In early times, the daily Chapter was a traditional feature of the monastic timetable. The monks left church at the end of the office of Prime and processed to a room near by, where a portion, or "chapter," of the Rule was read and the abbot commented upon it. It was also the natural occasion for announcements to be made affecting the life of the community and for a blessing to be given upon the day's work. Soon the room itself came to be called "the Chapter Room, or House" or simply "Chapter." Even today some form of this practice exists in many monasteries, including our own. Each month this page will feature a chapter talk given to the Community, as well as news and features. We hope you will visit us regularly.



           I have entitled this talk, ‘St. Joseph, monk’ as, partly with the help of the Liturgy of the Feast, I intend to try and show that Joseph possessed many traditional monastic virtues.  

            Joseph is called.  He is given a vocation in life. He was not consulted, in one sense.  The hand of God formed him for his role and then tapped him on the shoulder.  St. Bernard understands the uniqueness of his mission: “He was God’s sole and most faithful collaborator in his great plan on earth.”  St. Augustine, in his turn, is at pains to show us that his role is inseparable from Mary’s.  “That which the Holy Spirit accomplished, He did for both…together.”  Joseph, then, is called to play a unique and essential part in God’s design for man’s salvation and called along with the Blessed Virgin in a parentage that for both was out of the normal run.  In our small way, we are likewise invited and even summoned to play our part in God’s plan, to fulfil our task and our mission, and to fulfil it along with the others whom God gives us.

            Although Joseph says nothing, his actions or rather his promptness in action show us the absoluteness of his committment and devotion to his task.  As has been observed: “a task demands my personal commitment”. (Fr. Peter Henrici, Communio Fall 1990).  Hidden behind each genuine task lies, in the first instance, “a human being or human beings for whose sake and profit I must take care of the task.  At any rate, my real task will always be a human being with his or her demands, expectations and needs.”  Joseph’s task, his immediate task, was to care for Jesus and Mary, to provide for and protect them, to take responsibility for them.  These were the persons ‘hidden behind’ his daily, no doubt, unexciting tasks.  The parallel with our own lives is evident.  Our work, our activity, are always oriented towards the other, towards the community.

            But of course one must go further.  God’s call is enshrined in or behind the task in hand, however lowly.  There is a suggestion of this in the Vespers of the Feast short lesson: Whatever your task, work heartily as serving the Lord…knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ. (Col. 3:23-24).  Tasks come and go however important; our capacity to work at specific tasks waxes and wanes with the years; but the claim God lays on our life does not pass away.  In and beyond all the tasks, there is a total claim on us for total commitment.  As Fr. Henrici observes: “The destiny of the human being and the meaning of human life can ultimately exist only in this: that he or she is claimed by Someone greater and is thus made to transcend the self in love.”  This is as true for lay people as for religious.  In consequence, we can no longer speak of life’s lack of meaning.  Rather we shall proclaim our mission “through the search for tasks in the spirit of love.” (Ibid.)  This suggests that the task, the claim need not be seen as an imposition from outside.  We may search for tasks in the spirit of love.  We may go out to meet them in joyful initiative and total openness.

            No one can doubt Joseph’s complete receptivity to God’s claim on his life.  He was wholly offered, wholly given.  Thus God was able to act in him and through him.  He could be Himself in Joseph.  This is another definition of humility and, of course, of obedience.  There is in Joseph a filial heart, which makes him the one who obeys, the perfect son.  On the testimony of a dream, which he recognises as coming from God, not from his own subconscious, he takes Mary to wife; he changes domicile; he accepts anonymity in service; he is the Carpenter of respected trade, but he cuts no dash.  He disappears from the pages of the Gospel, having said not a single word, his task completed.  Yet being the perfect son or disciple, he is, thereby especially suited to be father.  Knowing how to obey, he knows, as a result, how to be in charge, to be guardian.  In Joseph, God can be Father to His own Son.

            Connected with this unfailing obedience to the one God and Father there is in Joseph a ‘stabilitas’.  It is true that he does not move around much, except at a higher command than his own wishes.  But his true stability lies in his fidelity to Jesus and Mary.  Just as we saw that, behind each task, there is a human being or beings for whom the task is undertaken, so the heart of stability is faithful love towards the people God gives to us to live with and to care for.  Ultimately, this faithful love is directed towards God Himself.

