Tomorrow, we celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He is the patron saint of fathers (Joseph is also the patron saint of the Universal Church, families, fathers, expectant mothers (pregnant women), travelers, immigrants, house sellers and buyers, craftsmen, engineers, and working people in general), so he and I share a bond. I don’t have any kids like Jesus, but they try.
When I was in the Holy Land last year, we stayed at a convent built over the site of where Joseph might have lived with Mary and Jesus. It is just down the street from the Basilica of the Annunciation and next door to Joseph’s workshop, so who knows?
Nothing is recorded in Scriptures about St. Joseph’s words to his family. He gets a message in a dream, but even the Blessed Mother gets to speak once in a while. And yet, he is a model for fathers everywhere. There’s a lesson in there, albeit an ironic one, about who gets to talk and who gets to listen.
Joseph always makes me think about my father, quiet as a bookend and just as strong. As I try to land my dissertation, I am finding more and more research that speaks to the importance of fathers when it comes to raising faith-filled children. Nothing, it seems, can make up for a distant father. As I think about Joseph, I realize that in the Jewish tradition, the children learn their faith from the parent most like them. Dads teach boys and moms teach girls. It stands to reason, then, that Jesus’ own foundation in faith came from Joseph. He was the one who taught Our Lord to read, to pray the Shema, to understand the great commandments, how to worship in the synagogue, and how to rest on the Sabbath. Joseph was Jesus’ first teacher in the ways of faith. He was the best of teachers. Sure, Jesus was human and divine, but do any of us really believe that, as a small child, he was fully aware of everything, fully conscious of what was ahead? How do you square that with humanity? How do you put that in the head of an eight-year-old? No, Joseph taught Jesus, I am sure of it.
Like Joseph, I must teach my children – by word and example – what an intimate relationship with God looks like. I must teach them to pray, how to love, how to forgive, and how to rest. This week, I will be like Joseph and listen more. I will speak less. I will work hard. And, like Joseph certainly did for Jesus, I will teach my children well.
St. Joseph, patron of fathers everywhere, pray for us.