Patron for the Pandemic

About six years ago I was sitting on the beach with my friend Monica when I had a startling idea. “Why is there no 24-hour adoration chapel in Manhattan?” Surely a city which hosts eight million people on any given day could, should, muster enough adorers for an adoration chapel! And sitting there with my hair full of salt water and sand in my toes, I began to make plans to make that happen.

By coincidence other young adults had the same idea, and I joined their efforts and we began to plan. I worked feverishly to research options and funding ideas and to extend inquiries to various churches. As my ideas took form I grew more and more excited. This was really going to happen! Until one day I noticed that something felt off.

I felt energized, but not completely at peace. Little things that shouldn’t have bothered me instead brought out the worst in me—I found myself easily angered, impatient, driven. I felt passionate but at the same time unsettled.

“Did God give you this task, or did you give it to yourself?” my spiritual director asked.

I was stunned. What kind of a question was that? Surely, God would want me to build an adoration chapel! How could such a thing NOT be God-willed?

As I was mulling over this odd question, a friend (in whom I had not confided this story) let me know she had a word for me from God. It was from the 2nd Book of Samuel, which begins with God asking David (through Nathan): “Would you build Me a house to dwell in?” and continues ultimately with rather “The Lord will make you a house…”

Ouch.

This divine smack-down put an end to my planning, but was just the beginning of a new spirituality. I am still learning what it all means—to receive, to let God do all the heavy lifting, to let Him lead and instruct and ultimately be God.

To effect these plans, God sent me Saint Joseph, whose feast we celebrate today.

Of course, it is Joseph who would literally help complete the promise actually written in Scripture about the house of David. It is he who legally gave to Jesus his title as Son of David, fulfilling for all time the prophecies of a royal dynasty that would last forever.

Saint Joseph knew about planning. And he learned about letting go of his plans, for God’s sake.

He was not given a superhero cape. Rather, he was given, repeatedly, situations that were beyond his power to control.

Tasked with providing for the Blessed Virgin and her Unborn Child, he was forced by government edict to travel to Bethlehem during her third trimester of pregnancy, where, when her time came, he was unable to procure for her even a room and a bed. Instead, he kept vigil as the Queen of Heaven gave birth to the Maker of the Universe and laid Him, not in a carpenter’s cradle, but in a feeding trough for animals.

When it was time to present the Child in the temple, he could offer only the poor man’s sacrifice, a pair of turtledoves, and heard Simeon prophesy not only joy but sorrow for his wife and small son. Did his heart break a little, even then, wanting to protect them from the promised pain?

And then came another edict, this one from Higher Authority: “Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt.” How it must have pained him, how his heart must have wrung with fear and anguish, to learn that Herod’s soldiers were seeking his tiny son. I wonder if, for a moment, he was tempted to stay and fight, to resist, to protect the child and his mother with his own strength. How strong he must have been to obey God, to put aside his pride and flee with his family to safety.

And then he found himself distanced from everyone he knew, alone in a foreign country, away from the temple and synagogues and the life he had known before. He found himself without work, without his carpenter shop or clients, starting all over again in Egypt. And then a few years later, he returned to Nazareth and began yet again.

We don’t know anything else about the hidden years with Jesus, apart from the time that he lost him, seeking him anxiously with Mary. After he was found, we know only that Jesus was obedient to him. Surely, that must have been a fearsome marvel in itself—to be the teacher of the Incarnate Wisdom.

In Scripture Joseph never said a word, but his life was a continued yes to all that God gave…and all that He did not.

It was not given to Joseph to share in Jesus’ public ministry, or in His passion. Instead, he was asked to sacrifice his desire to protect Mary and Jesus, to say yes to the goodness of God, entrusting them to the true Father above, of whom he was only an image.

If there were ever a patron for this pandemic, it is Saint Joseph.

As he was tasked with protecting and providing for the earthly Body of Christ, the boy Jesus, let us entrust to him the spiritual Body of Christ, the Church. Let him teach us, like Jesus, to always say yes. To always trust. To embrace humble and hidden tasks. To embrace wood, even the wood of the Cross.

And like Joseph, let us say yes to all that is given to us to do, and surrender to Jesus and Mary all that is not.

Saint Joseph: Interrupted Plans

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

Image Credit:

The Dream of Saint Joseph, Philippe de Champaigne [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons