Lenten lessons from the silent saint

Archbishop Aquila

He was a man of silence and action. As we continue to walk through Lent, St. Joseph, the man who is revered as patron of the universal Church, and “the terror of demons” has much to teach us.

For people who live in a world awash in sounds and images, the silence of St. Joseph can be disconcerting. No spoken word of his is recorded in the Gospels. They only tell us that he was a “righteous man” (Mt. 1:19).

We also know that he was a man who trusted God and obeyed his guidance. This is evident from his encounter with the angel of the Lord, who appeared to him in a dream and told him to take Mary as his wife. Despite any negative consequences this might have had for him in his community, St. Joseph immediately acted on that divine guidance.

Months later, after Jesus had been born and the three Magi had visited, an angel appeared to him again and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (Mt. 2:13). While it was still night, he rose and fled into Egypt with Jesus and Mary. Joseph’s attentiveness and obedience saved Jesus life, as Herod decided to massacre all male children two and under in the region.

As we continue deeper conversion during Lent, St. Joseph displays three qualities that we can all strive to imitate, with the help of God. St. Joseph was silently attentive, obedient and steadfast. He is the “terror of demons” because of these three virtues.

Cardinal Robert Sarah recently penned a masterful book called “The Power of Silence.” In it, he explains that silence is an essential condition for hearing God’s voice, just as St. Joseph did in his dreams. “Silence is more important than any other human work,” he says, “for it expresses God. The true revolution comes from silence; it leads us toward God and others so as to place ourselves humbly and generously at their service.”

St. John of the Cross, reflecting on the state of the world before it was created, said, “God’s first language is silence.” If you would like to increase your ability to hear God’s voice, then I recommend that you use the remaining days of Lent as an opportunity to cultivate exterior and interior silence.

Besides being attentive to God, it is evident from St. Joseph’s actions that he profoundly trusted the Lord. Trust is the bedrock upon which the obedience of the saints is built. Their obedience flows from knowing that God the Father only seeks their good and they can trust him. St. Joseph was no exception: once he heard God’s direction, he obeyed because he trusted him.

There is a wonderful passage in Jeremiah that captures this attitude well. Jeremiah prophesied, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit” (Jer. 17:8).

If you want to grow in obedience this Lent, then strive to grow in your relationship with God the Father. Trust him and believe in your heart he only desires your good. Reflect on the story of the Prodigal Son, asking yourself, ‘Which son am I – the prodigal or the resentful older son?’ Then, ponder the generous, always-present love of the Father for you in your prayer. Ask the Father to reveal his unique, personal love for you.

The final lines of Jeremiah’s blessing give us a vivid image of St. Joseph’s final virtue, his perseverance or steadfastness in difficulty. We see this virtue on display when he gathers Mary and Jesus together in the middle of the night and flees for Egypt, aware of the danger but trusting in God. Above all, we witness St. Joseph’s steadfastness in accepting his vocation of caring for and helping raise the son of God and protecting Mary – a truly daunting responsibility. He joyfully embraced it.

Being steadfast in a society that is less than accepting of Christian values and beliefs is a necessity today. If we are connected to God’s grace through the sacraments and daily prayer, then we will not show signs of distress in our drought-stricken world but will bear fruit.

Each of us is called by God to become a saint in our own circumstances. This Lent, I encourage you to follow the example of St. Joseph and strive to grow in attentiveness to God’s voice, obedience to his will for you, and in perseverance in carrying that out.

May St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church, pray for us and help us grow in holiness this Lent.

Featured image by M0tty – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15546418

COMING UP: Be like St. Joseph, the strong silent type

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Julie Filby

Men described as the strong silent type have a role model in St. Joseph, sometimes referred to as “Joseph the Silent.”

“The Gospels tell us very little about St. Joseph and that little in very few words,” wrote French Dominican priest and Scripture scholar, Father Michel Gasnier, in his book titled “Joseph the Silent.”

“Suddenly he appears. Nothing has been said of his birth, his early life. His death is not mentioned,” Father Gasnier wrote. “No words of his are recorded.”

It would be a mistake, however, to measure the greatness of the role Jesus’ earthly father played in salvation history “by the few allusions made to him in the New Testament,” he clarified.

“All the evangelical perfections, admirably balanced” are found in St. Joseph.

Paul Winkler, husband, father of four and founder of Attollo, an apostolate that develops Catholic business leaders in the faith, sees the strong quiet leadership of St. Joseph in many of the principles he teaches.

Adjust to setbacks
St. Joseph readily accepted variables that threw off his original plan.

“Can you imagine the day before Mary got back?” Winkler said, reflecting on the Blessed Mother’s return from visiting her cousin Elizabeth. “He’s in love, he’s happily making a new home in anticipation of Mary coming back, he’s making furniture (and thinking) ‘This is the best thing ever.’”

Then when she arrives home, he realizes she’s pregnant.

“OK, now he needed to adjust the plan,” Winkler said, a concept he teaches Attollo participants.

As relayed in the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph adjusted by resolving to divorce Mary quietly. Then an angel appeared and told him, “do not fear to take Mary your wife.”

He asked no questions, it was enough that his help had been asked, Father Gasnier wrote.

“The angel opened up his mind in a dream that this was all part of the big plan, part of God’s plan,” Winkler said, “and he accepted it, he adjusted his plan (again).”

“What you see in St. Joseph is complete obedience,” he said, “and a love of God and a love for his spouse.”

Provide and protect
Joseph, as a new husband and adoptive father to Jesus, embraced his role as head of the household.

“St. Joseph was the leader of his family,” said Winkler, also an adoptive father. “He had to learn how to lead.”

When the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to flee to Egypt and “remain there till I tell you” to escape Herod, “he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt” (Mt 2: 13-15).

“(He must have been thinking) my mother-in law’s going to kill me. I’m taking Mary to Egypt, that at the time was a pretty nasty place, fraught with dangers along the way,” Winkler said. “But one, he listened to God, and two, he trusted in the Lord.”

He always listened, always obeyed, Father Gasnier wrote.

“He did not know where God would lead him; it was enough that God knew,” he shared. “He did not argue; he did not look back; he did not object; he did not ask for explanation.”

The Blessed Mother understood his role as well.

“She trusted in the Lord,” Winkler said, “and trusted in her husband to provide and protect her.”

Walk the walk
St. Joseph’s actions showed his character and strength as a humble leader.

In all the strange situations God placed him in, he remained calm and silent, according to Father Gasnier.

“He knew the Father had confided a secret in trust to him…,” he wrote. “He did not want anyone who saw him to think him other than a simple workman trying to earn his daily bread.”

That fidelity and humility is a model for Christian men.

“The universal vocation—to know, love and serve God—and the primary vocation of marriage, and even his secondary vocation from 9 to 5 as a carpenter, he did them all perfectly,” Winkler said.

“What a great man to emulate,” he added. “It’s a brave thing to want to be like St. Joseph.”

> St. Joseph
The month of March is dedicated to St. Joseph | Solemnity: March 19
Patronage: universal Church, families, fathers, expectant women, workers, craftsmen, happy death, travelers, immigrants, house sellers and buyers

> Novena to St. Joseph
March 11-March 19 | www.ewtn.com/Devotionals/novena/joseph.htm

“I do not remember ever having asked anything of St. Joseph that he did not grant me, nor can I think without wonder of the graces God has given me through his intercession, nor of the dangers of soul or body from which he has delivered me.” —St. Teresa of Avila

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