Sunday at 9 p.m.

At about 9 p.m. on a recent, stressful Sunday evening, which came on the heels of a stressful weekend, which came on the heels of a stressful week, I turned to my wife and asked, “How am I doing at being emotionally available to you and practically responsive to the needs of our home?”


If only. In fact, on that Sunday evening, I was nowhere near asking that question.

But if I had, I arguably would have been on the cusp of posing a powerful question with implications far beyond a worn-out Sunday evening.

Not long after the weekend in question, I happened upon a treatise on St. Joseph by Pope John Paul II in which he states that Joseph models for us the “ideal harmony” between the “contemplative” and “active” life. Joseph holds the tension between the two perfectly. He is a man of profound prayer and at the same time 100 percent available to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He is the deepest guy you’d ever meet and he ably fulfills all of the necessitas caritatis— “the (practical) demands of love” — of the Holy Family. Joseph could have asked that question I never asked — and gotten a great response.

Sunday at 9 p.m. is not always a fun time. For us idealists, it’s also when the sweeping grandeur and “great things” of what “could have been” of the weekend meets the reality of the fast-approaching Monday. We sometimes go a little “contemplative” in our heads, and become sullen, irritable or grumpy on the outside. Perhaps we are not all that emotionally available to those entrusted to us. It can be a hard hour to put the“caritas” into the “necessitas.”  

But whether we’re an idealist or not, perhaps the time has come to let Joseph smack us upside the head with one of his two-by-fours and teach us how to conduct and evaluate our Sunday evenings.   

“St. Joseph,” Pope Paul VI observed, “is proof that in order to be a good and genuine follower of Christ, there is no need of great things — it is enough to have the common, simple and human virtues, but they need to be true and authentic.”

Let us translate from blessed pope language to weary husband language: “Honey, how am I doing on the common, simple, human things?” we might ask on a Sunday evening.   

Our spouse might race in her mind’s eye through a list of common, simple, human household things like lunches, laundry, dishes, toilets, bills and repairs, which is exactly the kind of necessitas caritatis thinking required on a Sunday evening as we prepare to launch our family into the week.

But if by “common, simple,” and “human,” we only think of dishes and laundry, we err greatly. “Through his complete self-sacrifice,” John Paul II observes, “Joseph expressed his generous love for the Mother of God, and gave her a husband’s ‘gift of self.’”

“Complete” means truly present and attentive, a “gift of self” to our wife.

“A central measure of his manhood,” claims Christendom philosophy professor John Cuddeback about husbands, is “the quality of his presence in the home.” This metric needs to be wrested from the prevailing culture, in which we guys are so prone to measure manhood only by what we accomplish outside the home.

Cuddeback continues, “A critical feature of a man’s presence in the home is that it begins with his presence to his wife.”

We know that Joseph was available emotionally to Mary and practically responsive to the needs of the home. Every husband who is not (yet) likewise available and responsive can take some solace in the fact that Joseph was not given this ability and “ideal harmony” via miracle but rather through quiet, hard work, prayer, and grace.

There are a lot of broken things in our culture and in our lives. Looking to Joseph and imploring his intercession, every husband and father can begin to fix this not through “great things” but by patient, common, and simple advances in that most human of times and places: 9 p.m. on a Sunday in his home.

Johnson is associate director of the St. Thomas More Institute.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018