A priest friend and mentor of mine from my Wollongong days used to make a unique offer to families who came to his parish for the baptism of their child. If the name of the child did not include a saint’s name, he would propose to them to add either Mary (for a girl) or Joseph (for a boy) to the child’s name. More times than not, parents accepted this lovely suggestion, and as a result there are whole generations of adult Christians in a certain location in the Illawarra region who are named in part after a member of the Holy Family.
When it comes to the saints, everyone has their own list of personal favourites. But we probably all have a list—hopefully not too long—of saints to whom we don’t naturally warm. Yet, I can confidently say that I have never met anyone who has spoken with anything less than great enthusiasm and deep warmth about St Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. There is something about this man of God that appeals to us in ways not in need of explanation.
His trust and acceptance in the face of unlooked-for turns and troubles in life; his deep respect, care and honour for his beloved wife; his love and guardianship of his mysterious son; his faithfulness to the paths of grace and his unpretentious dignity—all these characteristics of St Joseph present to us a man among men and women.
In a most striking way, St Joseph lived a very unassuming life, away from the limelight, and our admiration for him comes to us via the light that his life and actions shone on the lives of those he had taken on. He accepted a wife who had been chosen by Another; he accepted a son not of his own flesh. He chose to live the way of faith, hope and love, all the while remaining in the background to allow the light of others to shine.
A saint is someone who has discovered the mercy of God, who has welcomed the friendship of Jesus, and who has responded to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Isn’t that an apt description of St Joseph! Yet it can also be a description of each of us. Like St Joseph, we do not need to be ‘up front’ or ‘leading the way’ in some public manner; the pathway to saintliness in the Joseph way is quietly and personally and intimately walked; it is saintliness in a family context. There is tenderness with resolve; boldness with care; dreams with reality.
As another saintly man said of this man of God:
St Joseph is the model of those humble ones that Christianity raises up to great destinies … he is the proof that in order to be a good and genuine follower of Christ, there is no need of great things—it is enough to have the common, simple and human virtues, but they need to be true and authentic.
—Pope St Paul VI, homily, 19 March 1969
St Joseph, pray for us and our families.