The Feast of Saint Joseph is translated from yesterday, Sunday 19 March. This post is from Pope Francis’s general audience of Wednesday, 15 December 2021
Saint Joseph, man of silence
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
Let us continue our journey of reflection on Saint Joseph. After illustrating the environment in which he lived, his role in salvation history and his being just and the spouse of Mary, today I would like to consider another important personal aspect: silence. Very often nowadays we need silence. Silence is important. I am struck by a verse from the Book of Wisdom that was read with Christmas in mind, which says: “While gentle silence enveloped all things, your all-powerful word leaped from heaven”. [In] the moment of greatest silence, God manifested himself. It is important to think about silence in this age in which it does not seem to have much value.
The Gospels do not contain a single word uttered by Joseph of Nazareth: nothing, he never spoke. This does not mean that he was taciturn, no: there is a deeper reason. With his silence, Joseph confirms what Saint Augustine writes: “To the extent that the Word — the Word made man — grows in us, words diminish”. To the extent that Jesus, — the spiritual life — grows, words diminish. What we can describe as “parroting”, speaking like parrots, continually, diminishes a little. John the Baptist himself, who is “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’” ( Matthew 3:3), says in relation to the Word, “He must increase, but I must decrease” ( John 3:30). This means that he must speak and I must be silent, and with his silence, Joseph invites us to leave room for the Presence of the Word made flesh, for Jesus.
Joseph’s silence is not mutism; it is a silence full of listening , an industrious silence, a silence that brings out his great interiority. “The Father spoke a word, and it was his Son”, comments Saint John of the Cross, — “and it always speaks in eternal silence, and in silence it must be heard by the soul”.
Jesus was raised in this “school”, in the house of Nazareth, with the daily example of Mary and Joseph. And it is not surprising that he himself sought spaces of silence in his days (cf. Mt 14:23) and invited his disciples to have such an experience by example: “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while” (Mk 6:31).
How good it would be if each one of us, following the example of Saint Joseph, were able to recover this contemplative dimension of life, opened wide in silence. But we all know from experience that it is not easy: silence frightens us a little, because it asks us to delve into ourselves and to confront the part of us that is most true. And many people are afraid of silence, they have to speak, and speak, and speak, or listen to radio or television… but they cannot accept silence because they are afraid. The philosopher Pascal observed that “all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber”.