St. Joseph's powerful silent witness at Fatima

This is the fourth in a six-part series exploring the Marian apparitions at Fatima, Portugal, 100 years ago. Future installments will run the first issue of every month through October.

Of all the various apparitions and messages to come out of Fatima a century ago, there is an often neglected component. Sister Lucia, the eldest and longest-living Fatima seer, recorded in her diary that on Oct. 13, 1917 — “the day the sun danced” — St. Joseph appeared at Fatima. As he held the Christ Child, it looked as if they were both offering the world a blessing. Despite the few details recorded about St. Joseph’s brief time on Fatima’s stage, interestingly, it is similar to his appearance in the Gospel — in neither did St. Joseph utter a word.

The appearance of St. Joseph at Fatima is stark in its simplicity, leaving little wonder why this minor episode in the catalogue of Fatima events is slighted.

Yet despite that fact, the appearance of St. Joseph at the final apparition at Fatima is chock full of significance that relates to the Fatima’s promise of peace.

Peace and the family

The messages of Fatima clearly intend to propose anew the road map humanity should follow to obtain God’s peace. Peace, hearers of Fatima are reminded, is the experience when prayer and sacrificial charity — fundamentally, imitation of Christ — define our lives. Peace requires humility and submission to God’s plan for humanity as revealed in Scripture and Tradition.

Ultimately, Fatima’s promise of peace comes as the result of living as God wills. For that very reason, Fatima places before us the example of Mary and her Immaculate Heart — the epitome of imitation of her Son’s obedience to God’s will through love and sacrifice.

When living as God intends, we must acknowledge another essential building block in the path toward peace: the family. God established the family as the basic unit of human society, and he exalted it by entering into his creation through membership in a family. Many today, to varying degrees, are trying to redefine the family. God’s plan, however, is clear and is manifested above all in the Holy Family of Nazareth.

The institution of the family is undermined and collapsing in a variety of spheres today. Many in the modern world believe Christian concepts of marriage and human sexuality are outdated. It is en vogue (erroneously) to criticize the limitations to freedom levied by the Christian vision of marriage and sexuality. But along with that, there is no doubt that the world simultaneously and desperately needs and craves peace.

Living as God wants is a reality that presupposes humanity’s adoption of God’s plan for us, discernible in creation and revealed more fully in his Son Jesus.

The presence of St. Joseph at the Fatima apparitions evokes this reality and reminds us that the flourishing of family life is an essential part of God’s plan for peace. St. Joseph models that way of life by authentically living out his call as a model father, husband and servant of God.

St. Joseph, father

St. Joseph’s presence at Fatima exalts his example of fatherhood and its essential role in the flourishing of humanity. The Gospels explain that St. Joseph provided for the Holy Family in all circumstances.

St. Joseph is the one “into whose custody God entrusted his most precious treasures,” as was said in Blessed Pope Paul VI’s decree naming St. Joseph patron of the universal Church. Dutifully and lovingly, St. Joseph handed on to Jesus the traditions, rituals, customs and prayers of the Jewish faith.

Paul VI also exhorted fathers in an August 1976 general audience: “And you, fathers, do you pray with your children, with the whole domestic community, at least sometimes? Your example of honesty in thought and action, joined to some common prayer, is a lesson for life, an act of worship of singular value. In this way you bring peace to your homes: Pax huic domui. Remember, it is thus that you build up the Church.”

This is all present at Fatima, as a witness to the world, encapsulated by St. Joseph tenderly and lovingly holding his Son, God’s Son who was entrusted to his care — together offering a prayer by invoking God’s blessing upon the world.

Today’s world experiences untold turmoil on account of absentee fathers. Numerous studies keep coming up with the same data. Children without a father figure are lacking something.

The majority of children who come from homes without fathers experience poverty, have abused drugs and alcohol more readily, dropped out of school or have become the victims of a variety of emotional and physical ailments. Fatherless boys have a higher propensity toward violence and crime, and fatherless girls are more likely to become pregnant as teens.

St. Joseph, husband

Sister Lucia said that not only was St. Joseph holding his divine Son at Fatima, but he also was next to the Blessed Virgin Mary. How notable that St. Joseph does not appear without his holy wife.

This minor detail underscores St. Joseph’s love and fidelity toward the Blessed Mother. St. Joseph was chosen to play an important role in salvation history, there is no doubt. But in God’s design, he was also chosen to be Mary’s husband — carrying with that all that it means to be a husband. It’s a temptation to be avoided, losing sight of this spousal chosenness. Statistics in the developed world are staggering where marriages are concerned — nearly half end in divorce. Marriage’s permanency, commitment and fidelity are all considered constraints to freedom.

But for St. Joseph, life and love was no longer about himself when he committed to Mary. The Gospels show how he knew that for peace in a marriage, both spouses must be willing to die to self each day. Spouses truly live for the other. “And two become one flesh” — at Fatima we see spousal love — where Mary is, Joseph is.

The Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph are united most fully through the Incarnation: “He shared in it with her; he was involved in the same salvific event; he was the guardian of the same love, through the power of which the eternal Father ‘destined us to be his sons through Jesus Christ’ (Eph 1:5),” said Pope St. John Paul II in his 1989 apostolic exhortation on St. Joseph, Custos Redemptoris (No. 1).

St. Joseph and Mary model how marital unity is derived from unity in Christ. When spouses truly seek to live as Christ for the other, they are laying a fertile ground in which peace can blossom. The seeds are prayer and self-sacrificial love, among others. In modeling this way of life for their children, Christian spouses do a great service to the human race.

John Paul II highlighted the centrality of the family in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio: “The future of humanity passes by way of the family” (No. 86).

St. Joseph, servant

John Paul II prayed that the faithful will turn to St. Joseph as a powerful example of Christian living, and “always keep before their eyes his humble, mature way of serving and of ‘taking part’ in the plan of salvation” (Custos Redemptoris, No. 1).

This humble and mature way of serving God is evidenced in one of St. Joseph’s primary characteristics in the Gospel and his apparition at Fatima: his silence.

Silence does not mean complacency, though. St. Joseph’s silence highlights his prayerful discernment to know the will of God. But more than that, it illustrates his wholehearted desire unhesitatingly to do God’s will — no questions asked!

The things we know about St. Joseph from the Gospel all entail such a faithful obedience. But that does not exist in a vacuum; it is produced by a way of life grounded in prayer and sacrificial charity. St. Joseph is a doer who lays down his life to achieve God’s purposes in his life. He does not get caught up in himself or his wants, fears or opinions. He hears God’s word and responds.

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How could St. Joseph do any of the things that we know of him — living as a faithful and loving spouse, a devoted and caring father and an obedient servant of God — if silence was not a part of his life? Silence fueled St. Joseph to answer God’s call for him, prayerfully and lovingly.

St. Joseph models how peace comes from this way of life — after all, the fruit of his life was giving a home to Jesus, the Prince of Peace. However insignificant it might appear, St. Joseph’s presence at Fatima adds depth and perspective to its message.

Michael R. Heinlein is editor of The Catholic Answer magazine. Follow him on Twitter @HeinleinMichael.