On March 19th we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph, protector of the Church, patron saint of workers and the foster father of Jesus. When we consider the responsibilities of fatherhood, and of foster fatherhood in particular, we see similarities between the great St. Joseph and the fictional character Uncle Ben Parker from the Spider-Man franchise.
“Peter, these are the years when a man changes into the man he is going to become the rest of his life. Just be careful who you change into. Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.”Uncle Ben Parker, Spider-Man (2002)
Though Uncle Ben Parker is not Peter Parker’s biological father, he dutifully serves as Peter’s foster father after Peter’s parents die in a plane crash. Uncle Ben doesn’t say a lot in Sam Raimi’s movie and he dies before Peter ever makes his full transformation into Spider-Man, but his words, few as they may be, and his actions tell us the kind of man he is.
Uncle Ben is a humble man who works with his hands. When he is laid off from his job as an electrician after 35 years, he doesn’t complain, but humbly confesses his limitations. “I’m 68 years old. I’m too old for computers,” he tells Aunt May.
When Peter fails to do his chores or snaps at Uncle Ben (insensitively reminding him that he isn’t his real father), Uncle Ben doesn’t lose his patience or scold his foster son. He simply waits for another opportunity to connect with Peter. Though young Peter Parker may not have realized it until after Uncle Ben’s death, Uncle Ben’s desire was always to care for, guide and protect Peter.
“‘[St. Joseph] among all stands out in his august dignity, since by divine disposition he was guardian, and according to human opinion, father of God’s Son.’ … Joseph is the one whom God chose to be the ‘overseer of the Lord’s birth,’ the one who has the responsibility to look after the Son of God’s ‘ordained’ entry into the world, in accordance with divine dispositions and human laws. All of the so-called ‘private’ or ‘hidden’ life of Jesus is entrusted to Joseph’s guardianship.”Redemptoris Custos, 8
St. Joseph is also a man of few words. In fact, he is never recorded saying anything in the Scriptures. When the angel of the Lord speaks to St. Joseph telling him to take Mary into his home, telling him to name the Child Jesus, telling him to take the Holy Family to Egypt, or telling him to return to Nazareth, St. Joseph simply does what he is told. He obeys.
“Therefore he became a unique guardian of the mystery ‘hidden for ages in God’ (Eph 3:9) …. Together with Mary, Joseph is the first guardian of this divine mystery.”Redemptoris Custos, 5
St. Joseph doesn’t complain when he makes the difficult journey to Bethlehem to participate in the census with his nine-month pregnant wife nor does he complain when he is unable to find a room for his wife to deliver Jesus. And when St. Joseph finds Jesus in the Temple after looking for him for three days, he doesn’t lose his temper or scold Jesus. He simply leads his foster son back to Nazareth and raises him there to be a pious Jew and a hard-working carpenter so that Jesus “advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Lk 2:52).
St. Joseph is strong in mind, body and spirit. He’s a man of action, a physical man who works with his hands as a carpenter and dutifully leads his family through difficulties, providing for their needs all the while.
“Joseph was in his day the lawful and natural guardian, head and defender of the Holy Family…. It is thus fitting and most worthy of Joseph’s dignity that, in the same way that he once kept unceasing holy watch over the family of Nazareth, so now does he protect and defend with his heavenly patronage the Church of Christ.”Redemptoris Custos, 28
St. Joseph and Uncle Ben are similar in many ways. They were both guardians of heroes (Is 9:5). They both worked with their hands. They also share many virtues, including the virtue of silence. As we approach the Solemnity of St. Joseph during this time of Lent, let us contemplate how we might develop the virtue of silence in our own lives.