The Hidden Life Of Saint Joseph



Thanks for joining us for this special Year of Saint Joseph presentation from Relevant Radio: 19 on the 19th. A 19-minute talk on St. Joseph on the 19th of the month – the day dedicated to St. Joseph.

Welcome, friends, to our latest installment of the 19 on the 19th series – this series at Relevant Radio in honor of Saint Joseph during this Year of Saint Joseph, given to us by our Holy Father, Pope Francis.

I’m Father Matthew Spencer, Provincial Superior of the Oblates of Saint Joseph. I’m very happy to be back with you again this month as we reflect upon another aspect of Saint Joseph. And I have to say, this month’s installment is one that’s very close to my heart. I know that I’m always saying, oh, this is my favorite devotion, oh, this is my favorite aspect of Saint Joseph, but today we’re going to talk about the hidden life of Saint Joseph. And if you ever listened to Saint Joseph’s Workshop, that humble little program I was very blessed and happy to do here on Relevant Radio for many years, you know that this often came up in my discourses, my meanderings and reflections. Why? Because this is something not only that I studied in depth in my seminary studies, not only is it an essential part of my religious life and the charism of my religious institute, but this is an essential part of the life of the Holy Family, an essential aspect of the spirituality and mission, even of Saint Joseph, and of the entire Holy Family.

So why don’t we dive right into it? Because it’s something that’s not often understood, certainly not often appreciated, and it’s never been more necessary for the world in my opinion.

What are we talking about when we mention the hidden life? Saint Joseph, as you know, played a very significant role in the life of Jesus and Mary and an essential role in the history of salvation. I mean, without Saint Joseph, we wouldn’t have the Holy Family, and without the Holy Family, Jesus wouldn’t have come into the world within a family and sanctified the family in the way that he did.

So Saint Joseph himself plays this very important role, but also notice that Saint Joseph plays this role very much in the background, doesn’t he? I mean, we don’t know a lot about Saint Joseph. Many of the questions in people’s minds about Saint Joseph deal with, “So when did he die? How did he live? What did his career really look like? How was his relationship with our Blessed Mother and with Jesus? What would he have said in this or that circumstance?”

These are things that we would love to know and maybe one day to peer into the mystery of the life of Saint Joseph. But the fact is, is that Holy Scriptures recount no recorded words of Saint Joseph. They share very few details about Saint Joseph himself.

So much so that people down through the centuries have, in their curiosity or in their imagination, tried to fill in many of those gaps, describing interactions in the life of the Holy Family with Saint Joseph, trying to paint images of Saint Joseph, trying to write books and reflections about maybe what happened in those mysterious years. So we’ve always been fascinated by Saint Joseph and maybe by what happened in his life that we don’t know about from Scripture.

But there’s a lesson here that is really important. One of my confreres who tragically died early on during the COVID pandemic was a world-renowned scholar on Saint Joseph. In fact, he has written more than most modern theologians on Saint Joseph. His name is Father Tarcisio Stramare and he would write about the fact that the whole of the life of Jesus is redemptive.

Everything that Jesus did, and not only that He did but every moment that He lived, from the moment of his conception all the way up to His last final breath on the cross, and of course His resurrection for that matter, the whole of His life is redemptive. Now, why is this connected to the hidden life of Saint Joseph? Because the silent years of Jesus with Saint Joseph are also part of redemption and are also part of the sanctification of human life.

In other words, when Jesus spent these hidden years with Saint Joseph and with our Blessed mother, it was not just him twiddling his thumbs, waiting to pass the time until something more important came along. Far from it, he was using that time himself in order to sanctify the hidden, silent moments of human life as well, whether they happen in your home, whether they happen in monasteries far removed from the world, or whether they happen in the humdrum of your daily duties in your career. The hidden life of Jesus, and therefore the hidden life of Joseph and Mary, is itself part of redemption.

Okay, so there we have a very important insight into why the hidden years of Joseph himself are important and not only important but are an essential aspect of his vocation. Because by Joseph living these quiet, hidden moments of his life, he was contributing to redemption himself, and he was contributing to the work of redemption wrought through the child that was entrusted to him, Jesus Christ.

So as much as we would love to peer into the life of Saint Joseph, and as much as we would love to know well, what did they actually eat? What did they actually talk about at the dining room table of the Holy Family? Part of the beauty of the life of the Holy Family is that it’s shrouded in hiddenness and mystery and it’s secret, but not in a sense that it’s special information reserved, and therefore privileged only for them, but rather that you and I learn something very valuable through the witness of the Holy Family during these especially hidden moments.

Actually, I would say there are several lessons that we can ponder here. The first that I think is especially important for us to realize is that the times that we spend hidden from the world, the time that we spend doing things that other people might never see, like changing diapers, scrubbing toilets, picking up after our children, or after ourselves for that matter, making sure our lives stay in order as best as possible. These things that might feel tedious, and we feel like nobody is ever going to see them, nobody is ever going to appreciate them. How could these ever have more meaning than just the function that they’re accomplishing in this moment? The hidden life of the Holy Family reminds us that in fact, these moments have deep value for each one of us.

Indeed, they contribute to the redemption of Jesus Christ in the same way that your participation in catechesis programs at your parish, your participation in a men’s group or women’s group, or your participation in Bible study contributes in a small way to your own sanctification and to the sanctification of those around you.

Your hidden activities, the ones that people never see, when they are done for the love of Jesus and when they’re done in imitation of our Blessed Mother and of Saint Joseph, take on a deeper value than we could even imagine.

Does that make sense? I mean, I know it sounds maybe too good to be true, even – that that the little ordinary, quiet, silent things that we do have value.

