St. Joseph and Manhood

I remember once being amused to hear that a certain Franciscan Theologian from the 19th Century (whose name I cannot remember) wrote a six volume “Life of St. Joseph.” Six volumes?! How could one possibly get enough material? We know so little of Joseph from the Scriptures. He seems to have been the strong, silent type. Not a word of his is recorded. But his actions have much to say, especially to to men. On this feast of St. Joseph we do well to ponder him as a model for manhood, for husbands and fathers.

  1. A man who obeys God and clings to his wife – Joseph was betrothed to Mary. This is more than being engaged. It means they were actually married. It was the practice at that time for a couple to marry rather young. Once betrothed they lived an additional year in their parents’ household as they became more acquainted and prepared for life together. Now at a certain point it was discovered that Mary was pregnant, though not by Joseph. The Scripture says that Joseph was a “just man.” This is does not mean that Joseph was a fair and nice guy (though I presume he was). What it means was that he was a follower of the Law. He based his life of the Jewish Law that God gave through Moses and as interpreted by the Rabbis. Now the Law said that if a man discovered that a woman to whom he was betrothed was not a virgin, he should divorce her and not “sully” his home. Joseph as a just man, that is a follower of the Law, was prepared to follow its requirements. However, he did not wish to expose Mary to the full force of the law which permitted the stoning of such women. Hence he chose to follow the law by filing the divorce decree  but not publicly accusing her. He would remain quiet as to his reason for the divorce and Mary would escape possible stoning. To fail to divorce Mary would expose Joseph to cultural ramifications. Just men just didn’t marry women guilty of fornication or adultery. To ignore this might have harmed not only Joseph’s standing in the community but also that of his family of origin. But you know the rest of the story. Joseph is told in a dream not to fear and that Mary  has committed no sin.  Matthew records: When Joseph awoke, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matt 1:24).  Now a man obeys God even if it not popular, even if he may suffer for it. Joseph is told to cling to his wife. He may suffer for it but he as a man “obeys God rather than men.” It takes a strong man to do this especially when we consider the culture in which Joseph lived, and in a small town, no less. Joseph models strong manhood and has something to say to the men of our day.  In the current wedding vows  a man agrees to cling to his wife, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or health. This is what a man is to do. Our culture often pressures men to bail out when there is trouble Joseph shows the way by obeying God over the pressures of prevailing culture, even if he will personally suffer for it.
  2. A man whose vocation is more important than his career – In Bethlehem Joseph is warned by an angel in a dream: Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him (Matt 2:13). Joseph may well have had much to lose in this flight. Back in Nazareth he had a business, a career if you will. He had business prospects, business partners and contacts. Fleeing to a distant land might mean others would take his business etc. But Joseph was a father and husband before he was a businessman. His child was threatened and his first obligation was to Jesus and Mary. His vocation outweighed his career. In a culture like ours where too many parents make their careers and livelihoods paramount and their children are too easily placed in day care Joseph displays a different priority. It is true that many parents feel they have no choice but to work. But it is also true that many demand a lifestyle which requires a lot of extra income. Perhaps a smaller house, less amenities etc would permit a daycare free childhood for more of our children. Joseph points the way for parents: vocation has priority over career. For fathers especially Joseph shows that a man is a husband and father before he is a businessman.
  3. A man who protects his family– And for men, Joseph also models a protective instinct that too many men lack today. Our children, like Jesus was,  are exposed to many dangers. Our American scene does not feature a lot of physical dangers but moral dangers surely abound. Fathers, what are your children watching on TV? What are their Internet habits?  Who are their friends? What do your children think about important moral issues? Are you preparing them to face the moral challenges and temptations of life?  Are you teaching them the faith along with your wife? Or are you just a passive father, uninvolved in the raising of your children? A man protects his children from harm, physical, moral and spiritual. Joseph shows forth this aspect of manhood.
  4. A man of work –The Scriptures (Matt 13:55) speak of Joseph as a “carpenter.” The Greek word however is τέκτονος (tekton, os) which can mean more than a worker in wood. It can also refer to a builder or any craftsman. It seems unlikely that Joseph and Jesus would have worked exclusively in wood since wood was more rare in the Holy Land and used more sparingly than in our culture. Stone was surely plentiful and so it may be that Joseph also worked with stone as well as wood in his work. It was and through his work Joseph supported his family. It is the call of a man to work diligently and to responsibly and reliably provide for his family.  Joseph models this essential aspect of manhood.  Paul felt it necessary to rebuke some of the men of his day for their idleness: In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching  you received from us….For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”  We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ that with quietness they earn the bread they eat. (2 Thess 310-12)
  5. A man who teaches his son– We learn from Scripture that Jesus too was a carpenter (Mk 6:3). It is obvious that it was Joseph who taught this trade to Jesus. Consider the hours each day they spent together as Joseph patiently handed this trade on to Jesus, teaching him of its intricacies, and methods. It is not enough for a father to provide for his children, he must also prepare them for life. He does this through modeling and teaching discipline, moderation, hard works, self-control, and many other life skills. In our times it is more rare for fathers to teach a trade to their sons or other children. But in the end a man prepares his children for life. Joseph models manhood by preparing his Son Jesus for life as a tradesman.

