Dear, Sweet, Silent St. Joseph

I’ve been making a lot of jokes about St. Joseph being silent in this, his year, and plenty of people (the men) have become a little defensive about it. Since I’m going to continue making silent St. Joseph jokes, I figured I should write a little something up about why I love him so much and why I think his silence is his greatest attribute. I don’t want men, or anyone, to just be quiet, I want us to be quiet like St. Joseph.

It’s true that there’s not one recorded word of St. Joseph’s in Scripture or elsewhere. It’s not true that he never spoke. He definitely spoke while raising and teaching Jesus, while affirming and loving Mary, while doing day-to-day tasks and work, and while praying. But not even these things are recorded! While contemplating why that might be, it hit me that these were just the normal things required of him, nothing spectacular; he was just doing what he knew needed to be done. He was good and righteous and the lack of record of him saying or really doing anything reflects this. While he wasn’t full of grace like Mary, he chose the better part everyday and that meant living an extremely hidden and internal life.

This matters because he’s showing us that before anything else, we have to have ourselves set right with the Lord and to be in deep communion with Him personally. St. Joseph didn’t let actions or words get in the way of choosing righteousness and virtue and neither should we. We can get caught up in actions and words while forgetting that love starts internally. If you don’t have that foundation, your actions and words will be, as St. Paul said, like a clanging gong.

Why do I think this matters so much for men? Well, if you’ve ever seen any of the discourse, you know that there are a disproportionate amount of loudmouthed men (there are loudmouthed women, too, which I’ll get to, so hang on). Men denouncing the Pope, men telling women exactly how to look and what to say, men spreading conspiracy theories and sowing discord. Men being mean! Men are even sometimes right but are jerks about it. Their words are getting in the way of them choosing virtue and God, even though they say their pieces in the name of God. St. Joseph show men a better way, one of service and sacrifice, self-awareness and reflection, one of intimate virtue.

St. Joseph never told Mary she couldn’t or shouldn’t do something. He never told her how to dress or how to grieve or to not panic when they lost the Child Jesus. He supported her in raising the Son of God. He knew he couldn’t compare to Mary and Jesus but he knew he was loved. Though his place in the family order was second to Jesus and Mary, he didn’t become bitter about it. He never assumed that his authority would be the be all, end all, even before Mary became pregnant with the Son of God. He was always going into marriage with Mary as equal partners; that was elevated when she became pregnant. St. Joseph shows us that “authority” in marriage means supporting his wife and child, making sure they are provided for not just materially, but spiritually and emotionally, too. He listened. Catholic men need to learn how to listen better and St. Joseph can show them.

I mentioned loudmouthed women above, of which I am one, and St. Joseph has something for them (me), too. Women, throughout history, have suffered a lot at the hands of men. Even very recent history tells us this. Women are still finding their voice and place and are still facing incredible backlash and demonization for this. More and more women are speaking up, shedding light, and solving the issues that plague society. You can measure a society by how involved its women are in its running. As we continue to slog forward, it’s important to remember what we women already intimately know and that St. Joseph models, that the only way to make progress is to listen and include everyone. We cannot become too reactionary. We want balance, not a matriarchy. St. Joseph was not Mary’s slave, he was her partner. They worked together, neither ever lording anything over the other, and they became The Holy Family. It’s a very sobering and grounding image.

St. Joseph’s silence does not mean he was a passive member of the Holy Family, it means he was an active listener and constantly worked on himself to give the best of life to Mary and Jesus, his wife and child. His silence was never about him being submissive or a slave, but about him actively cultivating virtue in his heart before acting in goodness. He was grounded and humble and incredibly active. In this Year of St. Joseph, may we all learn how to be active listeners, to provide for the needs of all people, to know when to speak and when not to speak, and to infinitely grow in virtue.

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