You mean me making my bed in the morning is more than just about me whining and complaining inside about this tedious activity to do? It is, in fact. But not only because we grow in discipline from it, not only because there’s growth in holiness directly from it, but because by the uniting of our own silent efforts, and our own cooperation in obedience to what God has asked of us, we are contributing to the building up of the Kingdom, whether people see those things or not.

This brings us to the next point. So often, you and I imagine that the more people see our activities, the more people recognize what we’re doing well, the more efficacious our lives are going to be. Now, we’ve seen this to a twisted degree in our times. We’ve seen this taken to the extreme in the way that people will publicize their lives. Every aspect, every moment, every mind-numbing detail of people’s lives gets broadcast on the Internet or other social media platforms.

Why? I guess we could dive into the deep psychological and psychotherapeutical aspects of this, but I don’t think that’s so important. But let’s just be honest here. People crave validation, don’t they? People crave acknowledgement. People want others to see the good that they do and sometimes even see the bad they do, simply in order to get attention.

That’s how much the human heart longs for this recognition, for this acknowledgment, for this validation. Now, it’s twisted I say in our times because in your heart and in my heart, that is actually a drive that has been put into us by God, but it’s not to get the validation of others, but rather to get the recognition of our Father in heaven.

You see, when you and I were made in the image and likeness of Christ, we were made with this deep longing to be in a relationship with our Father in heaven, for His approval, and for union with the Father.

Because of original sin, we end up trying to satisfy that desire in many misguided ways, like getting the approval of another person, like getting the acknowledgment and the praise and honor of my boss or my coworkers or my family members.

We seek that validation in ways that are never really going to satisfy us, because what really satisfies us is the approval of the Father, and when we have that, nothing else matters. I mean, this is why Jesus can exhort us to accept persecution and accept even rejection from others and not lose our peace in the Christian life because we have the approval of our Father. When we are living the Christian life and in right relationship with our Father in heaven, then it doesn’t matter, ultimately, the persecution that others might inflict upon us, that the rejection we experience is painful. It’s a suffering we endure, but in the end, it doesn’t change our value. It doesn’t change who we are or our eternal happiness, except that it maybe makes us even holier and maybe even happier in the end.

Really, what we want is that approval of the Father. Why am I sharing this? Because the hidden life of Saint Joseph, and the hidden life of Jesus and Mary as well, reminds us that what’s important is not that other people are recognizing our actions in our work.

What’s important is not that we’re getting approval from other people. What’s important is that God sees what we’re doing. What’s important is that God is aware of our efforts at holiness and the sanctification of even those moments that no one else will see.

I think of Matthew 6 in this moment. One of my favorites. There I go again, one of my favorite chapters of the Bible. Jesus exhorts his disciples to not worry. Don’t you know your Father will take care of you? Don’t you know that He will be with you, right? We read these beautiful words. But then Jesus tells his followers, look, when you fast, don’t look grumpy, don’t put on a sour face. When you’re suffering, and when you’re fasting in particular, anoint your head, look like you’re happy, and move forward. Exercise that fasting without others seeing it.

Why? Jesus says, because your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. On the other hand, if we’re getting the approval and acknowledgement of others, Jesus says, you’ve already received your reward. If you’re getting kudos from people around you for all the spiritual disciplines you’re exercising, what a bummer that you’ve received that reward because that’s going to fade away in a few minutes.

But when God sees what we’ve done and when he alone knows of our good works, then he will repay us in heaven with something much greater. Likewise, when you pray, Jesus says go into your room, close the door, and don’t let others see. When you give alms, don’t even let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, Jesus says. In other words, Jesus learned these particular values, no doubt from Joseph and Mary, in his humanity anyway.

There is value in doing things in secret because when God the Father in heaven sees these things, He will reward us.

To me, this is such an important antidote to what you and I are experiencing in the world today, a world that demands that we receive approval from others, that demands that we measure our value based on what people think of us and how they see us.

Well, the world would never say it that way. The world would never admit that that’s what it’s promoting, but all you have to do is look at how social media operates.

Right? Look at how social credit is being implemented, little by little in the world, and we see that the world is shifting, sometimes subtly and sometimes not so subtly to this measure of the human person and their value by what they accomplish and what is seen.

And what the Holy Family reminds us is that that is not the metric that God uses in your life, it doesn’t matter how holy you look to others, it doesn’t matter what other people see. Because really, the measure that God wants from you is your commitment to Him in even the quietest moments of life.

So here we are, reflecting on this very important aspect of the life of Saint Joseph, and I think it’s incredibly relevant and important for today, for you and for me that we discover a desire to serve God in hiddenness, not trying to go out and get peoples’ attention.

Because on the one hand we’ll never find all the attention that our hearts desire, and that will only come from the Father. On the other hand, that won’t really lead to the reward that we want and expect in heaven. We’ll just receive the esteem of others here on Earth, which quickly fades when what we want is a relationship with God in heaven.

So, all of the hidden moments of your life, like the hidden moments in the life of Saint Joseph, are part of your sanctification. Don’t miss those opportunities.

But also realize there’s a work in progress here of you needing to find your happiness and me needing to find my happiness, not in what people see in my life, not in the accomplishments that other people will notice or measure, but rather in my own faithfulness and fidelity to God in the humblest of tasks.

And we see the perfect example of this style of life in Saint Joseph, who lives such a humble, hidden life. And yet we know he was so loved by Jesus Christ and by our Blessed Mother. Until next time continue this year of Saint Joseph trusting in the Lord, and imitating the virtues of the earthly father, Saint Joseph.

May Almighty God bless you, the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Thanks for joining us for this special Year of Saint Joseph presentation from Relevant Radio. Invite your friends and family to sign up to receive these monthly talks at or on the Relevant Radio app.

Fr. Matthew Spencer is an Oblate of St. Joseph and former host of St. Joseph's Workshop here on Relevant Radio.