Joseph Our Patron
Joseph the just, Joseph noble and faithful, who could have been more brokenhearted, felt more betrayed than he? He is betrothed to Mary; they are formally committed to one another by contract and bride-price. According to Jewish law she belongs to him, and then she is found to be pregnant. Imagine. Imagine how his most private joy and expectation, his tender love and dreams are turned to heartbreak. Certainly, he must have been bewildered, brokenhearted, as his world, his plans, his dreams fell completely apart. But Joseph is somehow consoled, heartened by the message of an angel in a dream – “Don’t be afraid.” It is after all what angels always say. “God’s mercy, God’s tenderness will not be outdone.” It is only Joseph’s faith and faithfulness that could transform tragedy into the wide possibility of God’s powerful presence hidden in Christ. Joseph allows God’s dream to become his dream. He hands it over.
How could he possibly have done it? Only because he finds God and Mary trustworthy. What has he experienced of God’s love and faithfulness to him, to his people, his ancestors that has empowered him? What has he experienced of Mary’s goodness, beauty, transparency and truthfulness and deep love for him that makes the illogic of the angelic message seem absolutely trustworthy and worth the risk? It could only be love – the experience of being loved by God, by Mary that could empower this young bridegroom-to-be. Joseph, man of prayer and faith, trusts God, trusts his experience of God’s love in Mary’s love, and so he is able to move from what is surely a thoughtful, compassionate decision – to divorce Mary quietly and save her from scandal – to a response of deep faith and most self-forgetful love.
He knows himself, understands himself as loved, beloved of God, beloved of Mary. Only love founded on trust could give Joseph such courage, a boldness to see beyond tragic disappointment to God’s opportunity. He sees what we learn to see, to perceive in our lives in the cloister – that everything isn’t linear, the way we want it, neat, tidy. There are so many opportunities for each of us to hand it over all day long, over and over. To become aware over and over that something more can happen, learning how to be counterintuitive.
God’s dearest desire is entrusted to Joseph. God has awaited Joseph’s response no less than He did Mary’s sweet fiat. Joseph receives Mary, his wife, into his home. And so, God is given a worthy home in which to dwell, Joseph’s home. “Go to Joseph,” the old laybrothers remind us; and with good reason, for it is what God himself did with His dearest desire, his dream. He went to Joseph and found there a heart like his own. God found in Joseph, says Saint Bernard, one whom He could trust, entrust with his dearest secret. Joseph’s availability to unexpected grace and divine reversal, divine possibility gives God a home in Nazareth, that place of ordinariness.
What is the love we have experienced that makes us strong, available like Joseph? What secret does he desire for us, God’s desire for us that only his love, our love for each other can empower us to undertake? Empowered by Love let us open to him.