What do we understand by the word – Silence? The Oxford language dictionary defines silence as a complete absence of sound – the state or fact of keeping silent, refraining from speech or from making noise. From the above definition, it is amply clear that being silent is a choice. It is deliberate. So the next question that pops to mind is why would someone choose to be silent? In religion, we often hear about the vow of silence and the main intent is often to promote religious contemplation…Because when a person stops talking, he is forced to look inwards, to think about the nature of faith and his/her own personal beliefs.
On December. 8, 2020, Pope Francis marked the 150th anniversary of St. Joseph being declared patron of the universal church by proclaiming a yearlong celebration dedicated to Jesus’s foster father. For the occasion, Pope Francis wrote PatrisCorde (“With a father’s heart”). In his surprise announcement, Pope Francis said it was the coronavirus pandemic that encouraged him to write and reflect on St. Joseph, that strong presence in salvation history who accomplished so much so quietly. Pope Francis wrote “Each of us can discover in Joseph — the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence — an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble,” “St. Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.” In today’s contemporary society, a lot of emphasis is placed on speaking up – Being Heard. Silence is viewed at acceptance of the status-quo, timidity or an outright emptiness – an inability to add to the discourse because of a lack of knowledge.
So why was St. Joseph Silent? Was it because he was timid or simply because he was empty inside?
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who has reflected a number of times on the virtues of the very saint’s name given to him at Baptism —Joseph, assures us in his writings in the year 2005, “St Joseph’s silence does not express an inner emptiness but, on the contrary, the fullness of the faith he bears in his heart and which guides his every thought and action. In researching this topic, it is interesting to note that there is very little to go by, except scriptures. And it is extraordinary that NOT A SINGLE WORD OF HIS IS RECORDED in Scripture. In fact, the entire Gospel of Mark makes no reference to him at ALL. The Bible is full of words spoken by Moses, Prophet Elijah, St. Peter, St. Paul, Mary and Elizabeth. Almost an entire chapter of the bible is dedicated to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. An important figure in the History of our salvation. Luke Chapter 1 verses 5 -23 chronicles the conversation between Angel Gabriel and Zechariah when he went into the Temple to burn incense while the people prayed outside and verses 67 – 79 of the same Chapter has come to be known as the Canticle of Zechariah – Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel – Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel. Yet, for St. Joseph, a man that would play a pivotal role in our salvation, not a single word of his is heard. The gospels do not record even a single word or a spoken verse for him, and yet his influence, significance, and relevance cannot be underestimated. That is the power of silence.
Knowing the will of God
The easiest part of our prayer is to speak to God. To silence ourselves, to zip it, to listen, is the most difficult part of prayer for a lot of us. We are told by St. Cyprian: “When we pray, we speak to God; when we silence ourselves in order to listen, God speaks to us.” It was in the silence of sleep that St. Joseph came to know the will of God and to carry out his special mission as the foster father of God’s own Son for which he was chosen. When Joseph discovered that Mary was with Child, and wanting to divorce her secretly, the Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1 vs. 20 and 21) and told him to not to be afraid to take Mary as a wife. We can imagine that Joseph himself did not fully understand the circumstances surrounding Christ’s conception and birth, but he was able to love what he did not fully understand. It is in this love that both his faith and his sanctity are revealed. Again, In Matthew Chapter 2: 13, the Angel appeared again to Joseph in a dream, telling him to Arise, take the young child Jesus and his Mother and flee into Egypt. In verse 19 and 20 – the Angel appeared to Joseph again in a dream in Egypt and asked him to return to Israel… The silent life of Joseph challenges us as Christians to create time for silence, because, it is in silence that the Lord reveals to us his will and his purpose in our lives. How many of us create time to be silent? To sit before the Blessed Sacrament in silence? Do we have silent moments in our lives? A time when we turn off our TVs, switch off our radios, put down our phones, shut the world out and just listen? Andreas Fransson puts it succinctly when she says that “In the silence behind what can be heard, lies the answers we have been searching for, for so long or as Albert Einstein said – I think 99 times and find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me. St. Joseph teaches us that, silence does not mean a person is unconcerned or uninterested; it is rather a tool for concentration. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in speaking about Joseph, said, “His is a silence permeated by contemplation of the mystery of God, in an attitude of total availability to His divine wishes. In other words, instead of speaking, He was listening to God and divining God’s will and purpose for his life. Mick wick puts it best when he says that “In this noise-filled world, where everyone thinks to be connected you have to be talking and communicating, Joseph’s example shows that to be truly connected is to be silent and listening,” He defines silence as “not an inactivity. It’s an activity that will get people better connected and more attuned to others and to God.” He is silent in his words but not in his communication with God The silence of Joseph, therefore, is an invitation to be better about removing distractions and idle chatter to make provision for more room and space for contemplating WHERE or WHAT God may be calling us to. In silence, Joseph was a man for others. Though the Scriptures say so little about Joseph, his silence speaks volumes on his selflessness and readiness to take up any task for the benefit of the other. Why? He always put the interests of others before his own. He loved Mary above himself and his behavior was just a result of his love. He was prepared to do anything to save the life of the child Jesus. How refreshing it is to find an upright man and yet humble in all respects, who would brave difficulties just for the sake of others? St. Joseph is calling us to a life of service to others. He is calling us to a deeply contemplative life, where we listen to the Voice of God. By asking us to model his silence, he is not asking us to keep quiet when we see ills. But each time we speak, it MUST be in the service of God and One Another. We MUST learn to tune out idle talk and live a life of purpose. When we tune out the noise – TV, Radios, Cellphones, VIDEO Games – We create more time for bonding as a Family and communicating with our Heavenly Father. This Morning. Let us join our silence to the Silence of Joseph. It is only in silence that we can listen to the Lord’s instructions to do the extra work no one is doing. May St. Joseph, our model of silence, continue to intercede for us! Amen Thank You.
• Mr. Oti Omaghomi is a Lagos-Based Banker. He is a parishioner of the Catholic Church of the Ascension, Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos.