As a rookie father of only five months or so, I often find myself turning to St. Joseph, the patron saint of fathers, during this time of change in my life. Although Jesus’ stepfather never says a word in the Bible and is only mentioned a handful of times, his witness to and relationship with the Son of God should be something each disciple ponders anew in order to gain depth and insight into who Jesus is. In the moments when I have fled to him for help, Joseph has proven to be a true guide for strength and prayerfulness.
Coincidentally, Pope Francis has named 2021 the “Year of St. Joseph.” Often, popes decide to dedicate an entire year to the patronage of a saint or theological principle in order to orient our ordinary lives completely to God. The Year of St. Joseph calls for the faithful to trust in the Father’s promises. Joseph never drew attention to himself, but his importance in salvation history is unquestioned. He simply does as God asks, and we are called to humbly follow his example.
My wife was pregnant between the months of January and October 2020, which was a period filled with ebbs and flows of joy, exhaustion, excitement and anxiety. Worries about caring for the financial needs of the child along with the health of the baby were mingled with the utter amazement that a soul was traveling with us through it all. Through the advice of a close friend, I began to turn to Joseph each day and began a more intentional relationship with the man who was responsible for the safety and care of the Blessed Mother and the God-child.
My friend explained that each moment we have as fathers, whether before or after the birth of our children, and whether it is beautiful or challenging, is an opportunity to learn from St. Joseph. Joseph knew what it was like to wait for the birth of his child, and he knew what it was like to embark upon an unknown pilgrimage into the future. Joseph is the king of dealing with unpredictable and unforeseen situations. From the pregnancy of Mary before they lived together (Matthew 1:18), to having no place for her to give birth in Bethlehem (Luke 2:7) all the way through the flight from Egypt in fear for their lives (Matthew 2:13-14) and providing for his family with his small carpentry shop.
Journeying from Nazareth to Bethlehem must have been arduous for Mary. For Joseph, it was a time when he was called upon to do his best to help his wife while also coming to terms with the fact that there are times that we might just feel helpless. We simply must be there for our loved ones through difficult times.
Joseph experienced this firsthand because he and Mary had no other choice, they had to go to Bethlehem for the census (Luke 2:4). He had to watch as she struggled through the terrain and possibly the extreme heat or bitter cold. As a first-time dad, I saw this in the times when there was nothing I could do to take away the pain or discomfort of pregnancy and labor. In these moments, Joseph as a “just man” (Matthew 1:19), would have turned inwardly to God in deep prayer. He would have brought his wife’s struggles to the Father, trusting that God was immensely and intimately close to them.
Trust and faithfulness to prayer must have been the defining trait of their marriage, and something that my wife and I are attempting to emulate in certain ways by turning more to God, giving him thanks, and asking for his aid. Mary and Joseph are relatable to every couple because their “plans” were never neatly organized but consistently met with challenges and hurdles. While they are the most exceptional couple of all time, they are also the most practically helpful couple of all time. The manner in which they turned to prayer was completely natural and never forced.
Traveling through pregnancy, my wife and I tried to do our best to come together to pray before important doctor appointments or in the midst of unclear or challenging news. The unknown pushed us to unite with each other, and pulled us closer into the love that God has for us.
Through the example of Joseph, I learned that life has uncertainties and challenges, but that following his lead will allow you to perceive God’s fingerprints in every present moment – no matter what might come. Joseph’s silence in the Bible, humility in following God, and trust in God’s plan made him the best suited stepfather to Christ. My prayer is that I may take his witness and become the best father I can be.
Originally published March 19, 2021.