In this ‘Year of St. Joseph’ dubbed by our Holy Father, it seems fitting to approach this glorious Saint and ask him, “How do I become a man like you?” And there’s no human creature who is more suited to answer this question than him! Our Lord chose to be provided for both physically and mentally from no other than Our Lady and St. Joseph. In this time of crisis, there are so few Catholic men in the world.
It takes another man to make a man. In spite of our current generation, we’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again: there are things men can do that women can’t. For a boy to become a man, it takes a man. Biologically, we need that Y chromosome which only our fathers can give us. Psychologically, all of us who are comfortable being called “man” can definitively point to one or a series of specific moments where a father figure we looked up to in our lives stooped down, communicated to us in one fashion or another that we were worth his time, and helped us become men ourselves. Without this, our growth is stunted.
It takes another man to make a man.
“Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing; and greater works than these will he show him, that you may marvel.” (John 5:19-20, RSVCE)
By Baptism, we are adopted sons of God! To put that in perspective, it’s like someone from Ancient Rome discovering that he was the long lost son of Jupiter. And what more can we say of the “God of gods”, The Father? We should be the manliest men ever! Yet, I think I speak for many male Catholics when I say we have a challenge in trying to find them. So often we scruple over if what we’re doing looks manly, if what we’re doing is relevant, or if we are approved by [insert group of relevant manly men here]. And when we go to groups of Catholic guys, we struggle further when secular ideas of masculinity creep into the spiritual realm, which is what the Saints would call an “attachment”.
I can think a few times where I’ve gone to gatherings of Catholic men where a voice breaks through the cigar smoke and into the night air: “A real Catholic man should know the art of self-defense”, or another: “Until he’s served his country, I don’t think a Catholic man can ever really achieve the height of his masculinity.” And many men are much the worse for it. Not to say that these things are wrong or even unmanly! They are mirrors from which the light of masculinity can be viewed, but not necessarily the light itself. I can only say this with confidence on the basis that St. Joseph never did any of those things, and yet he’s more of a man than any of us. Not to say we should neglect our obligations to real masculine development (after all, provide and protect is a phrase for a reason).
We struggle further when secular ideas of masculinity creep into the spiritual realm.
True, we don’t know much about the life of the earthly father of Our Lord. All in all, it’s pretty mysterious, and it comes to our attention only briefly. In this though, we can really view this light of the masculine genius directly, as the Gospel writers didn’t seem to find it necessary to add more than the little they’ve given.
We first see that St. Joseph worked. Though I’m a strong advocate for men to do something tangible with their physical hands to grow in their masculinity, that’s secondary to what I think the carpentry of St. Joseph really represents here. Carpentry is a trade! To be a craftsman by trade requires diligence and performance, otherwise that means no business. Work -for a man in particular- is something that’s a part of him by design! Doing a job and doing it well is masculine! Blue collar or otherwise! To add to this detail, Maria Cecilia, a Benedictine nun from the 18th century, who had St. Joseph's life mystically revealed to her, wrote of the context with which Joseph was a carpenter. After his parents died, he went off to Jerusalem to find work where he could be close to the Temple and found apprentice work in carpentry. He was often made fun of by other youths for learning the trade so late in his life. In his profession though, she makes it clear to describe that he was never anxious about this fact, nor did he feel that he had to amount to “more” to be pleasing in the sight of God unless he was explicitly guided to that point (like marrying Our Lady). This is a hard thing to grasp I think for the average male, especially a Catholic male. They may spend a part of their lives doing “fulfilling things” like military service, political activism, or athletics, but it’s not uncommon to see men dismally looking back to the days of yesteryear feeling like they only had a sense of purpose back then. But do the senses give purpose or the spirit?
The trait which is most undeniable in reading the Gospels is St. Joseph’s ability to make a decision. St. Joseph was immediate when it came to making decisions, but not rash. When it’s God who reveals the plan explicitly, he acts immediately (the flight to and from Egypt), and when Providence remains mysterious, he makes a plan (when he chose to put away Our Lady quietly) on which he intends to act. But most of all, we see him willing to make hard decisions and wrong decisions. What could be harder and what could be more wrong than putting away the Blessed Virgin Mary as a spouse?! Yet it was a decision he committed to, come what may. From this too, we learn a lesson! When we sincerely make to follow God’s Will, even if we choose the wrong path, He’ll do whatever He has to in order to get us back on track (which just may include sending an angel to tell us), but we have to make a choice! It’s a fitting antithesis to Adam whose hallmark contribution to the Fall was his weak indecisiveness to Eve’s boorish desire for control. That’s the curse we men have inherited: being unable to make a hard decision especially for the one we love.
St. Joseph was immediate when it came to making decisions, but not rash.
That’s all to say, getting caught up in the “look” of masculinity is where we men will really stunt our spiritual growth. Being kind doesn’t make you spineless, an unappealing job is far from purposeless, and making a decision that’s only wrong in hindsight is nothing to fear!
Embodying the Trinity, being a son of God with the Son of God; what a calling! What a mission! Dare we filter our share in the Divine Life through the world’s ideas of the masculine? Dare we tell God that our ideas of what a purposeful life is are better than His? We are men! Let us follow close behind St. Joseph. Let us study from him what it means to be a man! Let us call upon him when we come face-to-face with our weak child inside, and let us receive the devoted care of a human person whose manhood surpasses all others, who delights to be called “father” and hastens to our aid! Let us embrace being orphans to this world, and await the swift coming of a father who will bring us to The Father, Who will teach us all things!