Advent: Saint Joseph and Jesus

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If you are looking for retreat or reflection ideas for Advent, this activity uses passages from the Gospel of Matthew to explore the relationship between Jesus and Joseph in order to facilitate dialogue between fathers and sons.

This can be easily adapted to a video call. 

1. Gather the group in a circle for a moment of silence. Light the candle and read these passages about Joseph in the Gospel of Matthew (1:18-21 and 2:13-15). Ask the group to sit quietly for a moment and ponder the Scriptures.

2. Ask if anyone has any thoughts on the reading from Matthew's Gospel. Refer to Joseph's dream. Rhetorically ask if there was ever a father who didn't have dreams for his son. Read the following or tell it in your own words:

Do you ever wonder what type of father Joseph must have been to raise a boy like Jesus? wonder how Joseph must have looked at his son as he first crawled, walked, and talked?

Imagine what it must have been like to live under what we consider "Third World" conditions, in a land brutally ruled by a foreign army. What type of man must Joseph have been to ensure that Jesus didn't grow up full of anger and hatred like so many terrorists or freedom fighters that we are familiar with in our world today? Where did Jesus learn how to treat women, poor people, and people in general, if not from his father Joseph?

We know very little of Joseph. He is mentioned only in a few lines of Scripture. However, if we think about the significance of the father/son relationship, we get an increasingly clearer picture of what Joseph must have been like. What led Jesus to think of God so affectionately as "Abba" or "Father"? That way of thinking was quite radical in Jesus' time. Where and how might the seeds of those thoughts been planted in Jesus?

3. Distribute copies of the following questions:

Questions for the father:

  • When you look at your son, what do you admire?
  • What are your son's gifts and talents?
  • Our culture values "success" by achievement. Where do you see success that your son might or might not be aware of?
  • What wisdom about the true nature of success (that you may have learned the hard way) do you want to pass on to your son?
  • What are your dreams for your son? Why do you dream those particular dreams?
  • What do you see as the best moments in life in which you want to be standing man to man with your son?
  • What do you want to say to your son that you want him never to forget?


Questions for the son:

  • When have you felt closest to your father?
  • When have you felt that you had his approval?
  • In what areas do you want him to acknowledge his approval of you?
  • In what areas do you long to feel like a man, man to man with your father?
  • What do you value and appreciate most about your father?
  • What have you learned or remembered about your father during this retreat?
  • What is the one thing that is most important to say to your father?


4. Remind the participants of the procedure:

  • Spend twenty minutes writing your responses to the questions.
  • Swap books and spend fifteen minutes reading.

Take turns and spend twenty minutes each in listening, asking clarifying questions in dialogue. This activity will take about one hour. Post the time to regather the group.

5. Call the participants back together in the circle, and say the following in your own words:

Many men have never heard their father's approval aloud. They know that their fathers loved them but they have never heard it said. Hearing the approval of the father, actually hearing them say they love us, is known as the father's blessing. Some experts suggest that it is the single most significant thing in a man's life.

6. Read aloud the verse from the account of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5). Reread this Scripture and ask the group what they heard. Share the following observations:

Two things happened in this short verse. First, Jesus heard his Father's voice approving of him. Second, his friends also heard it. They knew at that moment, more than ever, that Jesus had something to say. Too often, fathers go to their graves without ever telling their sons aloud of their approval. They assume that their sons know it so they don't have to say it. This Scripture reminds us that hearing this out loud was a significant moment, even for Jesus.

7. Pray together this passage from the Scriptures having the fathers and sons stand and place their hands on their son's shoulders and saying together, "This is my son, my beloved. With him I am well pleased. Listen to him."

8. Conclude this session by saying together the Lord's Prayer.



(This activity is taken from Digging Deep: Fostering the Spirituality of Young Men, by Michael J. Downey [Winona, MN: Saint Mary's Press, 2003], pages 101-102. Copyright © 2003 by Saint Mary's Press. Permission is granted for this activity to be used for classroom or campus ministry purposes. This activity may not be republished in any form without written permission from Saint Mary's Press. To order this book, contact Saint Mary's Press at 800-533-8095, or visit our online catalog at

Published November 6, 2003.