I used to feel sorry for Saint Joseph. It can’t have been easy, living life sandwiched between the Immaculate Conception and the Incarnation. He seemed such a quiet, shadow figure, more of a prop than a person, a necessary third to complete the family unit, but otherwise unnoticed and unnoteworthy.
As I grew older, I became more aware of Saint Joseph’s usefulness. Not just years ago, in the life of Jesus and Mary, but in the lives of various saints. Saint Teresa of Avila, for example, always recommended devotion to Saint Joseph. One could go to various saints for various favors, she would say, but to Saint Joseph, one could go “for anything.” I found this to be true—he came to my rescue in some rather strange and significant situations. And I was always grateful when his feast day fell on a Friday in Lent, the solemnity (for us as parishioners of Saint Joseph Parish) trumping the day of abstinence from meat.
In the last two years, I have come to love Saint Joseph, and to see in him a patron of the unplanned. Or more specifically, of plans that were made, and then unmade. Of interruptions. Of re-routing. Of offering up the idols of what one thinks life ought to look like.
If you’ve read my reflections for awhile you know about September 13, 2016, and how my life changed when I got the call that my mom was in the hospital—how I left to go home and never returned to the life I had known.
But what I have not much talked about was January 8, 2017.
We were all thrilled, when, after three months, my mother returned home just in time for Christmas. But now the Christmas season was ending, and my siblings had left, and it was just me and my parents. And it was time to face the fact that what had been a leave of absence for a crisis situation, was now to be indefinite. Adrenaline had carried me through the crisis; now “peace” brought a different kind of panic. There was no manual, no projected length of stay, no plan in place for providing for this new life.
I was terrified. More so than I had been in the days of crisis. I didn’t know how I would do it, how I would live as a permanent caregiver for two people, without a job, without help.
I wrote this meditation on Saint Joseph and the unraveling of plans. It was a turning point for me, as my heart filled with peace in the praying and the writing, I believe as direct result of the intercession of Saint Joseph. I did not know how many plans were still to be unraveled; I had no idea, that just a month later, it would be my father who passed out of this life into the next. I had no idea, how many times, on a micro level as well as a macro level, my plans would have to be surrendered to make room for God.
Saint Joseph knew what it was like to have one’s plans, one’s ideas of how life should go, and then what it was like to have God write better ones. To be interrupted.
Have you ever noticed how one thing that really upsets Jesus in the Gospels is when people would stop others from interrupting Him? When the disciples want to stop the little children from coming to him. When the crowd seeks to hush the blind Bartimaeus and stop him from calling out to Jesus. When the Pharisee seeks to prevent the woman who cries over Jesus’ feet and washes them with her hair, or the woman who breaks the alabaster jar and pours perfume over His feet.
Jesus welcomes interruptions. When He is heading to heal the daughter of Jairus, He stops to heal the woman who tugs at the hem of His garment—not only to heal her physically, but to speak to her, calling her back into relationship with her Father.
He likens prayer to woman pestering a judge for a just decision, a friend bothering another friend in the middle of the night for a loaf of bread.
We know that Jesus is speaking about the patience and goodness of His heavenly Father. But could it be that some of this patience was modeled for Him by His earthly, foster-father?
At the heart of patience is profound trust in the goodness of God. Saint Joseph continually had to place his trust in God’s superior wisdom, in a plan that He could not see fully but only obey. Such trust and surrender in turn makes room for fellow human beings, seeing them too as instruments of God’s plan.
Saint Joseph, pray that we too may welcome those who interrupt us.
The Dream of Saint Joseph, Philippe de Champaigne [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons