ColumnsDisciple’s Corner

St. Joseph’s example as an antidote to the crisis of masculinity

As incredible as it seems, we know next to nothing about St. Joseph, arguably the most important influence in Jesus’s human life after Mary, his mother.

We know that his family came from the town of Bethlehem and was descended from the family of David … that he was engaged to a young woman and was unwilling to disgrace her when she became pregnant … that on the advice of an angel he fled to Egypt with the child Jesus and his mother to avoid King Herod’s massacre of young boys … that he worked as a craftsman – by tradition, a carpenter – in the town of Nazareth when they returned.

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According to Scripture, Joseph accompanied Mary and the young Jesus to Jerusalem where they lost track of Jesus’s whereabouts and later found him discussing with the rabbis. After that, the family returned to Nazareth where the young Jesus “increased in wisdom and in years.”

From that point on there is no mention of Joseph in the Gospels, and tradition assumed that he had died before Jesus began his public ministry.

In “My Life with the Saints,” Father James Martin says we can assume that during this “hidden time” Joseph passed on to the young Jesus the values required to become a good craftsman – among them patience, judgment, honesty and persistence.

Martin is convinced Joseph would have also had a powerful influence on his son’s religious faith and, eventually, an understanding of his mission in the world.

“It is this hiddenness of Joseph’s life that speaks to me,” Martin writes. “Appearing only briefly in the Gospels, given no words to speak, Joseph leads a life of quiet service to God, a life that remains totally unknown to us – necessarily, a life of humility.”

I imagine that if we want to know more about the kind of man Joseph was we might look to the kind of man his son became.

If he lived in our times would he have driven a huge pickup, owned a collection of guns, assumed the right to hit on vulnerable women, enjoyed the violence of professional football, feared people who looked, thought or spoke differently and came from other places, or believed that people get what they deserve?

I’m guessing maybe not, which means perhaps that Joseph becomes something of a role model and example for our times.

In a society where so much violence and hatred seems to be rooted in the alienation of men from their families, society and their selves, maybe St. Joseph is an antidote to a crisis about masculinity and the widespread confusion about what makes men “real men.”

What do you think?

Pray and Reflect

Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group discussion or private journaling:

  • On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) rate how important do you think St. Joseph is as a role model today. How would you have rated him five years ago?
  • Do you know men who have lived quiet lives of dedication and service to their families like St. Joseph did? Why do you think the Gospels do not give St. Joseph more credit? Do you think St. Joseph is a good role model for men today? Why or why not? Which of his qualities would you want our boys and young men to know and emulate?
  • I think the most important thing about St. Joseph is …

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Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Waterloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Office of Faith Formation and Education and is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is designed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.


Here is part of what Charles de Foucauld imagined Jesus telling us about his -“hidden life” in the home at Nazareth:

“What was it I was teaching you? I was teaching you primarily that it is possible to do good … without using words, without preaching, without fuss, but by silence and by giving … good example. …

“What kind of example? The example of devotion to duty toward God lovingly fulfilled, and goodness to all. …

“I was teaching you to live by the labor of your own hands, so as to be a burden on no one and to have something to give to the poor. And I was giving this way of life an incomparable beauty—the beauty of being a copy of mine.”