The Church celebrates the Solemnity of St. Joseph on March 19. Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, foster father of Jesus, silent in word but not in action, Joseph produced a model legacy of masculine faith. The carpenter displayed prudence in judgment and action as well as presence for his spouse, his child, and his community.
Joseph demonstrated one dimension of prudence – exercising sound judgment – in his marriage. The Gospel of St. Matthew recounts how Joseph acted when he learned Mary was pregnant before their marriage. He could’ve announced the fact publicly and exposed Mary to the severe punishment of the law. But he didn’t. Joseph proved “unwilling to expose her to shame” and instead prepared to leave Mary quietly (Mt 1:19). An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, assured him that the Holy Spirit had conceived the child in Mary’s womb, and how he must take Mary into his home. Joseph obeyed faithfully (Mt 1:20-25).
Joseph displayed another dimension of prudence – conducting oneself cautiously and carefully – when leading his family. Shortly after the Magi departed the Holy Family, an angel warned Joseph in a dream to flee with his young family to Egypt. King Herod planned to massacre of all infant boys in the region of Bethlehem. Joseph awoke, fled with Mary and Jesus promptly, and remained in Egypt until instructed once again by an angel to return to Nazareth (cf. Mt 2:13-23).
Joseph also practiced a life of obedient presence. The Gospel of St. Luke speaks of such presence in one sense as lawful attendance. Caesar Augustus decreed a universal census throughout the Roman Empire around the time of Jesus’ birth. Joseph obeyed the imperial edict by returning to his homeland, traveling with Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem in Judea (cf. Lk 2:1-7).
He also stood by his wife as a steady bulwark of spiritual strength. As devout Jews, both Joseph and Mary presented Jesus in the temple for consecration.
St. Luke describes how the parents were “amazed at what was said” about Jesus by Simeon, who called him a “light for revelation to the Gentiles” and “glory for your people Israel.” Joseph also witnessed Simeon bless Mary and warn her how “a sword will pierce” her immaculate heart (Lk 2:22-35).
St. Luke also chronicles how both parents later found their son in the temple. Joseph searched alongside Mary anxiously for three days among travelers journeying back from the yearly festival in Jerusalem. They found the boy Jesus among teachers in the temple. Jesus “astounded” all gathered – including Joseph and Mary – with “his understanding and his answers” (Lk 2:41-52).
Joseph was also a man of strength – the strong, silent type. Not a word of his is recorded in the Gospels. He was too busy listening to the voice and promptings of God to spend much time talking. Always ready to act, to guide and protect the Holy Family, he was a man of fearless faith and abundant grace.
Prudence and presence which come from strength of character and commitment. These are the carpenter’s heritage, and the stuff with which to build real men of faith today.
Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas.