Discovering the masculine genius of St. Joseph

The term the feminine genius originates from Pope John Paul II in the Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem: On the Dignity and Vocation of Women (August 15, 1988). On the occasion of the Marian year, it was appropriate for Pope John Paul II to speak about the feminine gifts in light of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the highest expression of the feminine genius. In case you are unfamiliar with this term, the feminine genius refers to the gifts God grants specifically to woman to help her fulfill her vocation. These gifts are revealed through the theology that her body reveals: she receives life, she nurtures life. These qualities of receiving and nurturing color not only her physical life but also her mental life, emotional life, and, most importantly, her spiritual life. Her vocation as wife and mother is not limited to her home but overflows into society as she, mother of the living, helps to guide all beings on their pilgrimage towards salvation. She is called to be spiritual wife and spiritual mother. You may learn more about the feminine genius in my book dedicated to this topic. The aim of this article is to discuss the masculine genius in light of St. Joseph.

As we enter into the year of St. Joseph (8 December 2020 until 8 December 2021), it is appropriate to discuss the masculine gifts in view of the life of St. Joseph. Although the specific term the masculine genius was never used by Pope John Paul II, he does discuss the masculine gifts in light of St. Joseph in his Apostolic Exhortation Remdemptoris Custos, “On the Person and Mission of Saint Joseph in the Life of Christ and of the Church” (August 15, 1989). As we come upon the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Joseph as patron of the universal church, Pope Francis offers the Apostolic Letter Patris Corde “With a Father’s Heart” (December 9, 2020) as a guide to live out the year of St. Joseph. In light of this, I would like to invite both men and women to enter into the hidden life of the Holy Family and journey now with St. Joseph to see how he responds to God’s vocation with a father’s heart. Moreover, as God chose to make humankind male and female, it is of equal importance to make an effort to contemplate the complementarity of the feminine genius and the masculine genius as portrayed by Mary and Joseph. It is true, however, that this article will focus on the perspective of St. Joseph and his masculine genius.

Let us begin by offering a definition of the masculine genius. We could says that the masculine genius refers to the gifts God grants specifically to man to help him fulfill his vocation. These gifts are revealed through the theology that his body reveals: he gives life, he fructifies life. These qualities of giving and fructifying color not only his physical life but also his mental life, emotional life, and, most importantly, his spiritual life.

We come to know the first man, Adam, in isolation from Eve, as task-oriented. He has a big job. He is the custodian of the creation. He names everything. His job is to keep the world in order according to the Divine Order. Before the creation of Eve, we see Adam organizing the world and bestowing names. And so, since the beginning, we see man at work. As exciting as his adventurous work of discovering the external world is, he begins to journey within and discovers his inner world. In his self-discovery, he realizes that he is alone in a world full of everything except someone else with whom to share in his life’s work. And so, it is in relation to Adam that we come to know Eve, as person-oriented.

Before the story of salvation reaches its climax in the Incarnation, we see the masculine genius unfold in the lives of righteous men who enter into covenants with God on behalf of humanity and the created world: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. We see the masculine genius at play as men offer sacrifice to God as priest, as they deliver the message of God as prophet, and as they rule the Kingdom of God as king. This three-fold vocation is not to be limited to the historical priests, prophets, and kings of the Bible. This three-fold vocation is to be lived out by every man in his thoughts, words, and deeds. After all, the masculine genius only exists in the particular man who embodies the qualities of priest, prophet, and king. Let us now unravel these qualities.

When we look at the lives of the men in the Bible and, specifically, at the life of St. Joseph, we see how their very lives were the answers to the following questions regarding the three-fold vocation. What does it mean to be a priest? It means that I must offer myself for the sake of others. What does it mean to be a prophet? It means that I must spread the message of God, of salvation, the Good News, faith, hope, and love, peace, mercy, and forgiveness in the way that I think and feel, in the way that I listen and speak, in the way that I look, approach (a person or a topic), and touch. What does it mean to be a king? It means to first of all be the ruler of my own kingdom – my flesh. For how can I rule over anything or anyone else or even consider the conquest of other “lands,” if my own kingdom is not in order, if my inner walls are crumbling, if my own kingdom is divided within itself? Indeed, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak and so we do what we do not wish to do. There can only be one master – the flesh or the spirit? Will it be his flesh guided by his spirit shaping, moulding, and building the structures of the inner and outer worlds? The man, in order to fully live out his masculine genius, must make it his priority to domesticate his wild flesh. In fact, for his masculine spirit to be truly “wild and free,” the man must take seriously this task of taming the flesh. These three-fold vocation is equally true of woman, although the answers to these questions will unfold in the lives of men and women in masculine or feminine ways. Moreover, men and women can learn from the others’ genius and receive inspiration and encouragement to respond to God’s vocation. However, I will keep my focus on the masculine genius, as I write elsewhere on the feminine genius.

