It is rare to find a moment of silence in a household with a two-year-old. Last week, unusually, provided many quiet moments as my normally energetic daughter had a high fever and spent the day on the couch or sleeping only while being held. My wife and I took turns silently holding her to help her get much needed rest. Sitting in silence—without a phone or other distraction--was agitating at first. As the time went on, the simple time spent in silence holding a sleeping child became nourishing and awakened in me a hunger for silence that I often spend time avoiding.
This past Lent, I co-led an online small group for newly married men in DC. As we reflected on how the life of St. Joseph relates to us as men, we returned almost weekly to the challenge of finding silence amid phones and families. St. Joseph was not a character that most of us had taken seriously before being married or becoming a father. Yet in marriage and fatherhood, Joseph is the silent role model we need. Someone who understands us and who inspires us.
St. Joseph was not a loud or flashy saint. In the children’s books of saints we have for our daughter, the life of silent St. Joseph is hardly mentioned. How can he compete with traveling missionaries, miracle workers, religious founders, and the stories of martyrs losing their heads, eyes, and more? Though his life was not extroverted or bloody, it was no less meaningful. The life of Joseph was a life of daily martyrdoms and silent missions. Without having to leave his home or his workshop, he set out each day as a missionary to offer his life for Jesus and Mary.
This is reassuring to me as a husband and father of a toddler, who has been stuck at home during the last 12 months during the COVID pandemic. It is tempting to think that the only way to be holy is to be on the move or to be noticed, like the many Catholic social media influencers or popular Catholic priests or bishops. St. Joseph reminds us of a quieter, ordinary path to holiness that will earn us no new likes or followers. He shows us a hidden, silent example that we need in the noise of daily life.
Joseph’s silence teaches us to rediscover the silent mission work found in our own kitchens and living rooms. The artist and Oblate Brother Mickey McGrath has a beautiful image of “St. Thérèse Doing the Dishes.” In the painting, Thérèse is at the kitchen sink elevating a plate as the priest elevates the Eucharist at the altar. This image makes plain our mission as lay men and women to unite our daily work and sacrifices to the great sacrifice of Jesus on the cross which we commemorate at each Eucharistic celebration.
Perhaps this image of St. Thérèse doing dishes stands out today because our dishwasher broke this week and my mission field has been researching dishwasher pumps and motor assemblies and spending extra time in soapy water. The image reminds me that God has called me to this mission, regardless of whether it is my preference or how qualified I feel for the task. Joseph must have felt the same way in the ordinary tasks of his workshop and home. St. Joseph is a role model for how we are called to integrate our lives, finding God in every moment of our day—whether doing dishes, praying the Rosary, updating spreadsheets, or building a table.
In the life of Joseph, daily work “is a kind of prayer, a way of finding God, a means of salvation…Joseph gave to his carts and yokes the same care he would have given to a tabernacle, since he understood perfectly that a word done in love goes straight to God” (Michel Gasnier, Joseph the Silent, 29). Pope Francis reminds us that, “working persons, whatever their job may be, are cooperating with God himself, and in some way become creators of the world around us” (Patris Corde, 6).
St. Joseph is well known for not having a single word recorded in Scripture, but we cannot confuse his silence with a lack of mission. Joseph was a silent missionary who invites us in this Year of St. Joseph to join him in the quiet work. The silent mission of holding a sick child who has fallen asleep, of holding our tongue from an uncharitable word with a family member or colleague, of doing the dishes, or of going about our work with love. Silently. Without recognition. Like St. Joseph.
The Vatican and the surrounding streets have begun to empty—not of tourists, but of the three hundred bishops and young people present for the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. From October 3rd through October 28th, Pope Francis met twice a day with bishops and young people from around the world. The days began at 9:00am with morning prayer led by Pope Francis before the first session of the day when participating bishops and auditors (essentially listeners, young people who were brought in as experts for the Synod) gave their four-minute interventions (a short speech addressed to the assembly). An afternoon break led into the second session that began with prayer before more interventions were given. The last major part of the synodal process involved small groups, called circoli minori, that contained bishops and auditors who discussed the interventions of the day and worked to write reports. American representatives to the Synod included Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston/Houston, Bishop Caggiano of Bridgeport, and Jonathan Lewis from the Archdiocese of Washington.
