Holy Orders and the Virtue of Prudence

We frequently focus on Mary’s fiat, her courage to say ‘yes’ to God, using her example as inspiration to surrender to God’s plans, even when we cannot fully comprehend them. However, we often forget to examine the fiat of the man to whom she was betrothed. 

Joseph, a man of honor and integrity, discovers that his wife is expecting a child that is not his. Is he actually to believe that this conception is divine? I imagine he, like Mary, must have asked ‘How can this be?’ Living in a culture where the punishment for adultery is shame, exile, potentially even death, Joseph’s plan to quietly divorce his betrothed is a countercultural act of charity and prudence, an indicator of his respect for the dignity of life, his desire to do good and avoid evil. However, in a dream, an angel appears to Joseph and tells him “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20–21). Awaking from his dream, Joseph exemplifies the virtue of prudence. He discerns the good and responds accordingly: “he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him” (Matthew 1:24).

St. Joseph is a model for all of us; indeed, that is largely why Pope Francis has dedicated this year to this holy man, that we might “implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and his zeal” (Patris Corde, 7). But even more so, St. Joseph is a model for priests. His fatherhood, which was strictly spiritual, is rooted in virtue, particularly that of prudence, a virtue that is demonstrated through the sacrament of Holy Orders.

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