I’ve recently come to realize a fundamental truth. St. Joseph is a Rock Star. He is the powerful icon of solid, grounded masculinity our anemic culture desperately needs.
It’s not that I haven’t seen St. Joseph positively. My childhood parish had a strong Italian presence, and with that came the custom of a “St. Joseph’s Table”. On his feast day, Italian parishioners offered a smorgasbord in which, to paraphrase Tolkien, it “rained lasagna and snowed Italian cookies”. My family’s food budget was very limited, and my sainted mother’s Irish-American “cuisine” was, um, unadventurous. (In Ireland, salt is considered a spice.) So the St. Joseph’s Table was a feast beyond our imaginings.
Otherwise, St. Joseph was a familiar kind of background figure. No nativity scene was complete without him, of course. But he wasn’t very dynamic or striking. Only as I came to know some men who embodied his quiet, courageous, faithful strength did my appreciation of him grow.
This has a lot to do with my own personality. I like to joke. I like to talk. I bristle with opinions and go on rants. I’m all too attached to attention and recognition. So when I see a St. Joseph type, I’m drawn to him. I’d like to be more like that – quiet, brave, faithful, strong, and steady.
But St. Joseph is also, clearly, a man of deep prayer – a mystic. His still waters run deep. He not only knows that God works in mysterious ways, but that all of His ways are trustworthy. Angels come to him in dreams. “Joseph, do not fear to take Mary [to be] your wife…(Mt 1:20).” He does. “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt…(Mt 2:13). He does. And then again, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel…(Mt 2:20). He wordlessly carries his family to safety again and again, trusting that God has sent His angels to take charge of them, to guard them in all of their ways (cf. Ps 91:11).
My clients and other acquaintances have expressed similar admiration for St. Joseph. “St. Joseph rocks.” “He is completely awesome.” “He is The Bomb.” He is a healing, protecting figure for those whose fathers were not, as one client found. He is a man’s man, another told me. I have myself spent time in prayer, held close in his warm and fatherly embrace.
I’ve known some St. Josephs. “Uncle” Al was our quiet, elderly next-door neighbor in Milwaukee. He was a daily communicant. I’d go to him for wisdom about parenting Michael, since his family was so solid. He and his wife Rosemary, married for 50-plus years, lovingly functioned as Michael’s in-town grandparents. He was unfailingly friendly, with a ready smile that surprisingly lit up his otherwise serious face.
St. Josephs are often handy types, a quality I admire from afar. Uncle Al worked harder in his late 70s than most people do in their 20s. One hot July day, he helped me put up a new fence in our backyard. I’d procrastinated for six months, preferring blog posts to fence posts. A meticulous worker, Uncle Al had the alignment and height of the posts down to the micron. After a few hours of posthole digging, I was ready for a lunch break. I figured we’d take an hour or two. After a half hour, Uncle Al was at the back door. “Well, let’s get going!” I, the young buck, secretly sighed. But we finished by late afternoon.
My spiritual director for thirty years now, Fr. Louis, has been another St. Joseph figure. At first glance, he’s an unlikely candidate. Unlike the simple, probably unlettered St. Joseph, Fr. Louis is highly edu-ma-cated. He is a voracious reader with piles of books still to be read packing his rectory. His first career was as an M.D. running the sports medicine clinic at the University of Illinois at Champaign. He also has a Ph.D. in Anthropology, is credentialed as a psychotherapist, and has the Masters in Divinity required for ordination as a Catholic priest. He is fluent in French and in Spanish.
But Fr. Louis shares St. Joseph’s humility and obedience. When he realized the Lord was calling him to be a priest, his first response was to tell the Lord that all of his medical expertise was at His disposal. The Lord’s response was, “You lay that all down. Your time of being a physician is over now.” And Fr. Louis did. He currently pastors a parish solo in Georgia, far from his brethren in the Camillan order. There is a need, and he’s filling it.
Brilliant as he is, Fr. Louis is entirely down to earth. He has recently had some heart trouble as well as diabetes. His doctors have told him he’s got to get on an exercise and diet program. He’s trying. But he freely admits he’d much rather curl up with a book and a cupcake than run marathons. He pokes gentle fun at himself for his not-perfectly-toned physique. His sharing of his own foibles and trials has helped me with mine.
My buddy Don from Panama City is another St. Joseph kind of guy. Fifteen years ago, he joined a men’s Bible sharing I was co-facilitating. He was the quietest member of our sometimes boisterous group. He said he was taking it all in, “just listening”. He bought and devoured every book I recommended on the spiritual life – and I am a compulsive book-recommender. It was almost intimidating. “Wow! He really trusts my judgment.” I’ve had the pleasure of watching his walk with the Lord grow by leaps and bounds.
Don has a gift for hospitality and setting people at ease. He and his lovely wife Barb started hosting gatherings of the men’s group at their lakeside house. A leadfoot on the Jet Ski, he’d take us for heartstopping innertube rides around the lake. Then we’d feast on barbecue as we watched the sun set.
An orthopedic PA, Don has gone on medical missions to South America and Africa at his own expense. He and those he travels with offer medical services to the desperately poor, free of charge. Some of the needs are quite basic. For example, he and his daughter spent a day washing the hair of some of the thousands of street orphans who roam the streets of Santiago, Chile. When I left Panama City, Don’s compassionate heart made him the obvious choice to continue visiting a double-amputee friend of mine at a local nursing home. Just recently, he graciously visited my friend Kevin at the Panama City jail. Kevin was awaiting release from prison. Kevin was freed, and Don is now helping him to find employment.
St. Joseph is a model for all Christians – male, female, priestly, religious, and lay. However, part of what makes him my rock star is that he, foster-father of Jesus and husband of the Blessed Mother, was also a layman. Not a priest. Not a deacon. Not a brother. Yet Jesus called him “Dad” (Abba). He and Mary called each other “sweetheart” (or its Aramaic equivalent). The holiness, obedience, faithfulness, strength, and courage of St. Joseph are available to every one of us. We need only respond with his generosity to the grace God that gives us.
St. Joseph is a Rock Star. But we can all be more like him, helped by his example and intercession. St. Joseph, pray for us!