Not So Silent St. Joseph

St. Joseph is one of the most impressive individuals of the New Testament. He was the protector and earthly legal father of Jesus. He is venerated as a patron saint of the Universal Church, of the Americas, and of many countries as well, including Austria, Belgium, Canada, and China. He is also a patron saint of fathers, workers, travelers, and immigrants.

He is a role model of many virtues, including prudence, fortitude, leadership, enterprise, and diligence. His virtues helped him to deal with the many challenges in his life and allowed him to serve as a good protector and provider for his family. Many authors have commented on these virtues, so we will not repeat them here. Instead, we will concentrate on a less explored St. Joseph’s virtue: sincerity. 

Sincerity governs communication with others. It builds on truthfulness, which is the only acceptable foundation of good communication as everything else (lying) is sinful and ruins the trust between people. However, truthful communication needs additional refinement. Listeners are entitled to know facts important to them, but there is also confidential information to which they have no right. The virtue of sincerity helps a speaker to assess which information to reveal to whom. This additional communication virtue is an offshoot of the cardinal virtues of justice and prudence. It is the sweet spot between two extremes: secretiveness (insincerity) that reveals too little and indiscreetness that reveals too much.

The defect of secretiveness leads to revealing too little. For example, family members and others with whom we interact are entitled to understand our conduct that affects them. Sometimes the understanding is easy, but sometimes it requires an explanation. When considering how much to explain, we should not overestimate their ability to understand. They may be genuinely puzzled or bewildered if our behavior is incomprehensible to them.

St. Joseph was a descendant of a royal family. That is why he had to travel for a census to Bethlehem, the city of his ancestor, King David (Lk 2:4). We can be certain that St. Mary, who accompanied him, knew and understood the reason for the trip. What was supposed to be a relatively short trip transformed into a sequence of life-changing events of epic proportion. There was a birth of Jesus in Bethlehem (Lk 2:6-7), the threat to Jesus’ life from the local ruler Herod (Mt 2:16), the flight to Egypt (Mt 2:15), and return after several years in exile (Mt 2:21).

Scripture provides unusual explanations of the big decisions that St. Joseph made: An angel advised St. Joseph in his dream to flee to Egypt and to return when the danger passed (Mt 2:13, Mt 2:19-20). How did the Gospel authors know these explanations? St. Joseph must have shared them with St. Mary, who in turn shared them to the evangelist who recorded them in the gospel.

Imagine if St. Joseph had been secretive, kept his reasons to himself and told St. Mary without any clarification: “Let’s go to Egypt” and later, “Let’s go back.” By such behavior, he would have created an enormous strain in his marriage. On the other hand, accepting these extraordinary explanations was heroic by St. Mary and we must admit that it exceeded what can be expected of most wives of our times.

There is also an opposite vice of excess, revealing too much, called indiscreetness. As mentioned earlier, St. Joseph was a descendant of King David. However, his royal family fell on hard time. Consequently, there was no royal palace, there was only a modest house in a small village, and hard work in the profession of carpentry and in homemaking. The ruling royal family, Herodians, were on a constant lookout for anything that would threaten their power. When the three wise men inadvertently confided in Herod, there was an immediate danger to the life of Jesus (Mt 2:16). After that experience, St. Joseph avoided living in Bethlehem, the city of his forefather King David. Instead, he lived in an obscure Galilean village of Nazareth. He kept the information about his royal descent confidential, sharing it only with his immediate family. In Nazareth, he and his family lived a quiet life like those in the present-day Witness Protection Program.

Many people commented on the St. Joseph’s discreteness and sometimes mistakenly dub him “man of silence.” It is true that he kept dangerous information away from curious neighbors and that the New Testament does not record any of his pronouncements. But he was not secretive and communicated his dreams and reasons to St. Mary and later to Jesus. He was an example of sincerity, saying what needed to be said and not saying what needed to be kept confidential.

In this, he is a role model for husbands and fathers. We can emulate the sincerity of St. Joseph by telling our companions important things about our past, traditions, customs, expectations, and dreams, and in this way to help them to understand our present-day behavior. We should do it even if we do not live in a perfect holy family but in an imperfect one. Their response may range from appreciation to disbelief or ridicule, but still we should find the fortitude to do it, because it is required by the justice towards our companions and it is the only path towards long-term peace. Where secretiveness prevails, misunderstandings often follow and result in mistrust and strife.

Unfortunately, current culture often offers bad examples of insincerity. In order to sell products or political candidates, insincere actors cover up inconvenient facts. Instead of debating issues at hand, they switch the topic and attack the other party for something unrelated. Instead of finding convincing arguments for their positions, they spend their energy digging out embarrassing dirt on their opponents. Allowing these attitudes to pollute our communications would be devastating to our relationships.

As mentioned earlier, indiscreetness is a vice of excess and it leads to revealing too much, including needlessly exposing faults of loved ones. Also, there are braggarts who want to impress their audience and are willing to disclose things that should stay hidden. This vice also breeds misunderstandings that threaten the peace in relationships.

Serious insincerity and indiscreetness violate cardinal virtues of justice and prudence and may be serious sins. Moreover, it takes only a small step to magnify these vices into outright dishonesty and lies.

Good communication, based on truthfulness and sincerity, is pleasing to God and to people of goodwill. It brings us closer to the Kingdom of God, where peace and harmony prevails. Let us call on St. Joseph to intercede for us and help us to live the virtue of sincerity, and through it, to bring peace into our relationships!

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