Be like St. Joseph, the strong silent type

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 |

“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

> Ministries for men

That Man Is You | Addresses pressures men face in modern culture
In 30 parishes in the Archdiocese of Denver, find one here

Knights of Columbus  | Men’s fraternal and charitable organization
Get more information here

Attollo (men and women) | Business leadership development
Apply for the program here

Families of Character (parents) | Small group discussion to build virtues in families
Order a free trial here

COMING UP: Strong temptations? Defeat them like the Desert Fathers

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The fact that we don’t do what we want but instead do what we hate is a problem as old as our first parents. Yet, we can interpret temptation either as that which is always keeping us away from God or as the very vehicle to grow closer to him.

The Desert Fathers believed it to be a necessary vehicle: “Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” St. Anthony of the Desert used to say. They saw the fight against these evil enticements as a step to love God in a deeper way.

Here’s how these radical followers of Christ – who fled to the Egyptian desert during the 3rd to 5th centuries to live a form of daily martyrdom in a land where being a Christian was no longer a risk – survived the strongest enticements of the flesh and the devil, as they sought to live out the Gospel and grow in perfection.

The sayings, teachings, maxims and stories they left behind, compiled and known as the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, show that a combination of three things: self-awareness, prayer and practicality, are key to battling the strongest disordered passions.

Alertness and action

“The early monks understood that temptations often come in the form of thoughts. We become attracted and have fantasies, whether that be in petty things, bodily appetites or social interactions,” explained Father Columba Stewart, O.S.B., expert on early monasticism, scholar and director of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn.

The first disposition they considered to be key, was self-awareness, “knowing what happens in our minds and hearts… how to recognize [bad thoughts] before we actually do a sinful action,” he said.

After this base, which requires continuous self-examination and attention to the inner impulses of the heart, the importance of prayer and practicality follow.

A hermit of the desert said to a young monk suffering from strong temptations, “This is the way to be strong: when temptations start to speak in your mind do not answer them but get up, pray, do penance, and say, ‘Son of God, have mercy upon me.’”

Prayer is not isolated from action. The hermit tells him to “get up,” “do penance” and “pray.”

Practicality can take on different forms, such as going in the opposite direction of the temptation or seeking help from another, Father Stewart pointed out.

“For example, when you’re angry with someone… thoughts of anger start emerging, and you replay in your imagination what made you angry. Then that turns into a mental video of how you’re going to get revenge. This is when self-awareness comes in and you realize that the thoughts you’re having are inappropriate,” Father Stewart said.

A first practical action would be to step away instead of going to find that person, he continued. “Then to use your mind and imagination to instead remember the times when your relationship [with that person] was better or think about the future and how great it will be when this passes.”

Light overcomes darkness

Also, this “get up” practicality consists in bringing to light one’s sins or temptations to someone else and not fighting alone.

“A common exhortation, attributed to many different monks, was that the Enemy, the devil, rejoices in nothing so much as unmanifested thoughts… A sin which is hidden begins to multiply,” Father Stewart wrote in an article.

He then explained that “If the devil was delighted by a monk’s self-imposed isolation, surely this was because the opposite of isolation, encounter with another, was the way to salvation.”

According to Father Stewart, this understanding led the Fathers to break from “the illusion of self-sufficiency, a pose which encourages self-absorption,” and find spiritual fathers.

“The desert tradition is universally insistent upon the young monk’s need for a discerning elder,” he explained. “The basic insight of the desert… was that one cannot grow towards perfection through isolated, solitary effort: grace is mediated through one’s neighbor, especially one’s abba [spiritual father].”

The way these early hermits fought temptations is one of many treasures that Father Stewart says they left behind. In fact, he encourages readers to look at the Sayings of the Desert Fathers as a source that is still “amazingly relevant.”

“[The Sayings of the Desert Fathers] have been very popular sources of wisdom and inspiration throughout history,” he said. “What sets [them] apart… is that they speak from and to experience rather than text or theory.”

“The tradition of Christian wisdom is great,” he concluded. “People only need to know where to find it.”