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The Crown, St. Joseph, and man’s search for purpose

As men search for meaning and experience crises in vocation, family life, and marriage, they must find their purpose and identity in the call to sacrifice like St. Joseph, always yielding to the Queen of Heaven.

Left: Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip in "The Crown" Season 3 (Netflix); right: St. Joseph [1640-42] by Guido Reni (WikiArt).

If you did not see Season 3 of The Crown on Netflix, you are missing some of the best storytelling television has to offer. In the climatic Moondust episode, Prince Philip’s has a midlife crisis. The restless 48-year old prince beholds three young American astronauts with awe, while projecting onto them all his dreams of a career that never was. In a parallel story, he loses his faith and stops attending the Anglican services with his family. Their minister, the Dean of Windsor, gives dry and repetitive sermons that fail to resolve the yearning questions in Philip’s heart. As the queen puts it, the dean has reached “the moment of his own obsolescence.” Philip declares that he will commit his time on Sundays to “something more useful.”

The moon launch becomes Philip’s new idol. He praises the astronauts as great “men of action,” an image that is quickly deflated during a face-to-face conversation when he meets three young men with hacking colds, zero insights into the hidden purpose of existence, and boy-like fascinations with life in a big palace. Philip tells them he feels personally inadequate and asks if moon travel brought any special perspectives about man’s place in the universe. Neil Armstrong responds by commenting on the great views. Michael Collins suggests there “wasn’t much time” for deep introspection, and Buzz Aldrin says they spent the entire time ticking agenda items off a list. Armstrong ends with an anecdote about a broken water heater.

During the actual mission Buzz Aldrin read from his Bible and privately took holy communion – albeit, not consecrated, as Aldrin is not a Catholic. So, it is difficult to believe the astronauts came away with just a few stories about checklists, water heaters, and great views. Surely, they contemplated the spiritual significance of their mission. Still, fictional glosses aside, the deeper truth is hard to miss: Moon travel gave man no reprieve from the apparent emptiness of existence, and thus man still searches for purpose just as he always has. And so too does Philip.

Philip eventually befriends the new, younger Dean of Windsor. The new dean, Robin Woods, starts a fellowship for Anglican clergymen. At first, Philip scoffs at the concept of a group of middle-aged priests sitting around talking, reading, and thinking together. “You raise your game through action,” Philip says, pointing to a newspaper headline about the moon landing. Woods tells Philip: “We see no God behind those rocks and space dust: Simply an unknowable vastness.”

Reading from the Psalms, he goes on: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Psa 8:3-4).

Woods becomes a lifelong friend and spiritual mentor. He shows Philip that finding the answers amid all this emptiness might at least begin in fellowship with other men. Indeed, because, “Iron sharpeneth iron, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Prov 27:17).

Philip’s midlife crisis describes more than the fragility of the male ego. It shows us a man without identity, is man of profound sadness.

Quite a few men hit a certain age and begin to wonder who they are, or what they are, or what it is all for. Perhaps it is all the same question. Perhaps we need not even be a “certain age.” So many seem to be asking this question today, far too early for “midlife” to be the culprit of our anxiety.

Now that we have thoroughly asphyxiated on hundreds of decade-end retrospectives telling us what the 2010s were all about, let me offer another. It was a decade of historic male unemployment, of lost boys, of Jordan Peterson telling men to clean their rooms, and of Kanye West poignantly finding Jesus at the very end. It was a decade of crisis – midlife or otherwise – for so many men. Despite technological advances and relative peace, despite a roaring economy, despite the best of times, it was the worst of times.

And I do not believe our male malaise is simply explained by politics or ideological wars.

Man has lost sight of who he is, and a man with no identity is deeply sad. No amount of money, or privilege, or technological breakthroughs, no amount of political stability or world peace will give him true peace about his own existence.

Yes, I know I was supposed to cancel my Netflix subscription in 2019. I was also supposed to take sides on that debate about Catholic working women. Binging Season 3 of the Crown certainly delayed my progress on both counts. But at least I have a head start on my 2020 resolutions.

