Trying to write a poem about St. Joseph led me to consider his greatest gift.
Perhaps it is no mere coincidence that as we near the end of the “Year of St. Joseph,” the Church also begins the Synod. It would not have seen a connection had I not first come to realize St. Joseph’s gift of listening. This connection requires a brief explanation.
In 2015, during my second year of diaconal formation, the Holy Spirit had placed on my heart the desire to write a poem about St. Joseph. Yet I found myself out-of-the-gate stuck. What we know of Joseph is what the Gospel writers have told us about him (and from that, what inferences we might draw from those details). Yet his silence was a stumbling block for me. I am a man of words, and none are recorded as coming from the mouth of Joseph. I needed help. So I turned to Our Lady.
While praying over the problem, the Blessed Virgin Mary helped me understand that Joseph’s silence would be a necessary key to writing the poem. Still, the words did not come. It seemed I needed something more.
For me, that something-more was a scene in the movie Mary of Nazareth. I watched it first in Italian. I heard something in Italian that the English version would leave out. There is a fleeting moment in which Mary calls Joseph, “Joe!“
It was then that the poem seemed to write itself. As in the Gospels, the Joseph of the poem would also be silent. In the poem, Mary would speak. Joseph would listen.
Indeed, this Joseph—this man of action—needed a prerequisite gift to guide his actions. He needed the gift of listening. This attribute of Joseph is perhaps no better portrayed than in Rembrandt’s Flight into Egypt (1627).
In the painting, Joseph turns his ear toward Mary. She speaks, and he leads them into the night and the unknown. I think that my poem has no better companion than this early painting by Rembrandt.
In the Synod of Bishops’ “Preparatory Document,” “listening” is identified as the Synod’s first step. As the Synod takes the Church on a journey into the future, what better companions have we than the Holy Family?
With them, we are assured of three things: the loving heart of the Christ child, the trusting heart of Mary, and the listening heart of Joseph.
See the poem here.