There is a picture of Saints John Paul II and John XXIII on my refrigerator at home. In my office, there is a calendar of the Church Fathers, images of Jesus, and a papal blessing from His Holiness Benedict XVI. As Catholics, we are blessed to have the examples of so many men and women who can inspire us to love God and our neighbor more each day. Their words and actions remind us today that we are capable of becoming the people God knows we can be, in spite of our sinful nature. Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a paragon of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
The Gospels reveal very little about the life of St. Joseph, but what we do know speaks volumes. In today’s Gospel, St. Matthew focuses on Joseph in his account of the birth of Jesus. When Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant, he, as a “righteous man,” decides to divorce Mary quietly so as not to expose her to shame. Soon after, an angel of the Lord visits Joseph in a dream and informs him that the Holy Spirit conceived the child Mary will deliver. Joseph obeys the angel without question and takes Mary into his home. It is likely that Joseph died before Jesus began his public ministry, and we know that he was not present at Jesus’ crucifixion (John 19:26).
St. Joseph is a beautiful example of humble obedience. Not only does he accept Mary, but he also assumes the role of father to Jesus. Like Mary, Joseph must have had aspirations and goals, all of which, however, were relegated because of his faithful obedience. He made a choice that we have to make in our lives, too: Do I truly believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, or will I allow society to dictate how I live my life?
Each day brings new opportunities to grow in our faith so that we may have the strength and the courage to choose Jesus. Whether we are visited by an angel of the Lord or not, we should strive to cooperate with God’s grace and allow Him to speak to us. While God does speak to us through the words and actions of others, if we truly want to feel His presence, we can do so in the language that He speaks: Silence. The noise and distractions in our life make it nearly impossible for God to speak to us. After all, the angel appeared to Joseph while he was sleeping. St. Francis of Assisi is just one of many examples of people who actively sought the gift of silence in order to be alone with Christ. Jesus may be trying to speak to us, as He did to Joseph, but do we make it possible to hear His message?
St. Joseph reminds us that faithful obedience to Jesus may require difficult decisions. The season of Lent is an opportunity to reflect on the decisions we make or will make, and to decide if they bring us closer to God or not. In other words, do they give us life in Christ? The conversion we undergo this Lent, however, is not only a personal one. The way we live our lives can be an example for others who seek to integrate God more into their lives. God speaks to us through the men and women who have modeled what true discipleship is. Now, God wants to spread His message of love, compassion, mercy, and joy through us.
The following prayer by Blessed Mother Teresa encapsulates the meaning of humble obedience, first modeled by St. Joseph: “Help us to accept the pains and conflicts that come to us each day as opportunities to grow as people and become more like you. Enable us to go through them patiently and bravely, trusting that you will support us. Make us realize that it is only by frequent deaths of ourselves and our self-centered desires that we can come to live more fully; for it is only by dying with you that we can rise with you.” Amen.
Deacon Mike McGrath is a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Savannah. He ministers to the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities at St. Matthew Catholic Church (Statesboro, GA). He is married to his beautiful wife Leticia, and they are the parents of Matthew, who is 14, and Luke, who is 12. Deacon Mike is the editor of the book Answering the Call: How God Transformed the Lives of Nineteen Catholic Deacons.