Speaking of stay-at-home moms, if my wife were literally the queen of a nation, would that be considered work outside the home? While most of the working queens we thought of in 2019 were hanging around libraries, Elizabeth II closed out her seventh decade warming the hearth at Buckingham Palace.

Young Philip was not always content living in his wife’s shadow, and it became the proximate cause of his later crisis.

A commander in the Royal Navy, Philip saw his career end abruptly when his father-in-law, King George VI, died suddenly at age 56. Just four years into marriage, Elizabeth and Philip ascended the throne, perhaps ten or twenty years before they expected. Scratch that—Elizabeth ascended the throne and Philip, like all British subjects, swore allegiance to the new monarch: His 25-year-old wife. Then, as if giving up his naval career was not enough, Philip was denied the most basic privilege of naming his own children. He assumed his children would take his surname, “Mountbatten.” But due to controversy surrounding Philip’s Greek lineage, and suspicion that Philip would exercise too much power over the crown, Elizabeth was advised by her mother and grandmother (both former queens of England), and the Prime Minister (Winston Churchill), to issue a royal proclamation retaining “Windsor” for herself and all her descendants. Philip complained that he was “the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his children.”

I have lost a few debates with my wife in our years together. I am grateful that those debates were never decided in her favor by royal proclamation; least of all by her own royal proclamation. I also, thankfully, never had to contend with Winston Churchill’s intervention into my marital affairs.

What man would not struggle with identity, just as Philip does, when he is not allowed to make his own choices, or denied his role as head of his own family?

As a matter of fact, that sounds familiar even for those of us who did not marry royalty.

Scripture tells us man is called to be spiritual head of the family (see Eph 5:21-25, 1 Pet 3:1-7, and 1 Cor 11:1-10). Man, as St. Paul insisted, is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church, and woman thus represents the Church. Christ is the head of the Church, and so too is man head of his wife.

But how can a man be the spiritual head of his family, when his wife is literally the queen of a nation?

Before his change of heart, Philip tells Woods that man is defined by “action, not suffering.” In the Four Loves, C.S. Lewis tells us the exact opposite, explaining that the Christian husband – as head of the family – is coronated with the crown of thorns. If man is spiritual head of the family in the way Christ is head of the Church, he also the martyr who forgives without strings, who suffers his wife’s sorrows, sicknesses, and faults. He puts on Christ, and “never despairs.”

In a way, Philip – our everyman in crisis – stands in the shadow of Joseph, possessing none of the bold, ionic courage of this towering prince of saints. Neither man controls his own destiny, or the direction his family must go. Their needs and wants are placed entirely at the service of family and marital duty. Each man is father of a future king, and husband of a royal queen. At once a spiritual head, yet also obedient servant.

Joseph gladly takes a pregnant Mary into his home, then into Egypt. Juxtaposed against Mary’s few and profound words spoken in the Gospel, we hear not one word from Joseph. Alongside her glorious fiat, Joseph answers every call, in silence, without complaint, without ego, without despair, and without any midlife crises.

Philip gets it exactly wrong: Man’s response to suffering very much can define him. And while work is good – some men are astronauts, some princes, other carpenters – work is not all man is made for. Nor is he made for great feats of action. Action can be good too, but a man grows as a husband and father — not by traveling to the moon, but by a hundred modest acts. By choosing patience over anger, and joy over personal regret.

Man must serve, before he can lead, love his wife as Christ loves the Church, turn to his daily beads, and yield in all things to the Queen of Heaven who always commands: “Do whatever he tells you.” That is how man begins to find purpose, meaning, and vocation.

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About Rob Coleman 2 Articles
Rob Coleman is a lawyer who lives in Los Angeles, California.


