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Finding 'Joseph Moments'

3/1/2011

Brian Caulfield

The virtues of St. Joseph apply to the lives of husbands and fathers today

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was adapted from a column that appeared on Fathers for Good, an online initiative of the Knights of Columbus. For more articles and resources, fathersforgood.org.

We do not know what went through Joseph’s mind when, on three different occasions, an angel visited him in dreams. Scripture records no words of his, which might reveal his inner state or deepest thoughts. What is known about Joseph, however, comes from his actions, which express an openness to the word of God and a willingness to carry it out, no matter the cost.

Joseph’s silence does not mean he was a man of little reflection or thought. On the contrary, one could not recognize the call of God as he did — and plan a course of action to protect both Mary and Jesus — without a deep life of prayer and meditation on Scripture. Joseph’s trust that the angel in his dream was a messenger of God was a form of deep discernment.

Discernment of this sort is what men need today amid competing cultural messages. Where is the voice of God or the road to virtue in a society that often denigrates masculine character while glorifying sexual gratification? In entertainment, men are often portrayed either as incompetent family men or masters of seduction who use women for pleasure. In this toxic atmosphere, men should look to St. Joseph for guidance.

When Joseph first appears in the Gospel, he is described as a “righteous man.” He is not consumed by his own righteousness, but rather is open to God’s plan as it is revealed by the angel (Mt 1:18-25).

We can miss the full significance of this familiar Gospel account if we think that Joseph was destined to do what the angel said because he was a saint. At any point, he could have lost courage. He could have doubted the angel in his dream and, like many Old Testament prophets, asked God to choose someone else. Instead, Joseph did everything that was required of him to fulfill God’s command.

What can this mean for men today, especially fathers who have St. Joseph as their patron? Perhaps they should look for “Joseph moments” in their daily lives. After all, chances are good that opportunities to exercise the “servant leadership” exemplified by St. Joseph frequently present themselves.

Reading the Bible — especially the Gospels — is step one in recognizing “Joseph moments.” By becoming familiar with God’s word, we become accustomed to the tone and tempo of God’s promptings in our lives.

Secondly, if a man finds his wife or family in danger, he should take well-considered and effective action, just as Joseph did when he took his family to Egypt. The dangers men confront today may not include the wrath of King Herod, but men should nonetheless be aware of their wife’s workload at home or in the office, the pressures of childcare, the family finances, the bullies at their children’s school and even something as seemingly small as gossip about their family among relatives. In short, men need to stand up and be defenders.

Furthermore, a man should be the leader in spiritual warfare for his family. He shouldn’t leave religion solely to his wife, or else his children will grow up thinking that faith is only feminine. Research shows that children tend to follow the religion, or non-religion, of their fathers, no matter how often mom brings them to Mass or makes them pray. So, give your children an example of faithful masculine leadership, which includes humility in the presence of God.

Finally, a man must be open to changing his personal plans for the sake of his family. Joseph may have imagined a normal marital and domestic life with his beloved bride, but he gave up those dreams for love of God and love of Mary. One might have to move to another city for a promotion or, conversely, give up a chance for a pay increase to spend more time at home. Whatever the issue, at this moment there is probably something you could do or say for your wife and children, to imitate the love of St. Joseph.♦

BRIAN CAULFIELD is editor of Fathers for Good, an online initiative of the Knights of Columbus.