Seasonal Reflection: Wordless St. Joseph

Thomas Hartle, OFM Features

What can we learn from St. Joseph, who does not speak once in the Bible? One friar says St. Joseph’s mere presence provides us with a powerful lesson — the importance of silence in prayer. March 19 is the feast of St. Joseph.

Nowhere in the Gospels do we hear anything about what St. Joseph says. He is a man shrouded in silence. Though he may be cloaked in silence, he is far from being a passive participant in the plan of salvation. Joseph proves himself to be a man of action.

Known for the dreams he received, Joseph would take action. In his first dream, after being told to take Mary as his wife, Joseph obeyed and went with her to Bethlehem. After the birth of the Christ child, Joseph was told, again in a dream, to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt. He responded without hesitation. Finally, in a third dream, Joseph was told it was safe to return to Judea, and so he takes his family to Galilee, to the town of Nazareth. A man of action — not a man of words.

Wordless Joseph has much to say to us about the importance of silence in our spiritual lives. John of the Cross called silence the first language of God. We are often so busy asking God for favors, requesting answers to our petitions, and giving God thanks and praise for favors granted, that we sometimes neglect silence and its importance in our prayer. We often fall into the erroneous thinking that we do all the praying, that prayer is a one-sided operation. “It all depends upon me. Prayer rises and falls on what I say and how I say it.”

We forget that prayer is a two-way street. When we finish talking, we must be quiet so the Lord can respond. An indispensible aspect of prayer is our willingness to listen. We need to enter into a listening silence in which we are able to become one with God. In this oneness that is wrapped in silence, God is able to speak to the silence in our hearts.

This silence is a call to be with God. This silence is liberating, freeing the soul of inner noises that often cause distractions, so that our souls can be nurtured by the love of God. This silence gives rise to peace within the soul and the awareness of being one with the One who is the source of this peace.

Joseph was no stranger to journeys, but perhaps his greatest journey was this journey into silence. In silence, Joseph was made aware and alert to life and the reality around him. The silence freed him from his fears and concerns and enabled him to respond in faith to the word he received in his dreams. Silence gave meaning and direction to St. Joseph’s life.

Commenting on St. Joseph, Pope Benedict XVI on Dec. 18,2005 said: “His is a silence permeated by contemplation of the mystery of God, in an attitude of total availability to his divine wishes. Let us allow ourselves to be ‘infected’ by the silence of St. Joseph! We have much need of it in a world which is often too noisy, which does not encourage reflection and listening to the voice of God.”

 Fr. Tom, of Butler, N.J., was appointed spiritual assistant to the Poor Clares in 2008. Friars interested in submitting reflections about holy days, holidays and other timely topics are asked to contact the HNP Communications Office by phone (646-473-0265 ext. 321) or email.