Dying to Self and Unassuming Holiness

Most of us will have heard, at some time or other, uplifting little talks about the importance of dying to self in order to follow Christ. Today the Church celebrates someone who did just that, and so completely that he remains a somewhat shadowy figure: St Joseph, husband of Mary, adoptive father of Jesus, patron of the dying and pattern of unassuming holiness. In the Middle Ages he was often treated as a figure of fun, but from the seventeenth century onwards his greatness has been more generally recognized. Like his Old Testament namesake, Joseph was a man of dreams and singular purity of life whose mission was to hear and obey the word of God and to protect the family entrusted to his care. His kind of holiness is one we can all aspire to. It is the holiness of everyday life, of family and work, and lets us see being a ‘background person’ for what it truly is: a way of allowing Christ to take centre stage so that he may be all in all.

I think there is a close connection between Joseph’s role as a father and his role as patron of the dying. Fatherhood isn’t easy, nor is dying. Joseph had to lay aside all his own dreams of happiness when he accepted the role God had marked out for him. He taught Jesus how to be a man; how to conduct himself in the company of others; how to be tender towards women and children; how to stand up for what was right in the face of opposition; and ultimately, how to die. When Jesus hung upon the Cross and turned to his heavenly Father, it was with the honesty and trust he had learned from Joseph. He did not hide his pain, nor did he seek a way out. He surrendered his life as, many years earlier, Joseph had surrendered his, that the Father’s will might be done. We have much to thank Joseph for, and much to learn from him, too.


8 thoughts on “Dying to Self and Unassuming Holiness”

  1. Wow – this was very powerful and moving to me personally. Having grown up in the Catholic faith and attended CCD classeand later, parochial school, I don’t ever remember Joseph being presented in such a beautiful and, as the person who first commented here expressed, such a tender way. I struggle so much with dying to self, especially in this age of self-promotion and ‘selfies’ , so this article was especially significant to me. Thank you so much!

  2. St Joseph had such a pivotal role to play not only as adoptive father but saving Mary ergo us form being stoned to death.
    Our Salvation need Joseph.
    He has always been rather an after thought by the Church. Maybe because we don’t read too much about him in the new testament ?

  3. Thank you for these thoughts – this quiet, background life is important, and completely counter-cultural in our society. It helps to have it held up as a way to live.

  4. When I saw the BBC’s “The Nativity” a couple of years ago, it was the portrayal of St Joseph that was particularly memorable. From being a young man with hopes and dreams of his married life, through the shock of finding his life was going to take a different path and then his unfailing support of Mary as her time neared.
    And our parish’s patronal saint, so I must dash as I’m playing at High Mass this evening 🙂

  5. Thank you for your comments. I must admit it has taken me a long time to come to see the true greatness of St Joseph. I have always been allergic to the rather saccharine devotion he inspires in some of my co-religionists, but the man chosen by God to be the husband of Mary and adoptive father of Jesus cannot have been a nonentity. He must have been a very strong person indeed, albeit self-effacing.

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