10 Really Important Lessons in Love for Men
In a few short days we will honor Saint Joseph by celebrating his Solemnity on March 19th. A “Solemnity” is a great feast which is celebrated to bestow honor on something or someone, in this case Saint Joseph.
Relatively little is known about Saint Joseph. The bible is uniquely silent. Joseph is never quoted nor are any words attributed to him. The only personal fact presented is that he is a “righteous man” (Matthew 1:19).
All we know of Joseph and his life are contained in the first two chapters Matthew and Luke. The Gospel of Mark never mentions him by name and John’s Gospel only comments “The Jews murmured about him …and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (John 6:41-42)
Scripture only speaks of Joseph in regard to: His genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17), the circumstances surrounding Mary’s conception and Jesus’ birth (Matthew 1:18-24, Luke 1:26- 38, Luke 2:1-40), the flight of the holy family into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23), and his presence at the finding of the child Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:41-52).
Despite the absence of information, St. Joseph has always been held in esteem, serving as an example especially for men. There is a great deal of insight that men can gain from him. Here are a few ways the life of St. Joseph can influence men's understanding of their vocations and relationship with God. From this great saint, we give you 10 really important lessons in love for men:
1. Fatherhood is defined by love not biology
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah……the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah.” (Matthew 1:1-3, 16)
Although, Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father, these lines confirm that his fatherhood was not lessened by this fact. John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation, Guardian of the Redeemer, tells us “Joseph's marriage to Mary is the juridical basis of his fatherhood. It was to assure fatherly protection for Jesus that God chose Joseph to be Mary's spouse. It follows that Joseph's fatherhood—a relationship that places him as close as possible to Christ… comes to pass through marriage to Mary, that is, through the family.”
In other words, fatherhood is defined by our relationship to our children. Is it one of closeness? Of love? Are we actively present in their lives? The answers to these questions and others like them are what define us as fathers.
2. A man’s most important service is often unseen
“Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary,…” (Mark 6:3)
We see these words applied to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. So often we men are labeled by our profession. Our work becomes a measure of who we are.
Part of Jesus’ identity was that he was a carpenter. This, however, was not an identity with which he was born. It was an identity he assumed from Joseph. One can only imagine the many unrecorded years the two spent together in the workshop, Joseph forming and crafting Jesus’ skill. However, one can be sure that Joseph would not have limited his teaching to woodworking alone. For “Why should the 'fatherly' love of Joseph not have had an influence upon the 'filial' love of Jesus? And vice versa ...” (John Paul II, Guardian of the Redeemer)
How much of Jesus’ identity was assumed from Joseph we will never know. But we can be certain that a bit of Joseph walked in every step that Jesus took.
Similarly, our most important task, the formation of our children, is mainly unseen. Sometimes we are tempted to throw ourselves into our occupations because this is what is visible and from where most of our accolades come. Let us not forget that the most important work we do is that recorded in the lives of our children.
3. Work is a way of saying “I love you”
“Work was the daily expression of love in the life of the Family of Nazareth.” (John Paul II, Guardian of the Redeemer)
Supporting our families is not only a solemn obligation it is an expression of love. Each morning, my 3 year old son asks me why I have to go to work. My response is “so I can buy you crackers.” While I like my job, I do it for the money. I do it as a means of support for my family. Work is a means to an end. The end is love.
4. Fatherhood bestows both responsibility and authority
“…the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)
So it was that Joseph was commanded to name Jesus. In this action of naming, Joseph assumed the authority of fatherhood and also its responsibility. From that point forward, he would become in the words of John Paul II “the guardian of the redeemer.” God would entrust to him His only begotten son. I expect that this was not the manner in which Joseph envisioned his family life. He would have to give up a great deal: accept the shame of the world who might assume that Mary was unfaithful, leave his homeland, fleeing into Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod—and, I am sure, wrestle with the weight of knowing his responsibility in God’s plan.
