Between Amens — The church needs more Josephs

Dr. Karen Shadle

For almost a year, Zoom meetings have been a regular part of our social and professional lives, and now researchers are taking a closer look at our behaviors during these online sessions.

Last month, the Washington Post published an analysis of data from thousands of virtual meetings during the pandemic. In results that surprised no one, they found that men disproportionately dominated the speaking time in these meetings and were more likely to interrupt and talk over others.

As I read the story, I could not help but to think of St. Joseph, who is especially honored by the church during this month of March. Despite his outsized role in salvation history, Joseph speaks not a single word in all of sacred scripture.

In Joseph, we find an alternate model of masculinity. He is a man of action and not of words, a man of humility and not of self-importance.

Like Mary, Joseph obediently listened when God revealed his plans. At God’s command, he took Mary as his wife. As head of the household, Joseph made a number of tough decisions for the family. For example, when things looked threatening in Israel, he moved the whole family to Egypt for a time. He did so with steadfast reliance on God. Joseph placed his work as a carpenter in the service of his family; he did not make his wife and child accessories to a career.

Surely the young Jesus, with such a model as Joseph, learned the obedience that led him to accept the cross.

Departing from the passé “macho man,” Joseph is the image of Christian masculinity our modern world desperately needs and one that we must resolutely hold up for men and boys today.

Men are fading from the church. According to the oft-cited 2014 Pew Research Center Religious Landscape study, Catholic women outpace their male counterparts in nearly every measure of religiosity. Women are more likely to identify as Catholic, to say that they believe in God and to say that religion is important in their life. Women are also much more likely to attend Mass at least weekly and to pray at least daily. Further, 80 percent of lay ecclesial ministers — those professionals who largely comprise parish and diocesan staffs — are women.

It might seem counterintuitive to say that the church needs more men, given that the clerical ranks of Catholicism are open only to men. But the fact is that the church needs more Josephs — men dedicated to their families, strongly convicted in faith and marked by action more than words.

It is incumbent upon the church to call men not only to the vocations of the priesthood and diaconate, but just as urgently to the vocations of marriage, fatherhood and service to the church and community. It is important to invite men back to the sacramental life of the parish and to positions of lay leadership, both professional and volunteer. Catholic lay men need a supportive social network, and the church should provide such opportunities if they are lacking.

In declaring this the Year of St. Joseph, the Holy Father offers a challenge to be more like Joseph: to humbly listen to God and accept the responsibilities of the life to which God calls you. Through the intercession of St. Joseph, may our actions speak louder than words.

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