Michael O'Brien

Michael O'Brien

June 1, 2015

Author and painter Michael O'Brien says when, as a young man, he had no role models for how to be a good Catholic man, the Holy Spirit led him to see St. Joseph as a guide.

O'Brien's father had died at a relatively young age, but St. Joseph helped him discover spiritual fatherhood as he struggled to raise a family while being committed to producing Christian art.

Speaking May 19 to the Catholic Teachers' Guild of Ottawa, O'Brien noted there is little about St. Joseph in the Scripture, but the passages are "multilayered" and of "profound depth."

When Mary is discovered to be with child although she and Joseph had not lived together as man and wife, "he must have loved her greatly" and "seen the beauty of her soul," he said.

At first, Joseph decided to spare her public humiliation, and the danger of scandal, which could have cost her life.

It was then that the Angel Gabriel came to him in a dream and advised him to take Mary as his wife.

"He obeys though he cannot see the reason," O'Brien said. "He may not even have known God Incarnate had come to live with him."

Yet Joseph was given "an overwhelming task no one could fulfill without grace," he said. He would have known God's word is reliable and if he calls someone to a mission, he will "supply all that is needed for that mission."

Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem at the worst possible time, he said. "Surely God would have arranged a more reasonable and comfortable way for the Son of God to be born."

What this reveals is the Son of God will live all the insecurity and trials that humanity experiences, the painter said.

Then Joseph had another dream in which he was told to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt - "the land of Israel's bondage" - to escape Herod.


Joseph is a father who exemplifies that "we are called to love; we are called at every moment to lose everything for the sake of truth," he said. Beneath this is a profound mystery, an "ocean of faith" which at its core is "God is our Father, and I am his child."

O'Brien told the teachers that they look out on students who have "experienced a negation of their infinite value."

"They do not believe they are loved," he said. That realization has damaged the icon of mother and father. Icons that should be unified and complementary "have been broken. For many, the icon of the father is not even there."


After two world wars that wiped out generations of young men and shook faith in God's love, and the sexual revolution of the 1960s, "what gets lost is the family."

Those damaged the most are children. "You are standing as a bulwark and saying 'no' to the lie," he told the teachers.

Joseph "goes through tremendous trials and perseveres," he said. We must "have courage and if we have no courage we must look up and ask for it.

"St. Joseph is not a theological abstraction, but a living man," O'Brien said. "We can go before him in prayer and rest in the arms of a guardian and protector the Lord has given us."