  1. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is the origin of Neflix’s Man’s Search for Purpose. Joseph’s analogous though successful search is found in love for the Blessed Virgin according to essayist Rob Coleman. Viktor Frankl’s psychotherapy developed as a Jew surviving a Nazi death camp in which his wife did not although he didn’t know until repatriated. During incarceration thoughts of love for his wife provided his raison d’etre. After learning of her early death he realized a methodology for healing the distress of lack of meaning. What many suffer today with abandonment of faith in God and moral structure. Essayist attorney Coleman’s is a very satisfactory analogy. And besides a wife an added important devotion beads and all. Although whether one has a wife Frankl’s vision is entirely based on the unseen as when we hope in some good immersing ourselves in the outcome. Frankl stressed love as an end and there are multiple venues in which selfless love has value. Distant persons or the good of those near [the very essence of Christian charity]. Love of an unseen God, hope for the beauty and good of Heaven.

  2. “But how can a man be the spiritual head of his family, when his wife is literally the queen of a nation?”

    He can’t. That is why having a woman rule or even be a mere figurehead over her husband is an abomination to Christian patriarchy.

    • Perhaps the abomination is “Christian patriarchy.”

      “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” NAB

      • Equality of dignity and worth in Christ is not the same as equality of office or role within the Church or family. Anyone who has the slightest familiarity with Paul’s writings and thought will recognize the distinction. This is the same Apostle, after all, who wrote, “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior”, and also, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers…” And, as he then states, the reason for these different roles is “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…”

    • Biblical Jews were quite patriarchal. How do we [I’m all for patriarchy probably patronizing at times] square that with Judges Deborah and Judith. Judith [you know the story though worth repeating here] a widow spectacularly beautiful. When Israel threatened by an advancing Seleucid enemy she discarded her mourning garb decked herself out and strolled across enemy lines to the commander Holofernes’ tent. Plied him with wine thoughts of seduction. When he passed out she severed his head put it in a sack returned to the Israeli side and said here’s your enemy. Responsorial Psalm 2 Mass for the Blessed Virgin (Judith 13-20) “You are the highest honor of our race. Blessed are you daughter by the Most High God above all the women on earth, and blessed be the Lord God the creator of heaven and earth. Your deed of hope will never be forgotten by those who tell of the might of God. Because you risked your life when your people were being oppressed, and you averted our disaster walking uprightly before our God. And all the people answered Amen Amen!” Thereafter she led the Jewish nation as a great Judge and leader. What a woman.

  3. I find the making of a dramatic series about a living royal family distinctly creepy.

    “But how can a man be the spiritual head of his family, when his wife is literally the queen of a nation?”

    Why not? Prince Albert managed it. You might as well ask how Saint Joseph could have been the head of the Holy Family when his wife is literally the Mother of God and his adopted son is literally God.

    • Leslie,
      Happy New Year!
      I’d agree that it seems rather intrusive.
      I enjoyed some of the first episodes of “The Crown ” which I found for free at the library. They seemed mostly respectful but it went downhill after that.
      If anyone is interested, you can Google the Queen’s message for this Christmas online. It’s lovely and ends with members of the Royal family stirring the Christmas pudding.

  4. “…Joseph answers every call, in silence, without complaint, without ego, without despair, and without any midlife crises.” How do we know this? This sounds more like an ideal pasted onto a real man. I mean no offense to St. Joseph, but he was flesh and blood, subject I presume to the effects of original sin. Might he be allowed a few moments of uncertainty and doubt and maybe even manly frustration? Sometimes pious Catholics seem to want to spread a lot of sugar over everything and turn real people into idealized projections. Occurs all the time with other saints. I’d suggest St. Joseph would make a better intercessor perhaps if he had experienced some of those things.

    • Byzantine Christians have no issue with attributing doubt, confusion, or concern to St. Joseph – see the standard icon of the Nativity. Much that has been written to flesh out St. Joseph as a man by Latins has been done recently in the past two centuries or so, in service to building up the devotion to the “Holy Family.”

