The Lesson of Silence from Saint Joseph

Today, I am sharing with you one of my favorite paintings. It was given to me by Deacon Barry and his wife, Laura, as a gift before I left my first assigned parish. I have it hung in my office and I love to take a look at it every day. It depicts Saint Joseph working in the background and little Jesus playing with the saint’s carpentry instruments — which in this case, a nail. As the Lord picks up the nail, his shadow forms a cross.

I find this particular piece so beautiful and full of meanings. Perhaps I am reading too much into it… However, I do love the message that it is trying to pervade. Saint Joseph, as in the Scriptures, has always been a person in the background (of salvation history). He never spoke anything, but we know that the Lord Jesus loved him dearly. Our Savior was proud to be known as the son of the carpenter. His implicit love and endearment of the saint speak much even though there was never any official record of their conversations.

Many of my family members have Saint Joseph as their patron saint. In Viet Nam, boys were often given the saint as their patron. My brother and my beloved paternal grandfather are named Joseph — just to name a few. With that in mind, I pray that my brother is becoming more like him each day. I believe that my grandfather, as he was getting older, became very much like the saint. When his children and grandchildren came to tell him of their disagreements with one another, he simply sat there to listen without picking a side. His calmness spoke loudly as his silence, in my opinion, reminded those who speak to him the essential human virtues in their dealings with others. I believe Saint Joseph also speaks much to us about the important lessons of silence, faithfulness, and perseverance.

In a world that is so constantly filled with many vocal and opinionated voices, silence speaks loudly. We respect wise people because they possess the wisdom that does not need to draw attention to themselves but radiates a sense of peace and calmness to those who encounter them. Silence and calmness speak loudly because they are unpretentious and truly from the heart instead of typical noisy opinions and words. Silence reminds us that we need to think, reflect, and pray before we speak and that we do not need to prove or attract attention to ourselves to truly be who we are called to be. Great saints did not try to stand out but live their lives full of love for God and their neighbors with the intimate, personal and sacrificial gift of themselves in love. Silence speaks loudly for those who truly want to listen because it reveals the true heart and points us to the transcendental truth that is beyond ourselves.

Saint Joseph also teaches us the importance of faithfulness and perseverance as well. He was faithful to his God-given mission to care for the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Lord Jesus Christ with everything that he had. He had little to nothing being a carpenter, being it was and still a trade that has had its own seasons and struggles, yet the saint still tried his best to provide and care for them. The thirty years of silence before the Lord’s public ministry teaches us much. Perhaps because they had little to nothing and were poor that the Lord was able to understand and relate to the poor and abandoned well. He understood them because He shared a similar setting in His own life. He embraced and valued people more than materialistic possessions because He grew up with little and knew love from the people who were around Him.

In his perseverance and faithfulness to his vocation, Saint Joseph teaches us the great lesson that all of us can apply in our own family life. As families get busy with all the things that need to be done, when was the last time that we can enjoy each other’s presence without worrying about what needs to be done next? How are we cherishing one another’s value and dignity without being too focused on all the secondary and apparent how’s and what’s of life? Many things have been said about the Lord Jesus’ own three years of public ministry, but we forget that the thirty years of silence shaped and made Him into who He was. As He was truly God and fully man, His humanity was enriched by the formative years in Nazareth with the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph. This reminds us that we cannot overlook the importance of what is being taught and formed in silence, else we would become too anxious and worried by the unnecessary noises of this secularistic and materialistic world. If we do not have the patience and silence to reflect, pray, and meditate on what is important and life-giving, we will lose focus and be drifted by the apparent and secondary temptations and distractions. Only when we learn to pray and fix our eyes on what is important by being faithful to what we are called to be and persevere in that vocation with the grace of God can we truly rise above the fluxes, destructive tendencies, and divisiveness of this world.

While it is easy to let go and chase after the ever-changing and trendy stuff for the sake of relevancy, true love, real relationships, and valuable matters are preserved by personal faithfulness and real sacrifices. We understand and value the real treasures around us when we take the time in silence to reflect and pray about what is truly important. Hence, when we know what is really valuable and crucial for our lives, we learn to let go of unimportant matters and secondary distractions as we make important life decisions and sacrifices for the sake of things everlasting. Saint Joseph reminds us of what is important by teaching us the important lessons of silence, faithfulness, and perseverance.

There are much more that I can say about this wonderful saint, but perhaps the greatest thing that I can do now is to ask you to reflect on his wonderful virtues and life examples in prayer. I would like to leave you with a short excerpt from Blessed Pope Paul VI who wrote a beautiful piece of reflection from the school of Nazareth:

“First, we learn from its silence. If only we could once again appreciate its great value. We need this wonderful state of mind, beset as we are by the cacophony of strident protests and conflicting claims so characteristic of these turbulent times. The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God’s inner wisdom and the counsel of his true teachers. Nazareth can teach us the value of study and preparation, of meditation, of a well-ordered personal spiritual life, and of silent prayer that is known only to God.
Second, we learn about family life. May Nazareth serve as a model of what the family should be. May it show us the family’s holy and enduring character and exemplifying its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings; in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children—and for this there is no substitute.
Finally, in Nazareth, the home of a craftsman’s son, we learn about work and the discipline it entails. I would especially like to recognize its value—demanding yet redeeming—and to give it proper respect. I would remind everyone that work has its own dignity. On the other hand, it is not an end in itself. Its value and free character, however, derive not only from its place in the economic system, as they say, but rather from the purpose it serves.”