Solemnity of St. Joseph

I have some advice for you (although I doubt you will take it): Write your own obituary before you die.  If others write them, they will include only what and how they remember you.  They may list all your job changes, the teams you rooted for and your favorite sports.  But all this is hardly the real story of your life: what you had hoped for, the hard choices you made, the sufferings and setbacks that loomed large in life.  Life is what happens to you when you are making other plans.  How did you respond to loss and discouragement? The real drama of your life is often hidden from public view and escapes clear documentation and recollection.

Celebrities (actual or wanna-be) thrive on publication and attention.  All the details of their lives (glorious or sordid) are available for public admiration.  The more sensational, the better.  But saints are rarely recognized in their own lives.  They tend to be trouble-makers, sources of scandal, disturbers of accepted order.  They are not on top of the charts of common acclaim.  They may totally fall off the radar of public importance.  You will find them on the margins and shadows.

That’s where we find St. Joseph.  He gets scant notice even in the New Testament. He makes a short appearance in Act 1, Scene 1 and then disappears.  We can presume he died, but this is not mentioned.  There are fleeting references to him, but almost as an effort to disgrace Jesus, the carpenter’s son.  He plays a supporting role with no lines.  Even orthodox icons of the Nativity portray Mary and the infant at the center, with Joseph off to the side at the left and conversing with a shady figure (Satan?).  He is on the margins.

The margins can be very creative places, even though they frustrate our obsession with clarity and distinctions.  We prefer to view reality as having distinct endings and beginnings, but this is seldom the way reality is.  There are perennial quests to determine when Modernity began, when it ended and Post-modernity reigned.

When does a person move from adolescence to adulthood, from conventional to post-conventional morality?  The ends and beginnings merge and blend and bleed into one another.  Their “encounters” have already occurred before we return with our analytic microscopes.  The immersion is there, even if it has been hidden from our sight.  The mystery has been revealed and now engages us, even though it is free from our habits of detection.

Our opening prayer asked that the Church may constantly watch over the unfolding of the mysteries of human salvation whose beginnings you entrusted to his (Joseph’s) faithful care.  Joseph is the model and teacher of this care, of watching over the unfolding of the mysteries.  It is a care which has no need of attention drawn to itself.  This would undermine the very essence of watching over the unfolding mysteries.  Watching is not a passive observation of something out there. It is the watching of a parent, of a father, who exercises that fine and delicate art of knowing when to intervene and when to withdraw, when to allow.  Joseph was called in a dream (that archetypal margin between conscious and unconscious) to withdraw his humane intervention of divorcing Mary quietly and to take her into his home to give the support without which she could not have fulfilled her vocation.  His dream was the acceptance of his own call, coming from beyond the limits of human justice and righteousness.  What was profoundly human in him was transcended by the imperative and promise of God.  The encounter and connection are what we call faith.

It is hard not to think that Jesus learned so much of how his heavenly father related to him in his humanity from his earthly father.  He learned obedience through what he suffered.  The Father, the Church, and Joseph continue this watching over the unfolding of the mysteries of human salvation, as they unfold in the stories of our own life.  It is often those marginal times when the creative energy of love can be allowed to do its own work.  Will our obituaries be able to cover all that?