    • REAL, True, Authentic Saints are NEVER automatons, cyborgs or wooden marionettes of God. Never. Ever. We may have direct historical evidence about some of their inner struggles, like those that left behind autobiographies or direct witnesses, but the Bible is always sparse about details we would love to know about but are not essential to our salvation. Also, scrolls, parchment, etc. in those times was outrageously expensive so brevity was of the essence. Saint Joseph is at the very top of all the (non-immaculately conceived) Saints and, like Mary, was Providentially chosen and God made him steward of His Absolutely Greatest Treasures, Jesus and Mary. Adam, as responsible head of his family, failed when God made him steward of the Earth. Joseph did not fail at an infinitely higher mission.

      For much more spiritual insights on Joseph, I very highly recommend: “St. Joseph Gems” by Father Donald H. Calloway, MIC. My very long experience (yes, I’m old) and that of people much saintlier than I, points to a great urgency for us Catholics to be devoted to St. Joseph, Protector of the Church and terror of demons, now that demons wine and dine as creatures of privilege at high levels in the Church. By the way, I also highly discourage the absurd devotion to “Sleeping Joseph” where you place petitions under an image of “Sleeping Joseph” (as in “Sleeping Beauty”) because it reeks of the stench of New Age manipulation and witchcraft (I know New Age, been there, done that, past tense). It does not matter if P. Francis or anyone else promotes such a shady thing.

      There are many who try to minimize, trivialize and caricaturize St. Joseph, precisely because a serious, balanced and mature devotion to him is so very powerful, by God’s Grace, an also a very direct threat to the Culture of Infinite Homosexualization, Compromise and Death. Most of the greatest of Saints like St. Theresa of Avila, St. Augustine, St. Francis de Sales, etc. were very devoted to Joseph and the results speak for themselves. We need St. Joseph’s special graces more than ever in all of history!! God turned all of St. Joseph’s fears, weaknesses, doubts and confusion into invincible history changing power!! (2 Corinthians 12:6-10). Make him your very special spiritual father!! Now!!

      • “Saint Joseph is at the very top of all the (non-immaculately conceived) Saints ”

        That’s a Latin opinion, part of the cult that developed around St. Joseph in the latter part of the second millenium. For Byzantine Christians, the next after the Theotokos is St. John the Baptist, and this may be true of many of the other ecclesial traditions as well.

  5. Never watched this series either , yet , good to read the discussion ,with the focus on St.Joseph and through him, all the lineages that The Father seems to help us all to be more closely related to as well , in praying with and for our own as well . The deep yearning to behold the Face of The Father , that gets fed, through the Fatherly Faces , of our Lord Himself , who calls the disciples ‘children ‘ The Spirit. St.Joseph , a holy and just man , filled with awe and reverence for The Ark that is The Blessed Mother and for The Savior , whom he gets to name , seeing the privilege of that , along with all else , to fill him with such gratitude , to thus have no room for the lower /animal passions ..he would have also known what that Name means .. , to contemplate more on same and all that it would entail ..
    Interesting to read about the lineage of the royal family as well – read in one place that King Phillip is of German ancestry , may be both Greek and German ..and what all would be the hidden undercurrents of such ..
    In many cultures , the right to name the baby has been set by the practice of choosing the names of grandparents etc : in a certain order ; both Zechariah and St.Joseph heeds to Divine Will, in foregoing that , to use the name given by God ..
    seems , in the ‘Windsor ‘ house , it was based more on fear of human opinion , that too may be another occasion of misplaced roles and priorities , history and generational debts of which go far enough ..from not knowing well , The Mother ..or The Father ..
    World has been given an interesting episode about the annoyed Holy Father , pulling off his hand that was being rather forcibly grabbed , may be from one who has not known enough The Father either , even evoking a bit of that verse – – ‘ depart from Me .. I do not know you ..’ – for the manipulative , controlling ways that pride can take hold of hearts , trying to forcibly grab what The Father can grant in an instant to hearts that are open , in trusting humility ..such as for The Mother , as well as for St.Joseph .
    All these sagas that get played on the world stage , may it help to bring forth compassion for the fallen nature ,to invoke the Mother of God , a title that so profoundly points us to the humility and love of The Father , for us His children , through The Incarnation , for all the graces He wants to bestow , to free nations too from all sorts of generational evils of unrepentant sin and for prayers for souls in purification who have embraced the crown of suffering gladly , to make up for every occasion of pride that tried to grab what is of God .
    May The Spirit thus move hearts to use all such occasions of media interests too well enough , for the true purpose of our lives , to help bring The Kingdom , by being of The King , breaking unholy soul ties as well .
    Blessings 🙂