In the same way, each of our own children is a soul entrusted to us by God. We have the responsibility to raise that soul in goodness and love even at great personal cost.
5. Fatherhood is a direct service to God
“For salvation-which comes through the humanity of Jesus-is realized in actions which are an everyday part of family life, in keeping with that "condescension" which is inherent in the economy of the Incarnation.” (John Paul II, Guardian of the Redeemer)
The role of the father is an essential part of the “divine economy” (God’s plan for salvation of mankind). Jesus and Mary were entrusted to Joseph as part of a divine plan. This is because grace is materialized by actions, the actions which form everyday life within the family. It is from fathers that children learn boundaries. They learn to apply their strength to defend the weak and, accordingly, to moderate strength with mercy.
6. The work of salvation begins in the family
“…“But whereas Adam and Eve were the source of evil which was unleashed on the world, Joseph and Mary arc the summit from which holiness spreads all over the earth. The Savior began the work of salvation by this virginal and holy union, wherein is manifested his all-powerful will to purify and sanctify the family - that sanctuary of love and cradle of life."” (Pope Paul VI as quoted by John Paul II, Guardian of the Redeemer)
Jesus’ mission, the work of salvation, begins in the home. This is because the real work of the family is to reveal and communicate love which is the embodiment of Christ’s love for humanity.
7. Silence is a virtue
As mentioned above, Scripture attributes no words to Joseph. As men, we can learn the value of holding our tongues. I know the pain that I can cause my wife with my words. Often times, when we argue, I would be best served to hold my speech one sentence short. For it is often in that last sentence that I utter one final shot, my most hurtful words.
Likewise (and I need to learn from my own words), screaming and shouting at my children in anger really serves no value in discipline. My authority is exercised best through quiet reasoned responses which in the end will have a positive impact on my relationship with my children rather than negative.
8. The interior life is primary
“Joseph was in daily contact with the mystery "hidden from ages past," and which "dwelt" under his roof.” (John Paul II, Guardian of the Redeemer)
The silence of Joseph’s life emphasizes a critical point, which is that we come in contact with the mystery of God in the silent aspects of our life. Just as Joseph encountered God in the inner sanctum of his home, so it is that we encounter God in our inner sanctums, our hearts. We must learn to enter into this inner sanctum daily and this is only possible if we embrace the silence of our thoughts. We must avoid the temptation to drown out these thoughts through the escape of entertainment and a life full of noise.
9. God communicates directly with each one of us
“… behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.” (Matthew 2:13-14)
Sometimes when we read the bible we fail to experience the human aspects of the characters. What must Joseph have been thinking when he awoke? Would I leave everything because of a dream? Do I recognize the voice of God so clearly that I am willing to take bold action?
While God may not speak to each of us in our dreams, He does speak to each one of daily. He places within us promptings and desires which call us to Him. We must learn to weigh these promptings and decipher their meaning. Joseph was able to recognize the will of God because he had lived a life of faithfulness in ordinary matters. So it is with us. As we strive to serve God through ordinary means we come to recognize His movements in our life. We begin to recognize the patterns of God’s communication so that we are able to confidently follow when He calls.
10. Great faithfulness is its own reward
“This love of God also molds-in a completely unique way-the love of husband and wife, deepening within it everything of human worth and beauty, everything that bespeaks an exclusive gift of self, a covenant between persons, and an authentic communion according to the model of the Blessed Trinity.” (John Paul II, Guardian of the Redeemer)
Saint Joseph is known as the patron of a happy death. This is because tradition holds that he died in the presence of Jesus and Mary. This great blessing was the fruit of lifelong faithfulness to family relationships. Oftentimes, God’s commandments and the Catholic Church’s teaching regarding marriage and family life are seen as burdens. However, they are really sign posts calling us to live in a manner radically different than that of the world so that we might experience all the benefits God has bestowed on us in marriage. The end result is fruitful and loving family relationships which endure and support us even to the point of death.