            The faith that Joseph shows is, of course, directed only Godwards.  He believes implicitly all that comes to him through the angels of his dreams.  There is no indication that he ever doubted.  If there is implied perplexity over Mary’s condition in St. Matthew’s Gospel, it is allayed immediately by the divine word of encouragement, to which he responds forthwith.  St. Benedict’s monk, ‘clothed with faith and the performance of good works’ is a good image of St. Joseph.  It may be noted also that we always speak of St. Joseph in connection with the Holy Family, which is his community, so to speak.  He is a community man.  We might think he had it easy, living with the Incarnate Son of God and His Immaculate Mother.  On the other hand, there are the old jokes: how, if anything went wrong in that house, everyone turned and looked at Joseph!  But we forget that difficulties in community life are not all sins; some problems are nobody’s fault.  Even the Holy Family must have experienced difficulties, even misunderstandings.  There was certainly some tension about, when Jesus went missing for 3 days.  Joseph doesn’t remonstrate but Mary does and makes specific reference to their anxiety.  It was legitimate - and it occurred in the perfect community.  In passing, we observe that it was resolved by the mutual encounter in the Father’s house.  It is in prayer, common prayer, too, that reconciliations are forged, that we are enabled to look beyond present anxieties to the overarching design of the Father.  The Lord is still always pointing to that: Did you not know…?

            Mary speaks for Joseph.  Perhaps he understood that she had more right to speak than he had.  Again, the Word of God lived under his roof.  It was more fitting to keep silent in that Presence, before that Word.  His task was to be guardian, watcher; volubility was not on the job description.  Yet his task is all important.  It is to keep Jesus hidden from the world before the moment of His Baptism and self-revelation.  If John the Baptist is a voice crying in the desert, Joseph is like the pillar of cloud going before the community of Israelites in the desert, but, says Paul Claudel, sheltering under this cloud are the two ‘pauvres’ who are going to change the face of the world.  Their protector needed much strength and Joseph’s silence is also his strength; in silentio and in spe erit fortitudo vestra.  He does not dissipate his strength by words of complaint or idleness or even, as St. Benedict will say, in good and holy talk.

            It might be said that there is a link between Joseph’s silence and his chastity.  We cannot imagine that his silence of words was accompanied by a lack of interior silence.  No, his heart was also silent, abstaining from the noise and jangle of desires.  One knows somehow that his heart was unified in one single desire, therefore at peace and filled with the Quiet of God.  Chastity is silence of the heart.

            And God gives His secrets to the quiet heart.  St. Bernard says that ‘the Lord found him to be a man after His heart, one to whom He could safely entrust the most hidden secrets of His own inmost being… God made known to him the obscure and correct meanings of His wisdom and granted that he should not be ignorant of the mystery which was unknown to any prince of this world.’  We have seen in Joseph many of the monastic virtues: he is, if you recall, obedient, humble, faithful in stability, chaste and silent, living in community, diligent at work, filled with faith and trust, responsive to his vocation.  In the text from Bernard, we see him also occupied with divine things, an occupation which we call by the names of prayer, meditation and sacred reading.  As well as God’s Son, he is God’s friend, a man after His own heart, ‘particeps cælestium sacramentorum’.  Joseph reads in God’s heart with unique insight.  Beatus vir.


            He must have felt himself blessedly happy, because uniquely privileged, not only by the gift but by the task of being Christ’s foster-father.  “Mary gave him a son,” says St. Augustine, “words which confirm Joseph’s fatherhood, not according to nature but by charity.  It is in this manner that he is father…by tender affection there was born to Joseph from the Virgin Mary a Son who was also the Son of God.”  Jesus is truly Joseph’s son in the order of charity.  This reminds us of the Lord’s words which refer to us all.  Whoever does the will of God - or in Luke - who hear the word of God and do it…are my brother and sister and mother. (Mt 3:34).  Doing His will, practising His word, is the heart of charity and prepares the ground for Christ’s birth and growth in the soul.  Then we shall share with St. Joseph in the work of ‘custodia’.  We too, as in the Collect, nurture the tiny beginnings of the mystery of salvation in our own hearts and lives and community.  St. Joseph was ‘custos Ecclesiæ’, in his guardianship of Jesus and Mary, and we can confidently affirm that so he remains.  By the practice of our simple monastic programme, we shall become like him and share in the growth and upbuilding of the Church.


Previous Chapter Talks