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3 parenting tips from St. Joseph

The Year of St. Joseph inspires a parent to look closely at the earthly father of Jesus.
Our Faith

It might sound a bit cliché to say that St. Joseph is one of my favorite saints. For a long time, it honestly kind of was. When asked that oft-repeated Catholic icebreaker question, I felt like St. Joseph ought to be one of my favorite saints. With four kids ages 5 and under, I should probably find myself in nearly constant intercessory prayer to St. Anthony (“Where are their shoes?!”), St. Jude (“Just let me make it through bedtime!”), and St. Joseph (“You had it easy. Your kid was Jesus!”).

Fatherhood clichés aside, I wanted St. Joseph to be more of a spiritual warrior in my personal army of saints, but my relationship with him didn’t feel all that authentic or particularly deep. How can you get to know someone who never speaks in the Bible? And after the birth of Jesus and the flight to Egypt, he pretty much vanishes.

When Pope Francis declared 2021 the Year of St. Joseph, however, I felt this could be my chance to truly get to know Joe. Patris Corde (With a Father’s Heart), the pope’s apostolic letter released to kick off the Year of St. Joseph, paints a beautiful and intriguing picture of St. Joseph and his spiritual character, with a variety of traits I hadn’t previously ascribed to this adoptive father of Jesus.

My curiosity was piqued, so I embarked on the 33-day Consecration to St. Joseph using the book by Father Donald Calloway (Marian Press). This spiritual exercise forced me to meditate on the life, experience, and intercessory power of St. Joseph in a new way. By extrapolating from various Bible passages and exploring the writings of other saints, popes, and biblical scholars who have deeply contemplated the life of St. Joseph, I came away with a renewed sense of awe at his dedication to the complementary vocations of marriage and fatherhood. The journey also illuminated a few crucial parenting tips.

Trust God

Out of all the biblical figures, St. Joseph must rank pretty highly in terms of those who had to accept outlandish-sounding life plans from God. Marry a woman who conceived a baby through the Holy Spirit? Sure thing! Oversee childbirth in a manger? OK! Flee to Egypt with a newborn? No problem! Serve as head of a household where you’re the only one capable of committing a sin? Of course!

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On this side of the resurrection, all those details fall into place as part of God’s plan for the world. St. Joseph, however, was a mere mortal like the rest of us and still managed to exhibit complete trust in God even when he didn’t know how the story would end.

This level of trust is a path to sainthood that we would all be wise to emulate. While my own life experiences as a husband and father are not as vital to salvation history, they still make me cling to St. Joseph’s example as a way of trusting in the journey before the destination is revealed. I got married in 2014 and was diagnosed with cancer four months later. My wife and I—fully expecting to start a family—were told chemotherapy would likely render us childless. After consulting with our parish priest and deciding to put our family’s future in the palm of God’s hand, we didn’t make any alternative fertility arrangements.

A few months after I wrapped up chemo and was declared to be in full remission, my wife became pregnant with our daughter. Less than two years later, we had our first son. Then we followed that up with two unexpected pregnancies 19 months apart, ultimately having four children in five years. None of this was on our marital road map.

St. Joseph, pray that we all might have a trust like yours, remembering that every moment is following God’s perfect design and an opportunity to grow in holiness.

Treat your family as your vocation

Once St. Joseph had accepted the plan for his life, he got to work on living out his most important vocation: husband and father. Whether he was shuttling a pregnant Mary to visit her friend Elizabeth or teaching Jesus the tricks of his carpentry trade, the gospel stories are quietly covered in St. Joseph’s faithful, fatherly fingerprints. Jesus lived with his parents until the age of 30 and worked alongside St. Joseph—that meant lots of quality time with Dad, who was no doubt a positive, loving influence on Jesus.

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As my young children grow, I already experience the pressures of trying to balance career advancement and the daily grind with my desire to be a dedicated and formative presence in the lives of my kids. Creating and respecting our traditions of post-workday quality time and dinner together will only become more crucial to preserving a vocation-focused culture in our family over the years.

At the same time, the demands of my job and my children can prevent me from being the supportive husband I vowed to be on my wedding day. Spending intentional one-on-one time with your spouse is a worthwhile investment in your relationship that will pay dividends to your kids as well.

St. Joseph, pray that all parents can model their lives and homes after the domestic church of the holy family—striving to will the good of their spouse and children and helping one another.

Stay humble

Perhaps the fact that St. Joseph never speaks in the Bible is no accident. It might be an intentional reminder of his incredible humility and the quiet perseverance by which he lived his saintly life. In a world that promotes instant gratification and an ultimately fruitless quest for wealth and fame, St. Joseph’s modest life is radically countercultural.

Humility is the tool by which you can more easily trust in God and live out your vocation. If left unchecked, the omnipresent temptation of selfishness can slowly erode the bliss of family life, leading to resentment and regret.

When I’m reminded that every blessing in my life flows from God and nothing I accomplish is done on my own, I can put myself in the humble and grateful state of mind that inspires the self-sacrificial love St. Joseph modeled so purely in his devotion to Mary and Jesus.

St. Joseph, pray that we will allow ourselves to decrease and God to increase in all of our interactions, relationships, and experiences.

I’m so grateful that the Year of St. Joseph inspired me to look closer at this silent saint who perfectly models what I strive for as a husband and father. As patron saint of the universal church and the earthly father of our Savior, he is ready to intercede for the needs of all families.

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This article also appears in the November 2021 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 86, No. 11, pages 43-44). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Fresco at Santa Maria Assunta, Arrone, Umbria, Italy

About the author

Matt Paolelli

Matt Paolelli is a writer and marketing professional who lives near Chicago with his wife and three young children. Read more of his musings and adventures in fatherhood at dadhasablog.com.

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