Let us return to St. Joseph. In St. Joseph we encounter the harmonization of justice and mercy, the marriage of reason and feeling, the friendship of head and heart. St. Joseph wants to do the right thing by law (to divorce his betrothed who is pregnant out of wedlock). His head and heart work in unison. He is not ruled by anger nor self-pity. He is ruled by concern to honor the objective law of God and to protect Mary for whom he cares (this is why he wants to divorce her quietly). He is not driven by self-interest – there is no pride (the anti-priest), vanity (the anti-prophet), or sensuality (the anti-king) in him.

Pope John Paul II calls his silence eloquent (RC 17). Another word for eloquent is articulate. This means that his silence articulates – clearly expresses or indicates something – about what it means to be a man, about the vocation of man, about the masculine genius. This silence is a silence of words but not a silence of actions. His life is a hidden life. He is a husband and a father devoted to serving his family and his community. St. Joseph is a doer. And, thus, the Gospels record not his words but his actions. The hidden life of the Holy Family in Nazareth is a prototype for all Christian families who desire to incarnate both the feminine genius and the masculine genius.

St. Joseph: He was a good husband. He was a good father. Period.

He embodies the masculine genius, because he honored his God-given duty. It’s simple. He kept his word. He did his job. He was an honest man. And, in a world where responsibility and commitment is hard to find, we honor St. Joseph as a man who faithfully responded to God’s call. He took responsibility, and he staid committed to doing his job until he took his last breath.

The school of sainthood is found nowhere else but in the hearts of men and of women who faithfully respond to the duty of the moment. Holiness is nourished in the hidden life of our thoughts and of our feelings that we sow and then reap as words and deeds. St. Joseph saw Christ before him wherever he was and whoever he was with. To reap virtue, we must sow virtue. And this begins by seeing Christ before us ceaselessly in the seen world of our words and actions and in the unseen world of our thoughts and feelings.

The call to holiness is the same as the call to wholeness. We see in St. Joseph that his holiness was wholly tied to his responding to his duties as husband, father, and worker. St. Joseph was committed to the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Hence, when Archangel Gabriel revealed to him that Mary had conceived miraculously, St. Joseph recognized that he was mistaken and he steadfastly changed his course. God was absolutely real to him. God was present before his very thoughts, words, and deeds. And so, he strove always to use his flesh at the service of his spirit – to use his mind to think honest thoughts, to use his mouth to speak honest words, to use his hands to do honest work. Moreover, St. Joseph only used his feet to walk to the places where they belonged – where he had a job to do. How many places to which we don’t belong do we walk to in our thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds on a daily basis? Purity. Purity. Purity. Always hold a lily like St. Joseph wherever you are and whoever you are with – most especially when your self is your sole companion.

St. Joseph was the guardian not only of Mary and Jesus but also of his own temple. This is why Pope John Paul II says: “One must come to understand [the life of St. Joseph], for it contains one of the most important testimonies concerning man and his vocation [as husband and father]” (RC 17). If it can be said that Jesus and Mary undo the sins of Adam and Eve, then might dare say that Joseph undoes the sin of Cain. St. Joseph exhorts us to respond to the needs of others as a true priest, prophet, and king, because we are our brother’s keeper. (Could it be that Mary would have been stoned to death had Joseph not stepped in? I leave that to speculation.) However, much like Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel, meaning “to wrestle with God”), who wrestled with God as he was returning to Canaan (the Promised Land) to face his brother Esau concerning their father’s inheritance, so too the masculine heart of Joseph wrestled with God regarding the Father’s eternal inheritance. In the end, Joseph surrendered his will to God’s will. St. Joseph sheltered the Shelter of God. St. Joseph the Worker used his hands to build four walls, a floor and a roof to protect the new Promised Land – Mary’s womb.

St. Joseph checked off his God-given check list. So he thought. After “doing the right thing” by taking Mary into his home, God asked one more thing of him. He asked him to leave his home and to travel to Bethlehem, to the land of his ancestors, so that he could enter his family into the census record. Mary, his companion and helpmate, went with him even though she was late in her pregnancy. They went to testify that the Savior did indeed enter into time and lived amongst us in the home of Mary and Joseph.

God tested the faith, hope, and love of St. Joseph with each duty of the moment. It is true that there was no room for the Holy Family in Bethlehem but there was room for Bethlehem in the cave, where Joseph and Mary witnessed the birth of the Savior and His adoration by poor and rich alike. It is St. Joseph who cares diligently for the gifts bestowed on Christ by the three kings: gold (virtue), frankincense (prayer), and myrrh (sacrifice). St. Joseph continued to entrust himself to divine guidance. There is much to contemplate about the exile and displacement of the Holy Family. With the guidance and protection of St. Joseph, the Holy Family made their own exodus from the Promised Land back into Egypt and back again to the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with the Savior of the world.

