By Father John Bayer
Special to The Texas Catholic
On Dec. 8, 2020, Pope Francis dedicated the coming year to St. Joseph. Now, in June, we are at the halfway point. To participate in his intention for the year, I read “Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father” by Father Donald Calloway. It was recommended to me by a friend, a layman, who started a prayer group around the popular book. I want to share with you some insights I received about St. Joseph by reading this book and by rereading the Gospel, and to encourage you to read this book or to do something similar to honor St. Joseph and learn from him during this year.
The first insight concerns St. Joseph’s sleeping habits. In the Gospel, he heard God’s will for his life at least three times while dreaming (cf. Matthew 1-2). This makes me think about sleeping as a model of prayer. Of course, prayer is often formal. One image for prayer is speaking before a king or someone we owe respect. We wouldn’t yawn or fall asleep if we had an audience with the King of kings! But another true image for prayer is speaking before a loving parent; and not only speaking but also just relishing the presence of that parent — leaning and falling asleep on their secure shoulder, letting them act upon us as we lay passive, like a child being carried upstairs for bed. St. Joseph hearing God in dreams is a model we can take for letting God speak to us in all things and for accepting that he often speaks to us in surprisingly “informal” ways. He is the God of all times and places, the God of every moment of our lives, whether we are tired in a bed or alert in a pew. God can speak to us not only when we are consciously paying attention; he can also speak and act by pressing upon the tiny, often subconscious, movements in our hearts.
The second insight concerns St. Joseph’s strength, both physically and morally. Contrary to a popular assumption, he was probably not an old man when he married Mary. As Mother Angelica once noted, old men don’t walk to Egypt — and Joseph walked with his family all the way to Egypt (Mt 2:14). Some people assumed he was old, since they thought his age would make it easier to explain his celibate marriage. However, Father Calloway points out that it seems more reasonable to account for his celibacy by appealing to the virtue of chastity rather than the alleged exhaustion of age! To be sure, St. Joseph was probably considerably older than Mary, because he must have died before the crucifixion. At the cross, Jesus entrusted Mary to St. John, and that wouldn’t make sense if her husband, were still alive (notice also there were no siblings to whom Jesus could have entrusted her). Still, from all the evidence it seems reasonable to think St. Joseph was still quite strong at their marriage, even if older than Mary.
Joseph’s physical strength, or his youthful ability to walk all the way to Egypt, is therefore a sign of his moral strength, and not just his chastity. As a husband and foster father, he sacrificed his own ambitions in order to love his family, and thereby he fulfilled himself as a man. At least three times the angel visits him in a dream to tell him to “take Mary” or “take the child and his mother” — that is, to take Mary into his home, to take her and Jesus to Egypt to protect them from Herod, and then to return to stay in Galilee to protect them from Herod’s son and successor (Archelaus). It is easy to imagine a man like St. Joseph would have had his own career ambitions growing up, and that it was not easy to leave his job and home behind. But God called him to be the generous servant-protector of his chosen lady; to sacrifice and travel all over the land in order to protect Mary and Jesus.
Joseph was strong. However, we should realize that his manly strength was measured not by his muscles but by his capacity for sacrifice. As a chaste man, he knew marriage involves loving a woman generously, and not trying to possess her for merely private desires. As a good husband and foster father, he knew he should not put his career first; rather, he should follow God’s plan for his family first, and therefore protect his family by striving to be a physical and emotional provider for them.
What a man! On Father’s Day in this year dedicated to St. Joseph, let’s pray for the men in our lives, that every day they might grow more like St. Joseph.
Father John Bayer, O.Cist., is a monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving.