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On four great virtues of Saint Joseph

March 19th is the Solemnity of St. Joseph. People look to the saints as models of virtue, evidence of how concrete human beings have managed to live the kind of lives God wants of us.

Fr. Czesław Krakowiak, a professor at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, examined popular devotions to St. Joseph (as enumerated in the “Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy”) and identified four virtues which St. Joseph embodies. Let’s consider them because they are signs of contradiction to modern perspectives and mentalities.

Faith. St. Joseph is always a man of faith. He recognizes he is a son of Israel, bound in covenant to Him who Is. In some sense, St. Joseph takes faith for granted—not in the sense that he merely acquiesces in some practices because “everybody else is doing them” but, rather, in the sense that faith is part of the air he breathed. Thinking and acting under the guidance of faith is as “natural” to St. Joseph as a fish living in water: it is simply part of his chosen life’s path.

I stress the “chosen” element, which perhaps strikes some as a “modern” preoccupation, but it’s not. Faith must always become a personal decision, one that is personally appropriated. Otherwise, in crunch time, a person will crumble. And St. Joseph had plenty of crunch times in his life; that he stood firm was precisely because he was a man of faith.

God often talks to St. Joseph in his dreams. Our world might see relying on dreams as really an act of faith, but perhaps not so much for Israel. Remember that, for Israel, direct encounter with God was seen as fatal: one cannot see the face of God and live (Ex 33:20). Important moments in salvation history take place in sleep, e.g., it is within a “deep sleep” that God makes His covenant with Abram (Gen 15:12). God’s first great work in human salvation—fashioning for the man a fitting companion in woman (Gen 2:21)—occurs in a “deep sleep.” Given those precedents, that God would have communicated equally important things to Joseph in dreams (Mt 1:20; 2:13, 19, 22) in itself would not have surprised St. Joseph or his contemporaries.

But following what one has been told—that still requires a commitment in faith. And we see from St. Joseph’s response that his faith is not just a theoretical acceptance of a message but also a personal act of faith in a Person, that the One who has revealed it is trustworthy, One who “cannot deceive nor be deceived” (Act of Faith).

Obedience. Including “obedience” on a roster of virtues might surprise some people. Including it as a virtue for an adult might be even more striking. Catholics’ understanding of the Fourth Commandment—“honor your father and mother”—has often been (wrongly) reduced to obedience, while its association with the parent/child relationship seems to foster the notion that obedience is something for children. The modern American obsession with “independence” and “autonomy,” coupled with a certain cultural inclination to “push” children out “into the world,” likewise seems to narrow the relevance or at least duration of “obligatory” obedience.

St. Joseph challenges all these misunderstandings. First, “obedience” is a basic human and Christian posture. Man is a contingent being. He is not responsible for his own existence. His being is a gift, a truth that one does not necessarily have to be Christian to recognize. One’s being, after all, comes from others—one’s parents—over whose gift you had no influence. And any normal person will acknowledge that their existence is good. A sense of honor and obedience, then, naturally flows towards those upon whom one is or at least has been dependent.

The Christian, fortified by divine revelation, while appreciating one’s parents, also recognizes an even deeper ground of Being: “I Am Who Am” (Ex 3:14, Jn 8:58). There are two reasons for this. First, your parents themselves are bound in a chain of obedient gratitude for their existence to their parents, and so on and so on. Second, even your parents alone could not give you life. Fruitful love is always a threesome, because only God can create a soul.

Read more at Catholic World Report 

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