Updating the Litany of St. Joseph, approved in 1909, the Vatican has added seven invocations,…
Four ways to follow St. Joseph this Advent
Socrates, in Plato’s Apology, famously stated that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” This axiom is certainly applicable to the spiritual life, and it is very relevant to one of our greatest patrons — St. Joseph. This past year of St. Joseph has afforded all of us an opportunity to examine St. Joseph and his impact on our faith life. As we prepare to conclude the Year of St. Joseph on Dec. 8, perhaps it is worthwhile to examine what lessons St. Joseph has taught us and consider how we can carry these into the great season of Advent.
A well-known American comic once said that “it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.” Now, I am confident that he was not referring to St. Joseph when he said this. However, when we reflect upon the life of St. Joseph, we really know nothing about him. St. Joseph is as stealth as an international spy. There is no recorded dialogue from him in the Scriptures and no substantial curriculum vitae of record. He would be an excellent case for “Unsolved Mysteries” or the “X-Files.”
However, the silence of St. Joseph teaches us volumes. Pope Benedict XVI, in an Angelus address from Dec. 18, 2005, had this to say about St. Joseph’s taciturn demeanor: “St. Joseph’s silence does not express an inner emptiness, but on the contrary, the fullness of the faith he bears in his heart and which guides his every thought and action.”
1. Silence of God
The first lesson of St. Joseph for Advent then is to enter into the silence of God, which is teeming with grace, intimacy and unconditional love. Joseph was not silent because he had nothing to say. He was silent instead because he wanted to listen to and follow God completely.
Pope Francis, in his apostolic letter Patris Corde (“With a Father’s Heart”), writes about the silence of St. Joseph. “His patient silence was the prelude to concrete expressions of trust” (No. 7).
Perhaps this Advent, we too can spend time in silent prayer, in quiet contemplation before the Blessed Sacrament, or even meditating on the words of Scripture in the recesses of our heart as did St. Joseph. Doing so does not bear futility, but instead, fertility and joyful anticipation of Christ’s coming into the world.
2. Service and self-denial
The second lesson that St. Joseph teaches us is one rooted in service and self-denial. Pope St. John Paul II in his 1989 apostolic exhortation Redemptoris Custos (“Guardian of the Redeemer”) writes this about St. Joseph: “His fatherhood is expressed concretely in ‘his having made his life a service, a sacrifice to the mystery of the Incarnation and the redemptive mission connected with it; in having used the legal authority which was his over the Holy Family in order to make a total gift of self, of his life and work. …'” (No. 8).
St. Joseph did not allow his own passions or selfish wants and desires to dictate his actions. Instead, Joseph was docile and receptive to the will of God. His preparation for the coming of Christ was not filled with shopping, fighting with relatives and baking cookies. Instead, he invites you and me to be disciples who serve others first, not ourselves.
Now, this can take a variety of forms. We can volunteer our time at church or in our communities assisting at food pantries, homeless shelters or rescue missions. We can assist those around us who are struggling right now financially, emotionally and especially spiritually, either in person or through charitable organizations. Or, we can make visits to those who are homebound, in hospitals, in nursing homes or who are unable to celebrate the birth of Christ with family and friends for a variety of reasons. There is no “correct” way to serve, but the desire to do so must be rooted in Joseph’s desire to serve God alone.
Third, St. Joseph teaches us a lesson of simplicity. The world in which we live is overly complex. We are so enamored with gadgets, technology, fashion and entertainment that we often miss what is essential. That is not the world of St. Joseph. Pope Benedict, in an Angelus address from March 19, 2006, says this about Joseph’s simplicity: “His [St. Joseph’s] greatness, like Mary’s, stands out even more because his mission was carried out in the humility and hiddenness of the house of Nazareth. Moreover, God himself, in the person of his incarnate Son, chose this way and style of life — humility and hiddenness — in his earthly existence.”
St. Joseph was not out to “make a name” for himself. He was no social media influencer or TikTok star. Instead, the raison d’être for his life was to remain humble before God.
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St. Joseph invites us during Advent to slow down and to appreciate the people, blessings and encounters with God taking place in our lives. Presents, decorating and entering the wild world of retail are probably not the best ways to prepare for Christ. Instead, spending time with our loved ones, sharing faith and experiences, or even making a personal retreat is of benefit in keeping things simple. However, there is another thing that simplicity does: It allows us to increase our trust and dependence upon God.
Pope Francis writes about the “creative courage” of St. Joseph in Patris Corde. “God finds a way to save us,” Francis writes, “provided we show the same creative courage as the carpenter of Nazareth, who was able to turn a problem into a possibility by trusting always in divine providence” (No. 5). St. Joseph, because he was not distracted by the trappings of culture, was able to have fortitude in God’s plan because of his simple trust in a God who loved him. This same trust is accessible to us if we keep it simple.
Finally, St. Joseph teaches you and me the value of sacrifice. Sacrifice is necessary for all of us in our vocations, and any parent, spouse, priest, religious or dedicated single person knows the value and necessity of this. In his book, “The Mystery of Joseph,” Father Marie-Dominique Philippe writes of St. Joseph’s suffering: “There is no doubt that the sword of sorrow penetrates Mary’s heart the most deeply, but it pierces Joseph’s heart as well. In their common suffering, in their shared sadness and anguish, Joseph and Mary come to know a new degree of intimacy; together they bear the first fruits of Jesus’ apostolic life.”
St. Joseph invites you and me in the struggles of life to unite our pain to the cross of Christ. Suffering is always a mystery, but it is not devoid of meaning. The more that we unite our pain and struggles to Christ, the more that we draw into the infinite love, mercy and forgiveness of God. Joseph in denying his own objectives, wants and desires makes his will one with God. We are also called, like him, to unite and sacrifice. This can be done through charitable giving, fasting, increased prayer or giving things away we do not need. Regardless, sacrifice is crucial to ready the way for Christ.
The Year of St. Joseph is certainly rich in reflection and meaning. This Advent hopefully presents a continuation of our spotlight on St. Joseph and an increased desire to emulate this great saint so loved by Our Lady and Our Savior.
Silence, service, simplicity and sacrifice are not easy pills to swallow, but they do lead us closer to Christ and salvation. May the anticipated joy of Advent lead all of us to a deeper love of the Christ Child through the intercession of St. Joseph.
Father Michael Ackerman is the parochial vicar at the parish grouping of Holy Sepulcher in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, and St. Kilian in Butler, Pennsylvania.