Since this year is has been declared the year of St. Joseph by Pope Francis, we will have a four week series reflecting on the four dreams of St. Joseph.
Joseph’s first dream is recorded in Mathew 1:18-24.
Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.
At face value, and using modern criteria, it is easy to come to the conclusion that Joseph decided to divorce Mary because he assumed she had been unfaithful. However, according to today’s theologians, there is another plausible theory behind Joseph’s motivation to divorce Mary. While on this side of heaven we cannot know for certain what was going on in Joseph’s mind at the time, there are some things we can know. Joseph is described as being a righteous man and this comes with some implications about him. Joseph would have known Mary and therefore, he would have known her virtue and character. We Catholics know that Mary was without sin due to her Immaculate Conception. Joseph, being closer to her than we are, would have known that adultery would have been as far out of character for Mary as one could get. The righteousness in Joseph would have been intimately familiar with the righteousness in Mary.
The second implication of calling Joseph a righteous man is that we know he was a good Jewish man, who would have been very familiar with Scripture. Therefore, he would know of Isaiah’s prophecy, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Joseph was over 2,000 years closer in time to the Old Testament prophets than we are, and he was living in a time that was anxiously awaiting the Savior. Knowing Mary’s level of virtue and upon hearing she was pregnant, this prophecy would have very likely been at the top of his mind.
The third implication of calling Joseph righteous is that he was a man of great virtue himself and that would include the virtue of humility. This is where the alternate theory comes in about Joseph’s decision to quietly divorce Mary. In his humility, Joseph would have felt immensely unworthy of raising the Son of God. He would have wanted to step out of the picture to make space for the Savior of the World and His abundantly virtuous mother. Put yourself in Joseph’s shoes and ask yourself how you would respond to a similar situation, knowing you were charged with the care of the two most precious treasures in the entire history of the world – the New Covenant and His Ark. It would be daunting at best.
Based on all of these factors, Joseph would have very likely thought he was doing the right thing by quietly stepping back. Therefore, it makes sense that God would send an angel for some clarity and encouragement for the vocation to which he was being called. Being a righteous and devout Jew, he would also be familiar with these types of things being communicated through dreams, as God has done throughout the entire Old Testament. He also would have the gift of discernment, so he would know the difference between a message from God and the sleeping imagination. When the angel confirms the work of the Holy Spirit and reveals Joseph’s role in God’s plan for salvation, he would have felt a sense of peace that can only come from God Himself. Joseph was given the vocation of being the guardian, custodian, and protector of Jesus and Mary.
After his dream, Joseph abandoned his plan to quietly divorce Mary, which illustrates his virtuous obedience to God’s will over his own personal preference. How often have we questioned our own vocations and other various plans God has in store for us? Joseph did not do that. Without hesitation, he took Mary into his home and prepared to raise her child as his very own son. Joseph exemplifies heroic selflessness in his vocation. From this point on, his only concern becomes the care of his Holy Family above all else.
This week, reflect on the ways in which God has communicated with you. If it truly comes from God, it should bring with it a great sense of peace and perhaps joy and/or love as well. When He speaks to you, how do you respond? Do you trust and obey God without question? How can you emulate St. Joseph in how seriously you take your vocation? Do you put God’s will for your life above everything else, including your own personal desires?
Since we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and Mary is our spiritual mother, so too is St. Joseph our spiritual father. His vocation was to be the guardian, custodian, and protector of Jesus and Mary but, by the nature of our spiritual family, that vocation extends to include all of us within the Holy Church. In this year of St. Joseph, how can we look to our spiritual father for the help he is so willing and ready to offer us? Due to his very close and intimate relationship with Jesus, his intercession for our needs is quite powerful. Let us ask him to enter into our lives in a new or deeper way. Thank God for the great gift we have in our beloved St. Joseph.