  6. Many thanks to Robert Coleman for this expansive and informative article. It was well-written and engaging. Even though a political junky, Mr. Coleman referred to movements within “conservatism” that I had never heard of.

    Seriously, debating whether women should work outside the home? While a worthy and noble topic, the fact that the “right” would waste their breath on this question while ignoring the underlying causes shows a profound lack of understanding of (and disinterest in) the world in which many families must live.

    Perhaps we need to simultaneously investigate and name the nefarious conspiracy of corporations and governments who have actively and with great forethought created a materialistic and hyper-capitalist world where both parents MUST work. With a wage twice that of the federal minimum wage (and often with no benefits), it is impossible to support a family of four with a single wage.

    And, for the record, unmarried men who live (comfortably, and sometimes lavishly) off the ecclesial teat have no real qualifications to opine on what working families must do to survive.

    • “And, for the record, unmarried men who live (comfortably, and sometimes lavishly) off the ecclesial teat have no real qualifications to opine on what working families must do to survive.”

      So much for St Paul, Leo XIII, John XXIII, and John Paul II, just to name a few! Idiots.

      Of course, by the same logic, a married man who is not a priest or bishop has no real qualification to opine on what an unmarried priest or bishop should opine on.

      Those of us more interested in truth than in “us v. them” games will recognize that insights and wisdom about any state of life can from a variety of sources, as long as they are based on truths about Christ, the Church, human nature, and so forth. Surely this isn’t so hard to understand?

    • Randell,
      Happy New Year!
      I also wonder about what energies are really behind getting everyone out of their homes, off the farms and into the workforce. But just to mention, I’m widowed and have raised 8 children on a very modest wage without any public assistance. I’m sure many other parents who find themselves in the position of raising a family alone have succeeded also.
      It’s more about frugality, budgeting, and staying out of debt. And it’s not how much money you make, but how much you keep. I used to run credit checks for a previous job and trust me, the more income folks have, the more they spend and the more debt they can incur.

  7. We read that “Philip tells them [Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins—the first three lunar-landing astronauts] he feels personally inadequate and asks if moon travel brought any special perspectives about man’s place in the universe.” The responses were bland.

    As one who had a hands-on role in recovering these Apollo XI astronauts in the southern Pacific (I was a junior officer assigned to the recovery ship, the aircraft carrier USS Hornet), my own very limited and sea-level perspective/response is vivid but conflicted…

    Of course, the Greek gods of Classical literature surely marveled—under the constellations the marriage of poetic mythology and the latest technology! And of literature, I also noticed my own narrower and serendipity part in what had been for me the grist for a science fiction novel only twelve years earlier.
    But also sticking in my mind is the dust of human boredom as expressed later by some fellow sailors. A lot of training and routine are involved, and we were favored to do it all over again only four months later for Apollo XII (Nov. 1969). So, this: “Why do WE have to do this again?”

    Boredom versus the innocent delight of children who hope instead that even the simplest of things will be done over and over again. Peekaboo: “do it again, do it again, do it again!” Too soon we lose this perspective because we shed the wondering eyes of childhood. And so, too, lose the religious perspective.

    There was the perspective of the Canadian-American novelist Saul Bellow who, in a magazine article (LIFE, I think, probably 1970), remarked that Apollo XI was, finally, “the [disenchanted] Protestant Ethic with nowhere else left to go.”

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