Joseph is a model for manhood. Nothing he ever said was recorded but his life speaks eloquently enough. He is referred to at the Guardian and Patron of the Universal Church. He has these titles for he was guardian, protector and patron(provider) of the Church in the earliest stage, when the Church was just Jesus and Mary. But since the Church is the mystical Body of Christ, in protecting, providing and preparing Jesus he was doing that for us for we are in Christ as members of his body. Men especially do well to imitate St. Joseph and invoke his patronage in all their endeavors as Husbands, Fathers and providers.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

22 Replies to “St. Joseph and Manhood”

  1. He’s also a man of love, patience, perseverance, hope, and holiness, as shown by the incident of the lost young Jesus in the temple.

  2. Good post monsignor. I would add Joseph’s silence as a sixth virtue for imitation: “A man who spoke through his actions.” It may just be me, but in today’s world there is entirely too much talking (or posting or texting or twittering or whatever), very little being said, and not enough doing.

    “Did you not know that I must be about my father’s business.” I’ve always imagined that these were hard words for Joseph to hear, as they would be for any father. Nonetheless, there is truth in them. If our lives are not our own, then even more so our children’s lives. I would that my children not be like me, but better than I am.

  3. This lenten season while spending my hour adoring Christ in the eucharist, I make it a point to ask for St. Joseph to intercede on my behalf, and assist me in being a better steward of the family our Lord has blessed me with. His prayers on my behalf have been most effective, as has a mere one hour a week spend alone in the Lords presence. I recommend this to anyone but especially to fathers.

  4. I certainly, live by the rule that I am a husband and father first. My wife and I wanted a similar atmosphere for our children as when we grew up where one parent was home. We decided that which ever parent had the better job, the other would stay home with the kids. It turned out to be me who was to stay home, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I asked the Lord a while ago, when I was having my own struggles with my career, to help me find a job that was good and true. One devoid of politics and one that I could really make a difference. I thought WOW! that’s a tall order! But I knew and believed that the Lord was listening and would some how find a way. With our culture still thinking that when a parent stays home it is typically the woman, I never considered it. When my wife and I discussed the prosepect, I did not know what to think initially. I certainly agreed but wondered if I was doing right by the Lord. As I wound down my days at my last job I was hoping something would happen that allowed me to stay working so my wife could be home. After all, it seemed to be the traditional way. Then it hit me. Being home with my son was everything I asked for. No politics, I was making a difference even it was only in my son’s life (and who is more important?), and what more pure a vocation then raising a child! That morning I told my employer I was leaving. During this Lent I was reflecting on my life and I was thinking of the bible where it said man will work all the rest of his days as a punishment for original sin. I wondered, was I fulfilling the role God set aside for me? Then I thought, wait a minute, the bible says man shall work, it didn’t go into specifics of that work. It is society that decided true “work” was outside the home, 40 hours a week (if you’re lucky)and you bring home a paycheck. Believe me, raising my son is work and can be very trying but I will give my whole life to my children, no questions asked. This experience has taught me many things but most of all it has brought me closer to our Lord. Whenever I feel lost or confused, he is always there. And the fact that the answer to my career struggles was something I never considered just proves how great the Lord is and proves, atleast to me, that this gift was from him and could only be from him. Now, when people tell me to get back to work, referring to my former career, I say I have a new career, it is a husband and father. It’s a true blessing that only a short while ago, a few days actually, that I really pondered this and here you have written a post about Fathers. God Bless you Father and Praise to Our Lord Jesus Christ.

    1. Glad you and your wife opted to have one of you stay at home. Typically as you point out it is the mother but there are situations where it is the father. God bless you all.

  5. Brian Z.: There is a man in my neighborhood who has been out of work for several years and whose wife provides the material support the family. They have good children, both of them in college now. The man is always about the neighborhood, he keeps an eye on things, helps the elderly who need help taking care of their houses, helps anybody really who needs an extra hand, watches out for the younger children, etc. Simply a blessing to all of us. Worth as much if not more than many of us with “legitimate” employment.

    1. Thank you for the kind words. We have some questionable neighbors and I definitley keep a look out too. It’s a crazy world out there and I do think about the kids, especially mine, when they leave the home to start school. I have a while yet, but still I think about it. It really is true. You see things ALOT differently when you become a parent. God Bless!

  6. Thanks for a awesome post and interesting comments. I found this post while searching for some music news. Thanks for sharing this post.

