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St. Joseph, Our Teacher

Priests have much to learn from the head of the Holy Family

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As priests, we have a lot to learn from St. Joseph. Indeed, we should seek to imitate the virtues he exemplified. Let’s consider just a few.

We can learn from Joseph’s silence. It may seem odd that we, who have the ministry of preaching and teaching, should find silence a virtue to imitate. But an older priest in my seminarian days unlocked this insight. He said: “My brothers, when you are a priest, people will not remember most of what you said. But they will remember who you were and what you did. They will remember if you loved them or not. They will remember if you visited them in the hospital or not.” And, while our preaching is essential, so also are our silent acts of prayer and service. Of Joseph, not one word is recorded in sacred Scripture, but he is eternally remembered for his silent and sacrificial love.

We can learn from Joseph’s obedience. Twice God speaks to Joseph in dreams through an angel, and twice Joseph immediately does what God says. Taking Mary into his home despite her unconventional pregnancy could have lead to consequences for Joseph, whose family may have looked askance on Joseph’s decision. But, told by God, he did so. Fleeing to Egypt may well have impacted his career or business. But, told by God, he did so. We priests must obey God, even if it is costly and impacts our popularity or might affect our assignments and standing among the clergy. We can learn to exemplify Joseph’s prompt obedience.

We can learn from Joseph’s chaste love and care for Mary. We priests are not bachelors. In Christ, and through holy orders, we are espoused to the Church. The Church is our bride. And for her we are called to have a chaste and tender love. We should exhibit great care for our bride. Many of us do this by devotedly serving our parishes. Others have special ministries in the priestly service of the Church. But whatever our specific ministry, like Joseph, we are to have an affectionate and chaste love. When we celebrate Mass we are with our bride; when we pray the breviary, we hold her close in our hands and heart. When we celebrate sacraments, we give life, feed, teach, bring healing to her many children that come from her chaste union with Christ.

We can imitate Joseph’s hard work. St. Joseph, like most of the men of his day, had to work hard to care for his family. So, too, should we priests hear the summons to work hard for the Church. While self-care is important, we routinely should go to bed tired and remember that our lives as priests are sacrificial. While in the Old Covenant the priests offered a sacrifice distinct from themselves — for example, animals or libations — in the New Covenant the priest and the victim are the same. Christ offered himself. And so also, as priests, we do well to imitate Joseph’s example of steady, uncomplaining hard work for God’s family, the Church.

We can learn from Joseph’s protection of the Holy Family. We already have reflected on the flight to Egypt and how, at personal cost, Joseph acted to protect his family. We, too, as priests, must protect the family of God from the pursuing wolf of Satan, sin and error. We must not be like hirelings who see the wolf coming and flee; rather, we must stand before the wolf and protect the family of God. And when there are wounds among God’s people, we must seek to bind them up and strengthen the Holy Family of God with the medicine of truth and God’s word. Scripture says that Satan hates our Bride, the Church, and has engaged a war with the rest of her children who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. Like Joseph, we must listen to God and do everything necessary to protect God’s family and ours from the poison, violence and death of sin.

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Joseph is a model for priests. Nothing he ever said was recorded, but his life and deeds speak eloquently. May Joseph be a patron and example for us priests who are called “Father” in the family of God, the Church.

MSGR. CHARLES POPE is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at

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