Let us highlight the guiding principles St. Joseph offers to men and women in all ages and, specifically, highlight the qualities of the masculine genius.

1. Empathy: St. Joseph teaches men and women to empathize, to listen not only to their minds but also to their hearts, to look at how their decisions, although “just,” impact the life of human beings. St. Joseph was a just man, but equally so, he was a merciful man.

2. Responsibility: St. Joseph teaches men and women to not be afraid of responsibility. He also teaches us to trust that God truly does provide for one’s family. The Archangel Gabriel entrusted to St. Joseph all the responsibilities of an earthly father with regard to Mary’s son. The Bible attests to his readiness of will. When he awoke, he did what the angel commanded him and took Mary as his wife. In doing so, St. Joseph empowered Mary as a woman by not shaming her and by not sending her away. He gave his wife and their child a home and, in doing so, offered his custodianship as father and husband. With St. Joseph at her side, Mary was able to fully express her feminine genius as wife and as mother in a stable and loving home.

3. Fatherhood: St. Joseph teaches men to be good fathers just like Mary teaches women to be good mothers. The Bible tells us that St. Joseph fulfilled all his duties to his son. He gave Jesus a legal name and claimed him as his son, he presented Jesus at the Temple to fulfill his religious duty, he taught Jesus the Law and taught him how to fulfill his own religious duties to God as a young man, he raised a strong, healthy, wise, and obedient boy. The example of St. Joseph’s fatherhood invites men, whether in the family, professional, or religious life to, in a sense, spiritually “foster” men and women. For example, men are called to adopt or to financially support hurting families; men are called to teach others their “trade;” and they are also called to be spiritual fathers. “The words which Mary spoke to the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple take on their full significance: “Your father and I…have been looking for you.” This is no conventional phrase: Mary’s words to Jesus show the complete reality of the Incarnation present in the mystery of the Family of Nazareth. From the beginning, Joseph accepted with the “obedience of faith” his human fatherhood over Jesus. And thus, following the light of the Holy Spirit who gives himself to human beings through faith, he certainly came to discover ever more fully the indescribable gift that was his human fatherhood” (RC 21). By being good fathers, men strengthen the family, help organize society according the the divine order, and inspire women equally to express their own femenine genius.

4. Companionship: St. Joseph teaches men to be good husbands or companions. Along with Mary, Joseph is the guardian of Jesus. St. Joseph was at Mary’s side. He was her rock. With Mary, he witnessed the birth of the Savior and welcomed the adoration of the shepherds and of the magi. Moreover, he empowered Mary in her motherhood by protecting his family and offering them stability and security even while in exile. St. Joseph teaches men to walk with both men and women to encourage them in their vocation and in their faith.

5. Courage: St. Joseph teaches men and women to not be afraid to transform their heart’s desire for conjugal love into supernatural love. St. Joseph’s “…love proved to be greater than this just man could have ever have expected within the limits of his human heart” (RC 19). As Pope John Paul II says, “Virginity or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God not only does not contradict the dignity of marriage but presupposes and confirms it. Marriage and virginity are two ways of expressing and living the one mystery of the Covenant of God with his people” (RC 20).

6. Integrity. Lastly, St. Joseph teaches men and women to support their families with honest work. Moreover, he invites us to unite human work into the mystery of Redemption. Men are called to sanctify their workplaces and uphold and defend the dignity of the worker, including women. In his Letter to Women (above referenced), the Holy Father speaks of the importance of promoting the rights of women in the workplace. Men have a unique responsibility to promote justice and equality in the workforce so as to help unlock the feminine genius, which is so needed in society. 

In summary, in a society where men and women wash their hands of commitment and responsibility, we see Joseph roll up his sleeves and respond to God’s vocation. Once he heard God’s call, Joseph did not flinch. By the standards of society, Joseph was justified to not deal with that which did not pertain him by law. But God called him to higher standards. His story teaches us how man proposes and God disposes – how “a man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps ” (Proverbs 16:9). Joseph’s own fiat, through his obedience to God, calls to mind not only the disobedience of our first parents but also the way in which Adam blamed Eve and refused to take responsibility for his own decisions. Joseph’s responsibility or response to duty makes us remember Cain’s response to God regarding his brother Abel, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Joseph’s willingness to let go of his plans and readiness to accept God’s plans reminds us of the popular saying – let go and let God. Once Joseph let go and let God, his heart was ready to journey to Bethlehem, to Egypt, and back to Nazareth with the Messiah.

St. Joseph, pray for us!

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