St. Joseph, model of faith, hope and love
I. Introduction: St. Joseph is one of the very few Saints who has two feast days to honour him. The scriptures do not say much about this silent saint. As a matter of fact, St. Joseph does not speak in the scriptures. His voice is not heard. This is to be expected because St. Joseph was a man of action more than words.
II. Inspiration from St. Joseph: As we celebrate a year dedicated to St. Joseph we can draw inspiration from him in many areas of our own lives.
1) Attentive listening: Matthew is the only one of the four Evangelists who places Joseph on the centre stage in his Infancy Narrative. The angel appears to Joseph in a dream on four separate occasions. (Mt 1:20-21; 2:13; 2:19-21; 2:22).
Before (Mt 1:18-19) the first of these dreams (1:20-21) Joseph had already made up his mind to follow the law because he was righteous. He became aware of the pregnancy of Mary - to whom he was engaged or betrothed - and possibly suspected her of adultery. The only logical explanation of the pregnancy was that Mary was guilty of adultery. Joseph had the choice to pursue a legal trial for adultery (Deut 22:23-27) or draw up a bill of divorce. Joseph chose the latter option because he did not want to publicly shame Mary and it would attract less attention.
Hearing with the ears of our head and seeing with the eyes of our head is only one way of hearing and seeing. True hearing and seeing require that we hear and see also with the ears and eyes of our hearts.
2) Trusting God’s word: The angel explains that the child conceived in Mary is from the Holy Spirit (Mt 1:20) and Joseph must take his pregnant betrothed as his wife. Not only is he to do that, he will also not have the privilege as the foster father to name this child. This name has already been chosen by God as communicated by the angel (1:21). His trust in God’s word shows in his action.
When things go the way we want, it is easy to believe and trust God’s word. However, when God’s word calls us to act the opposite of the way want, it is not easy to accept and follow.
3) Action more than words: Joseph’s trust in God’s word does not end with his acceptance of Mary and Jesus as his wife and son respectively. In the three dreams that follow the first (2:13; 2:19-20 and 2:22), he is asked to perform actions which are extremely difficult. However, since it is God’s plan and God’s hand is at work, Joseph acts in obedience.
In the first of these dreams, Joseph is asked to go to Egypt hastily. He obeys. In the second, when the family is in Egypt, he is asked to go to Israel (2:19-20). Once again, he obeys. The choice of Nazareth and not Judea in Israel as the place of residence of the family is also attributed to Joseph’s obedience (2:22-23).
We sometimes look for God only in miracles or extraordinary events. Yet, God keeps revealing God’s power, might and love in the ordinary events of our lives. Like Joseph we must open our hearts wide to see.
4) Acting without expectation: In most of our relationships with others including members of our families, we act with some or other expectation. Sometimes, we expect those to whom we have been generous and kind to also be generous and kind to us in return. At others times, we expect a word of gratitude and even praise for reaching out. At still other times, we expect that those to whom we have reached out will not be ungrateful. With Joseph, there were no expectations whatsoever. He did what had to done.
Each of us is also called by God in our own way to be God’s instrument of love and peace. God does not expect that we do extraordinary things to reveal this love. If like Joseph we can reach out to another even in a small way, we will have done well.
5) Model for workers and the sanctity of work: The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Joseph was a carpenter (13:55). He does not state whether Jesus followed his foster father in this trade. In his Gospel, he refers to Jesus as “the carpenter’s son” (13:55). The Gospel of Mark, however, informs us that Jesus did follow Joseph in this trade. When Jesus goes back to his hometown, the townsfolk identity him as “the carpenter” (Mk 6:3).
The celebration of the feast of St. Joseph, the worker on the first day of May each year – when Workers Day or Labour Day is celebrated in many countries of the world - is a celebration of the saint and his work ethic, but also a celebration of the participation of humans in God’s work of creation. In this Joseph becomes an inspiration and model to workers of the meaning of hard work and earning one’s living through the sweat of one’s brow.
6) Model of discernment and faith: Obedience to God’s word required a lot of discernment and faith from Joseph. He was aware that he would not have been able to recognise immediately whether he was indeed doing God’s will. The dreams could have been the result of his own imagination. It required discernment to know that they were not. All decisions that he had to take - the hastening to Egypt, remaining in Egypt when the threat to the child was still alive, and the return to Nazareth - were life changing decisions. They would affect not only his life, but also the life of his wife Mary and Jesus. This is why he had to be convinced of that which he could not see and hope that his actions were in accord with what God wanted him to do.
One important rule of a good discernment is that we do not make decisions when we are upset or even elated. This is because these decisions will be based only on emotion and not discernment. We have to be at equanimity before we make important decisions and in this regard, Joseph is a model to be imitated.
7) Protector of the family and of the world: In his role as foster father of Jesus, Joseph was protector of his family. The safety of his family was of prime importance to Joseph and he placed their needs and safety above his own.
This quality of Joseph can be extended to include his protection of the whole world. As he kept the interests of his family uppermost, so he keeps the interests of the world uppermost in his intercession for the world.
When we are tempted to live self-centered and selfish lives, Joseph’s selflessness comes as a breath of fresh air inviting us to be other-centered and to make a difference to the lives of others.
III. Conclusion: In the play Hamlet, there is a scene in which Hamlet says to his friend Horatio “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Hamlet 1.5). One understanding of this is that while there are many things that the human person does know, there are possibly more things that we do not yet know.
One such happening is the Covid-19 pandemic. While theories abound about the origin of the virus and how best to respond to it, the fact is that we are still groping in the dark. This is why like St. Joseph we are called to listen attentively.
We live in times where many of us would prefer to see before we believe. If we are of this mind, then there is no need for faith. St. Joseph teaches us to believe even without seeing. He also teaches us to believe even when we cannot see. This is because like him, we too must realise that God’s will for the world will always be better than what we want for ourselves. We must learn from St. Joseph how to make our will subservient to God’s.
Our actions in most cases, even the seemingly altruistic ones are often with our eye on the reward. St Joseph teaches us that we must learn to find the reward in the doing of the action.