  7. PRAYER TO SAINT JOSEPH over 1900 years old….O St. Joseph whose protection is so great, so strong, so promp before the Throne of God, I place in you all my interest and desires. O St. Joseph do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord: so that having engaged here below your Heavenly power I may offer my Thanksgiving and Homage to the most Loving of Fathers. O St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my namy (say name here) and kiss His fine Head for me, and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray of us. Amen (Say for nine consecutive mornings for anything you may desire. It has seldom been known to fail).
    I personally began this novena in March 1996 when I had surgery for a ruptured large intestine. I had to wear a colostomy bag for six months, but had it reversed due to this prayer to St. Joseph. I was also able to quit drinking at that time based on this prayer. I love St. Joseph, He was there for me when I needed Him at my hour of crisis. I continue to say this prayer to Him every morning. My nine day novena has turned on to a lifetime novena. It is true, Saints do intercede.

  8. In America in a week with two great saints, much more attention is given to St Patrick. This is understanable and with 25% Irish heritage, I also have love for that great saint. However in the greater Church St Joseph is much, much more important. Just look at how the two saints are treated in the Liturgy of the Hours. St Joseph’s Feast Day is still a Holy Day of Obligation in several countries.

    Every single morning I pray the Litany of Saint Joseph. It takes a long time. I reflect on his attributes especially lately “Joseph most obedient.” I pray for the unemployed after “Model of laborers”, for my graddaughters after “Guardian of virgins”, for my whole immediate and extended family after “Safeguard of families”, for all those in afflection after “Consoler of the afficted”, for all the sick who have asked for prayers after “Hope of sick”, for all the souls of those who have recently died after “Patron of the dying”, “Terror of demons” speaks of itself, for all in the Church who we love after “Protector of Holy Church.” After the litany, I pray “The Anciet Payer to St Joseph.” I love St Joseph.

  9. Women of God. Take a seat and relax. Let your Joseph do the work. He will if you let him.


  10. Msgr.,
    Great post on St. Joseph.
    There is one question I have though…
    You mention that St. Joseph taught Jesus how to be a carpenter. I am not sure we really want to say this…

    In the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas states very clearly that Christ was not “taught” anything by any man or angel. (cf. ST III, q.12, a.3)
    Of course, the Lord learned certain things from others–for example, human language–however, this is different than being “taught”. To be “taught” is to be subordinated as a pupil to a master; it implies also a movement from ignorance to knowledge.

    Now I hope that no one here would be implying that Christ was ignorant of the skills of carpentry…both as God and as man, Christ knew all things. And, while it is true that Christ “grew” in knowledge through experience, this growth implies only learning things in a new way.
    Thus, though Christ already knew all things, both as God and as man, he came to know many things in a new way through experiencing them as a man.

    It is in this sense alone that Christ “learned” the skills of carpentry, etc., from observing St. Joseph.
    And this is very different from the way in which a father teaches a son–the son is less than the father in his knowledge; the son is moved by his father from ignorance to understanding.

    Christ did, however, look to St. Joseph and observe the Just Man, learning for the first time through experience what a just man really looks like in concrete experiential existence.

    In any case, it is probably too much to say that “St. Joseph PATIENTLY handed on the trade to Jesus.” This implies that Christ made many errors and that it was only through much effort that our Lord was able to learn…an idea which is quite incompatible with our theological tradition.

    Just something to think about,

    1. I respect your position here and surely am, myself a great disciple of St. Thomas. However it should be stated that the matter of the human knowledge of Christ is an area where there is debate and varying opinions. In terms of his divine knowledge Chirst knew everything. But how his divine knowledge interacted with his human knowledge is a very great mystery. In terms of the human knowledge itself there is surely infused knowledge that Christ had as is evident from Scripture. Such infused knowledge is clearly had by him and used by him in reference to his public ministry. However there is legitimate debate as to the extent of this infused knowledge in Christ. He clearly knew things about people in terms of their history, intent, state of soul etc. But it is not excepted by all theologians that Christ therefore knew by infusion in his human knowledge how to be a carpenter in every detail. It does not follow that he knew in his human knowledge all the particulars of nuclear physics, the workings of the the internal combustion engine, quantum physics, etc. Clearly as God he knew all these things but as Man there is some debate as to what he knew and when. Scripture does say he grew in age and grace and wisdom before God and man. I do not think that this text refers merely to experiental knowledge and would conclude from this that Christ expereinced the human capacity to learn from others in some matters. Exactly how the scientia infusa and the scientia acquisita interacted or are distinguished in every detail is also mysterious. How, for example can someone with complete infused knowledge grow in wisdom? And how is experiential knowledge to be absolutely distinguished from infused knowledge. These matters I argue are mysterious to us. We ought to hold both kinds of human knowledge in Christ and proper balance is essential so that one form should not so expand as to ecclipse the other.

