Have you ever felt like you made your reservation in advance, but suddenly there was no room for you at the inn? Like something was being asked of you that defied what you thought you knew of righteousness? Then Joseph might be the saint for you. Scripture depicts him as a guy who tries to do right by everybody. He gets engaged to the Virgin Mary, and when he learns that she’s pregnant, he struggles to find a way to set her aside without exposing her to shame and punishment.
In the midst of his struggle, God comes to him in a dream and says, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Suddenly, what looks very much like sin—condoning apparent adultery—is what will take away sin.
How’s that for confusing? And that’s just a preview of the trouble Joseph finds himself in. He tries to go and be counted, like a good imperial subject, only to have his young wife go into labor when there are no lodgings available. Here he is, a carpenter, reduced to laying his foster child in a feed trough because there’s no place to put a cradle even if he had time and space to build one! Even the amazing visit from the Magi brings with it the wrath of Herod, forcing Joseph to flee with his young family into a strange land. I could go on.
How often do we feel like Joseph, struggling to follow our best intentions, struggling to maintain our traditions, even as the circumstances around us seem to change all the rules? Joseph heard the voice of God calling to him in the night of his uncertainty, and because he believed in the faithfulness of God, he placed all that he was and all that he had into God’s care. Because God is faithful, Joseph was able to follow God’s voice and guide his young family safely through a shifting landscape.
We, too, face a shifting landscape. But the God who made the universe calls us through that landscape, teaching us to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God, even when the way forward is unclear to us.
A blessed St. Joseph’s Day to you. We will celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph at 6:30 this evening with mass in the St. Joseph Chapel.