Advent is often spoken as a time of preparation. This means not just preparation for parties, celebrations and family gatherings, but preparing for the Incarnation, the birth of the Christ child, Jesus. His birth ushered in a new era of salvation and solidified our redemption. Sacred Scripture mentions many characters as the scene is set for the birth of Christ: Mary, Herod the Great, and the three Kings, to name a few. Often overlooked is Joseph of Nazareth. Saint Joseph plays an integral role in this story, and sometimes it goes unnoticed or under-appreciated.
As I prepared to get married, my mother gave me an image of Saint Joseph and she reminded me that he would be my new patron saint. So, I took some time and began praying about Saint Joseph and his relationship to Mary and Jesus, and I began to look at Saint Joseph in a new light. Even more so, when my wife and I found out that we were expecting our first child, I felt a close bond to this saint. As I grew closer to Joseph through prayer, a few of his qualities stood out to me, qualities that are useful in our own lives no matter what our situation is.
Saint Joseph teaches us three key things: Silence, Action, and Calmness.
First, silence: Look around us today. Where do we find silence? Our lives are consumed by the clutter and the noise of the day. Stepping outside, we can get lost in the shuffle of city life, but it does not stop there. Distractions can be found in our headphones or smartphones, on our televisions or computers. Our world today is vastly different than it was for those who came before us. In the Gospels Joseph doesn’t say, well, anything. He is silent. And that silence is a wonderful gift, because it gives him the ability to listen. I don’t just mean simply hearing, I mean understanding God’s call and responding to it. Saint John Paul II, reflecting on Joseph, said, “He is great in faith, not because he speaks his own words, but above all because he listened to the words of the Living God.”
Do we make time for silence in our lives? Do we make an effort to listen, I mean really listen to God’s voice or the voices of those around us – our family and friends? When we do take this opportunity, we may be amazed at what God is challenging us to do and calling us to in our lives. A priest friend of mine, a former vocation director for our diocese, said, “Young people today have a problem discerning their vocation – whatever it maybe – because they do not allow themselves to be in silence, to listen to what God is calling them to do.” Sadly, he is quite correct.
Listening certainly isn’t an easy task. Then again, most things that are worth doing aren’t easily accomplished. This Advent, can we try and make more time for God through silence, and in that silence, listen to what he is calling us to do?
Second, action: Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI penned one of my favorite quotes: “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.” This rings as true today as it did 2,000 years ago. St. Joseph was not a man who sat idly by when God’s call came. He was a man of action, whether it meant marrying Mary in spite of what society might have said about their seemingly unorthodox marriage, taking his pregnant wife to the town of David late in her pregnancy for a census, or fleeing with his wife and newborn son to Egypt. He could have turned away from this situation all together (as was his initial plan – to quietly divorce Mary after finding out about her pregnancy), but he didn’t; when God challenged him, Joseph stepped up to the plate. He did the will of God. When we are faced with an obstacle, do we shy away? Beat around the bush? Or do we take it head on, and as a result grow as individuals or as a married couple?
We too are made to be men and women of action, to act on behalf of the Lord, and to use our God-given gifts and talents to glorify the Lord. What are some of your gifts and talents? How can you use them to better our Church?
Third, calmness: Read the Christmas story in the Scriptures. It does not say Joseph lost control or freaked out. It talks about a willing servant, a servant for God the Father, Mary Our Blessed Mother and Jesus, the Christ child. Sometime we forget that Joseph and Mary were real people and we take their saintly nature for granted. Think back to the stories we know of Joseph. I do not know about you, but I cannot imagine calmly bringing my wife, nine months pregnant, by donkey, to a strange town, and then have her give birth in a manger. I likely would have been less than charitable to those innkeepers who said they had “no room” and probably would have been thinking about my own pride, not wanting to stay in a stable. Scripture tell us that Joseph did all of this and without a peep. Likewise, as he heard in a dream that his son’s life was in danger, he quietly shuffled his new family off to Egypt, a strange land, with a different language and culture, and again, without a sound. He just calmly did God’s will. How would we have acted in these circumstances?
This calm and collected servant was influential not only to the Holy Family, but also speaks to us today. How are we serving people in our Church community? Are we avoiding the “inconvenient” reality that God has given us the opportunity to be servant to others? Remember, even Jesus wasn’t above serving others (John 13:5-10).
I am sure Joseph as a young boy dreamed of being successful, getting married, being a father. I do not think the life he dreamed of was the one he received. I am sure that he had what some would perceive as “missed opportunities” in life. There was so much he had to give up, and he did it freely and joyfully. He put aside his wants to allow the great Glory of God to take place. Joseph is a reminder that even the small things we do, things that may seem insignificant to many, or are even unnoticed by everyone but God, can work for the salvation of the world through Jesus Christ. Joseph did small things that influenced the person of Jesus, and we in turn must take these lessons and teach them to others.
Saint Joseph was a man for others, something as a husband and a soon-to-be father I aspire to. Despite the little said about St. Joseph in the Gospels, we can find immense richness in his witness to the faith. Why is this? Because Joseph realized that he was not the one who was important; others were. He is a man for others. He loved Mary and Jesus above himself and his actions reflect that love. Joseph is a model for all Christians, choosing to walk in the Way of the Cross. He emptied himself of himself, in order to be filled with the love of the Father.
Joseph invites us to turn the ordinary into extraordinary. He is proof that God looks for everyday people to do his work. We need to follow his example humbly, courageously, and faithfully to fulfill our call as Christians.
Consider these lessons we learn from Saint Joseph as we enter into this Advent season. Let us not use this time idly, just waiting for celebrations, but let us prayerfully come to the Lord as Joseph and Mary did. Let us pray to Saint Joseph that he will inspire us to grow into the kind of follower of the Lord that he was.
About the author
Paul Morisi is the Coordinator for Adolescent and Young Adult Faith Formation for the Diocese of Brooklyn. He and his wife Alison are expecting their first child in May 2017. See also: “A Vatican Valentine’s Experience” by Paul Morisi and Alison Laird, and “Pope Francis Meets Newlyweds From the Diocese of Brooklyn” by Paul Morisi.