In his general audience remarks on Dec. 15, 2021, Pope Francis offered a catechesis on the silence of St. Joseph. The pope said, “Joseph’s silence is not mutism, he is not taciturn; it is a silence full of listening, an industrious silence, a silence that brings out his great interiority.”
Joseph’s silence is not passive or disengaged. It is an industrious silence. And the great interiority that Pope Francis attributes to St. Joseph is his holiness or spirituality. It is what allows him to be calm in times of trouble and always attentive to God’s will for him and for his family.
“Very often nowadays we need silence,” the Holy Father says. “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.”
Ours is not a reflective or contemplative age. We are surrounded — and overstimulated — from morning until night by words, music and images. Rarely do we stop long enough to embrace what Pope Francis calls “a silence full of listening.”
Joseph was given the absolutely unique assignment to serve as the guardian of our Redeemer. Initially, he was troubled by what he didn’t understand, but after receiving the message from God brought to him by an angel in a dream, he accepted this awesome responsibility with courage, wisdom and peace.
“Through his silence,” Pope Francis says, “Joseph invites us to leave room for the Presence of the Word made flesh, for Jesus.”
Jesus grew up in a household that treasured both the Word of God and the silence of God, contemplative prayer.
So, Pope Francis tells us, “It is not surprising that he himself sought spaces of silence in his days (cf. Mt 14:23) and invited his disciples to have similar experiences. Wisdom, peace and righteousness are rarely found in mindless chatter or distracting noises. They are the fruits of silence.”
“How good it would be if each one of us, following the example of St. Joseph, were able to recover this contemplative dimension of life, opened wide in silence,” the pope says. “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 true.”
Noise and chatter distract us from the truths we would prefer not to face.
“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 pope says.
Being quiet can be uncomfortable, but it is essential to our mental and spiritual health. Let’s ask St. Joseph to inspire us with his silent eloquence.
Dan Conway is a member of Holy Trinity Church, serves as a member of The Record’s editorial board and is a writer, consultant and stewardship educator.