Monday, December 21, 2015

When Being Just is not Enough: St. Joseph

Speaking in prayer to St. Joseph:

"By all standards, you were doing the right thing- you were even going above and beyond.  When your betrothed was found with child things simply could not move forward.  It could easily have developed into a major public scandal for Mary.  It was her name that would have been tarnished, not your own. But you decided to do things quietly, extraordinary man that you were.  But that's when God intervened, and he intervened to teach us the lesson that being just, and even being more than just, is not always enough.  What God asked of you meant that the "right thing" was actually wrong.  Now people would surely think that the child was yours, and ill-begotten.  Or they would think that you were fool enough to wed a woman carrying another's child (which happened to be true).  It was the wrong thing to do on all counts, except for the fact that God was asking you for precisely this.  God asked you for a change, to bear the cross, to put yourself at risk, to let things go not out of control, but out of your control.  I know that it must be hard for you, that there must be so much that you do not understand, but please, St. Joseph, just and God-fearing man that you are, do not leave Mary and this child. Stay with them, O Joseph!"

Painting of St. Joseph in the Church of Sant'Andrea delle Fratte in Rome

I recently heard of a particularly intriguing chapter from the life of Blessed John Henry Newman.  He was traveling through Italy, not yet having converted to Roman Catholicism.  He found himself in pursuit of the truth, examining himself and finding in himself no sin against the truth, and yet, uncertain as to why this disposition took such strong hold of him, crying out to God in prayer: "I have not sinned against the light!"  It seems he was convinced of having lived sincerely, authentically, humbly, and on all counts very well... but he had not yet lived as fully as he was being invited to live.  I imagine that St. Joseph found himself in a very similar dilemma- having done no wrong and yet being called to something greater, something deeper.  It is an invitation to let things go out of your control, but never our of God's control.

As Newman eventually did convert to Catholicism, so St. Joseph took Mary into his home.  Perhaps his opinion of Mary was not fully restored.  Maybe he still struggled to rectify her immaculate purity with seemingly compromising evidence of the child in her womb.  Maybe he took that to his grave.  But her witness during their years together must have been convincing.  I am reminded of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.  She had committed adultery and was subject to public embarrassment.  But her humble spirit and servicial attitude in the community eventually won the compassion even of those who had condemned her.  I am sure that in the case of the Blessed Virgin Mary, her humility and purity and kindness would have been so much more convincing.  She may very well have become like a daughter for St. Joseph.  Perhaps that was, in some way, how she loved him.  And at the prospect of being left alone, of being turned out by Joseph and having her name stained and tarnished in the public eye, her sentiment when he did the unthinkable and married her must have been one of most profound gratitude.  She, too, had allowed things to go out of her control and into God's control. In Joseph, the immaculate mother of the Lord found a kindred spirit.  May the Lord see fit to bless each of us with such graces, that we, too, may join their most august company.

O wonderful St. Joseph, faithful guardian of the holy family and holy man of prayerful docility, pray for us.

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful reflection, Daniel. Thank you. May the beloved St. Joseph look upon you with filial love and pray for you in this most holy year of mercy. I'm praying for you in a special way as you draw close to God in these next 8 days. Love, Mom