Last week, in our ongoing Lenten walk with St. Joseph, we got a glimpse of the good Saint’s worldview—the core of how he understood reality and himself. We recognized that, steeped as he was in the Jewish traditions, he knew that his life was not about himself, it was about God—God’s will, God’s plan, God’s rules. Oxymoronic to our modern age, this self-understanding did not limit his freedom, rather it allowed him to excel—to flourish—in what he was called to be and to do—vocation and obedient service, respectively.
This week we will consider the first of four verses from the prayer written by our diocese’s founding Bishop that tell us more about St. Joseph as a person, as a man.
With faith you trusted God’s message and acted on it.
This short verse packs some immensely powerful words— “faith”, “message,” “trusted”, “acted”—too many in fact to elaborate on in a short article, however, our task is made easier when we recognize that St. Joseph’s faith was made tangible and concrete in how he trusted and acted.
St. Joseph was a man of action. Once he understood what he needed to do, he did it, immediately. “Take Mary into your home” – Done! “Take the child and his mother to Egypt”– Done! He never compromised on fulfilling these directions even though they were fraught with unknowns. He never did things half-way, although I am sure he was tempted. For example, he could have simply fled to Ashkelon—which was the first major city outside of Herod’s reach and much closer than Egypt. But he did not; he followed the Lord’s directions and took his young family to a completely foreign country. We need to recall that obedience to the will of God is NOT mindless, robotic capitulation. Rather it is the result of basic rational and correct judgment. St. Joseph simply believed that God knew better and should be trusted completely. God expects the same from us.
Trust then is our second attribute. Trust is what allowed St. Joseph to overcome his fears and proceed to execute his plans with confidence. But let us face it, most of us—me included—put our trust in many things, but we do not really trust God. Trusting God is scary. Trusting God requires that we give up control. Trusting God usually involves risks. Trusting God requires that we accept and live with our fears and apprehensions. Trusting God sometimes requires that we suffer.
From the Gospels we are told that Joseph received his marching orders from God in his dreams. I am willing to bet that most of us do not receive such direct messages from God; I certainly do not. However, we must remember that the Gospels only record the extraordinary events in Joseph’s life. The Hebrew Scriptures, the Law and the Prophets, were his guidelines for the ordinary ones. In fact, it was his fidelity to the “least of these commandments” (Mt 5:19) that made him sensitive to—and promptly responsive to—the great ones.
The same applies to us. We have the teachings of the Church and (hopefully) a well-formed conscience as our guides for living. These are how God “speaks to us” in the ordinary way. The teachings provide the general principles, and our conscience helps us apply them to our specific life situations. As a rule, they should always agree. And if they do not, we should seek the advice of a priest.
What are some areas in our moral lives we need to be particularly vigilant about today? The matters concerning life. Modern technology has given us the ability to make choices that St. Joseph never had to face. For example, when my mother was in her last months, my sister and I had to insist that she be given an IV for hydration, until or unless complications set in. Not doing so would have, by deliberate omission, hastened her death and have violated the fifth commandment (see CCC 2279). Surprisingly, this was not the default position of the hospice personnel.
This is, unfortunately, the attitude of the world we live in. Due to the great advances in medical technology, we now have options and social pressure to violate God’s laws in the areas pertaining to: death and dying, limiting family size, dealing with infertility, and dealing with the handicapped. In a sense, these are the extraordinary events that imperil our modern lives. Prayer and fidelity to all the small commandments will help us, like they did St. Joseph, trustingly face the big issues.
St. Joseph, pray for us!