through hard work and the sweat of his brow. It was this historic fact that the Second Vatican Council had in mind when it said of Jesus: “He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind … and loved with a human heart” (Gaudium et Spes, 22).
Joseph, as Jesus’ foster father, took seriously his responsibility to care for all the needs of his child. Parents are the first teachers of their children in the ways of culture and faith. Jesus acquired much of his human knowledge from both Joseph and Mary, who together provided his first earthly experience of love and influenced the development of his personality. Mary and Joseph also handed on to Jesus the faith of Israel, teaching him how to pray and to live the Law; their home was the “seminary” for the great High Priest.
While Scripture speaks often of Mary’s love for her Son, it also depicts the quiet strength and love of Joseph toward his foster child. Both were powerfully displayed when Joseph and Mary, after searching for three days, found the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple. Mary, exasperated, asked: “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously” Jesus replied, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:48-49). Of this famous biblical scene, John Paul II wrote, “The reply of Jesus in the Temple brought once again to the mind of his ‘presumed father’ what he had heard on that night twelve years earlier: ‘Joseph … do not fear to take Mary, your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit’ (Mt 1:20). From that time onward he knew that he was a guardian of the mystery of God” (Redemptoris Custos, 15).
Not only is Joseph a model of a devoted husband and father, but the Holy Family is rightly called “the prototype and example of all Christian families” (Familiaris Consortio, 86). This family lived in cultural circumstances vastly different from ours today, but Jesus, Mary and Joseph teach us certain perennial truths about family life truths upheld by Knights of Columbus and their families throughout the world. One such truth is the importance of the ordinary. By becoming one of us and choosing to live in an ordinary family, Jesus Christ demonstrated the value that God places on mothers, fathers and children attending to their daily responsibilities. The Lord taught us that our salvation is worked out in our everyday life. God’s will for us is often all too obvious.
The example of the Holy Family also teaches us that parents are called to take a direct and personal role in the education of their children, helping them to acquire important life skills and to know the reality of God’s love.
As Knights of Columbus, you help parents fulfill their vocation through your example and your prayers. Let us look upon the Holy Family with gratitude as we ask the intercession of Joseph and Mary for families everywhere for those that are healthy and for those that struggle. Through these prayers, may family life experience an authentic renewal as we meet the challenges of the new evangelization.