Saint Joseph: The Love of His Heart and the Work of His Hands
When we think of St Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin and patron of the universal Church, certain words come immediately to mind: faithful, just, obedient, silent. There is precious little information in Scripture about him, but these words always seem apt to describe his character. We know his profession: he was a craftsman. We know how he worked. We also know how and whom he loved: Jesus and Mary.
Are there more important “facts” to know about a man? The love of his heart, the work of his hands—that’s all we really need to know. You can tell a man’s character by the love of his life and the work of his hands. The woman he chooses to love and to marry and to stay with for life; the quality of his work, however humble and hidden it might be. That is what makes a man a man.
But what makes a man not only good, but a Saint, is how he responds to God. Nature drives a man to work and to marry. Grace moves him to make of marriage and work an offering acceptable to God.
When you commit yourself to seeking God in all things, then all things can become the means to holiness. Grace enables us to see God working in places where we thought only man should go: the workshop, the home, the roads on which we travel. We know that St Joseph saw the hand of God clearly in all of these places because he served God so faithfully and silently in them. He was attentive to the voice of God and to the indications of His will, God’s choices, as St Josemaria says.
It is a clear sign that we have a sense of God’s presence and purpose when we embrace difficulties with peace and detachment. Our Lady’s holy spouse did not shy away from inconvenience, and serving God sometimes involves not a little human inconvenience. St Joseph’s attitude was: If the only place for Jesus’ birth is a stable, then we will make the stable work. That will be our home for as long as God wills. If it is to Egypt that we must go and stay there for an indefinite time, then we will make it work. It will be our home for as long as God wills.
If we think of St Joseph as being faithful, just, obedient, silent, it is because he was a man who loved and worked in God’s presence. Some years ago, His Holiness Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, said that even in his sleep St Joseph showed an awareness of God. Quoting the Song of Songs, the then Cardinal said, “‘I slept, but my heart was vigilant.’ The external senses are at rest, but the depths of the soul are open and receptive…. [St Joseph] is a man whose heart is open enough to receive what the living God and His angel tell him…. He is someone who unites inner recollection and promptness” (Homily of 19 March 1992).
That openness to God shows forth in the way a man loves and works. He is not living for himself, to make a name for himself, to lay hold of fame and fortune. He works and loves in a prayerful spirit, so that he can be prompt to obey when God calls him to act in a special way. In St Joseph, we honor a man who was not only good, humble, and a hardworking provider for his family, but one who lovingly and prayerfully made God’s choices his own.
In that same homily of Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope also reflected on how hard it has become for modern man to have that same kind of contemplative receptivity to God. And it’s true: The contemporary world is micromanaged by every type of technology. Our cell phones make us always available, our computers keep us connected with the entire world via the internet, even our wristwatches have a precise, digital accuracy. Fine and good. But why?
We can become receptive to every form of communication except to the voice of the living God. That takes effort. Can we listen like St Joseph? Can we open our hearts to God, like the holy Patriarch? On our own, we cannot. We must pray for the grace to see and hear God as he did. St Josemaria was often moved to pray, “Domine, ut videam!” “Lord, that I may see!” Making our own the prayer and the cry of the blind in the Gospels helps open us, in a truly contemplative way, to discern the action and will of God in our lives.
Following St Joseph, we can begin today to renew our hearts and minds. This is God’s world, the work of His hands, the fruit of His love. May we see it as such, so that we can follow more faithfully the Lord Jesus, who leads “Joseph’s flock” through God’s earth to heaven. Between here and there, O glorious St Joseph, make us live our lives in God—loving, working, using all things in Him and for Him.