Being from all over the world, the Synod fathers brought different views and experiences of the global Church. Some, like the bishops from Africa, spoke of flourishing churches overflowing with the faithful, while others, like the bishops from the US and Australia, talked about the pain that the faithful from their countries are feeling. No matter where they came from, the participants of the Synod shared a common goal: to have prayerful discussion about the three topics of the Synod. The discussion of young people, a term in the US that refers to people from the ages of 18-35, took center stage for much of the three-and-a-half-week process. How to deal with low numbers of vocations to the priesthood or religious life in certain parts of the world, the realities of technology within the sphere of evangelization, and the role of women within the Church were some of the many topics discussed that are important to the young people of the Church today. The US bishops present acknowledged the damage done to the Church’s credibility due to the ongoing crisis, and Cardinal Cupich of Chicago noted the need for humility and acknowledgement of fallibility among leaders and adults going forward to help rebuild the relationships that have been broken. Inside the Synod Hall, in the press rooms, and out on the streets of Rome, there were many reasons to be optimistic and hopeful in the outcomes of the Synod. Bishops could be seen with the young people from their countries, giving talks on the topics of the Synod, and spending time with young people in Rome—bringing to life the words spoken in the Synod Hall.
One term worth noting, and one that will be incredibly important to the actualization of the Synod within the Church, is accompaniment. The concept of accompaniment was very important to the initial documents of the Synod, to the daily interventions, and continues to be to the life of the Church outside of the hall. Accompaniment, as the final document notes, draws its origin from Luke 24:13-35, the story of the Road to Emmaus. Accompaniment means walking with someone on their journey with Christ. This walking involves prayer, listening, prayerful instruction, and dialogue. The goal of the journey is Heaven. The Synod Fathers and Pope Francis see the importance and need for accompaniment due to the many different individual circumstances that young people encounter on a daily basis. It is through accompanying others, and allowing ourselves to be accompanied, that we will help one another get to Heaven. May we pray that the Holy Spirit guides the implementation of the Synod, that our Church leaders will lead with integrity and be guided by what they learned from the Synod, and that all be done for the infinite glory of God.
For more resources on the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
On Thursday October 25, 2018, the students of The Catholic University of America’s Rome Campus welcomed two of the US bishops present for the Synod, as well as USCCB and Archdiocese of Washington (ADW) staff, for the celebration of Mass and dinner. The Catholic Apostolate Center has given me many different and beautiful opportunities over my time on staff, and this evening with our Church leaders was no different.
During my work in Rome for the Center, I was introduced to Mr. Paul Jarzembowski, the Assistant Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the USCCB. Paul was here in Rome for the entire month with the Bishops. Over these past few weeks, we were present at many of the same events. After talking with Paul and explaining the group of diverse young people we have here on campus, we decided to invite some of the US Bishops to join the CUA students for Mass and dinner. Through God’s grace, Cardinal DiNardo from Galveston/Houston and Bishop Caggiano from Bridgeport graciously agreed to join us at our campus. Joining them were Paul, as well as his colleagues Dominic Lombardi and Connie Poulos from the USCCB, Jonathan Lewis from the ADW, who served as an auditor for the Synod, and Jonathan’s wife, Gina.
We arranged for a special dinner in our dining room and I organized the liturgy and seating arrangements. The goal for the night was not just for the bishops and staff to pop in and pop out, but for them to join us as the Synod has invited us, in listening and accompaniment. When we, as Christians, join for the celebration of the Mass, we are gathered around the Eucharist, or as Lumen Gentium described it, the “source and summit of the Christian life.” The dinner that followed offered a great opportunity for our Church leaders, who were not only present for the Synod but who also work with young people on a daily basis, to listen to young people, to engage them in conversation and dialogue as the Synod and Pope Francis have prompted.
In his homily, Cardinal DiNardo implored the young people in attendance to continue to pursue excellence in their studies, personal lives, and most importantly, in their spiritual lives. The small chapel on our campus was full with the sounds of praise and the beauty of silence that so fittingly belong in the celebration of the Mass. When Mass finished we proceeded to the dining room. At each table sat a Church leader and a large group of our students, ready to talk and to listen. It was a pleasure to talk with Cardinal DiNardo. I felt that he was intent on listening to each one of us. As the evening came to a close, Bishop Caggiano and Cardinal DiNardo went table to table to talk with each of our students and to thank them for a beautiful evening.
Thursday was the Synod in action. As a young person, I can only hope that our bishops will continue to do things like this within their own dioceses. The joy this evening brought our students, the bishops, and other staff present was obvious from the expressions on their faces. This was an evening that I will never forget, and one that I hope will continue in parishes and schools around the world for a very long time to come.
Question for Reflection: What can the “Synod in action” look like in your community or parish?
For more resources on the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.