      Now you are free to hold that Chirst needed no teacher in terms of his human knowledge and that he knew everything humanly down to the minutest detail of molecular biology etc. I respect your position in this regard. Generally speaking I have a very high Christology to which I adhere. I surely respect St. Thomas and what he says however I do not always agree with every detail and in this matter I have some differences with a claim that no one could teach Christ anything. Such a position, it seems to me, robs Christ too extensively of a human mode of living. I prefer what seems to me to be a more nuanced understanding of the infused knowledge of Christ and it’s extent wherein Christ surely had a substantial infused knowledge in the matters that pertained to his mission but it did not necessarily extend to every human science and art. Why should it have had to?

      In matters such as this I am not aware of any dogma that is transgressed by my position or yours. Hence I think we are free to differ and do not need to dogmatize one answer or another. Ludwig Ott in Fundamentals attributes to the expansive scientia infusa you articulate the note: “sententia communis” which refers to doctrine which in itself belongs to the field of free opinions but which is also widely accepted. (cf p. 10)

      So thanks for stating your position here and that of Thomas. I still think that Joseph did have things to teach Chirst in terms of carpentry and do not think I mis-spoke though your rebuttal is surely of help in igniting critical thinking in this matter and helps others to improve their understanding of the issue.

      1. Msgr.
        Thank you for your reply to my comment. I can see you take great care in being faithful to the Church’s doctrine. Indeed, you are quite right that there is great diversity of theological opinion on the matter of Christ’s acquired knowledge.

        I certainly did not mean to imply that your opinion on this one point is contrary to any official doctrine, but only to point out that it is different from the general thought of the Church’s theological tradition (the “sententia communis”, as you point out).

        However, that being said, I do think that with careful consideration St. Thomas’ articulation of Christ’s experiential “growth” in wisdom and knowledge could still provide for a very sound and pious understanding of the way in which the Child Jesus looked to St. Joseph and experienced what it means to be a just man and a hard worker. This experiential growth in understanding would in no way be negated by Christ’s infused and beatific knowledge (just as his human knowledge in general is not negated by his divine knowledge).

        As to why it is important to hold that Christ had infused knowledge of things which do not pertain directly to his mission of salvation…I would invite us all to contemplate this point of comparison: though the essential truth of Scripture is the mystery of salvation, yet every word of Scripture is inspired by God and the whole of Scripture is without error. In an analogous way, Christ’s knowledge extends not merely to the truths of salvation, but to all truths which the human mind can know.
        That Christ was free from all positive ignorance and error in his human knowledge is a “sententia certa” according to Ott. Pope Gregory the Great defended the perfection of Christ’s knowledge against the Agnoetes heretics.

        …just something to think about. Of course, there is much room for diversity of opinion and, especially, in the way in which this doctrine is expressed and applied to particular instances in Christ’s life.
        I have great respect for your theological considerations and your manifest devotion to St. Joseph.

        Thank you for your insightful and pious article!
        St. Joseph, just man, spouse of the Blessed Virgin and guardian of the Savior, Pray for us!


  11. I have a question having nothing to do with Joseph’s manhood, but rather the feast day of St. Joesph. Don’t know why I was so late in learning this, but somewhat recently I was told that fasting and abstinence were not to be done on Sundays or on feast days during Lent. So, when a feast day falls on a Friday during Lent, is one still obligated to abstain from meat? I did anyway, as I rather like the opportunity to get my kids to eat some meatless foods, but I am curious about the obligation.

  12. this is great. I want to marry a man like this. can someone tell me how to be a good woman?

  13. Joseph was also a very humble man. He did not seek his own glory. When the Sacred Authors were writing the Gospels, he did not ask the Holy Spirit to give him more of the limelight. He certainly deserved more, but God has His reasons, and Joseph was always attentive to the will of God. Saint Joseph has certainly been my Patron and Protector in my journey back to the Faith. Thank you, Joseph, my Foster Father.

  14. I read somewhere that St. Joseph did not witness Our Lord’s birth, for he was ‘in a dream’. Coming out of the dream, his first act was to pray (I was inspired here to imitate this to the extent that my first action arising in the morning is to say my prayers).

    Then another told me they had read that during the nativity St. Joseph was in an ecstasy. Immediately, the two stories knitted: dream and ecstasy were words for the same thing.

    It seems also to account for why a person would put such trust in a dream! Ecstasies, of course, put things in a whole different context.

    Lastly, in the Reign of Mary, as predicted by St. Louis de Montfort and the messages from Fatima, I’ve also heard that Saint Joseph’s honour is increase to that which we currently give to Our Lady – Mary’s honour ascending to immensely greater heights than it is just now.

    Glorious Saint Joseph, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

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