Friday, March 18, 2011

St. Joseph and God's Sword of Conflict

It would almost seem providential that the feast day of St. Joseph on March 19th would invariably fall within the season of Lent. The mission assigned to this man of God was a great one. But with great missions there are great trials.

It is not uncommon, therefore, for God to frontload missions and great enterprises with adversity. St. Joseph was certainly no exception.

In the book of Sirach, it reads: “My son, when you come to serve the LORD, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, undisturbed in time of adversity.” (Sirach 2:1-2) To expect anything less is to run the risk of being scandalized by the Cross when it is imposed upon our shoulders. What we sometimes take for failure can often be the very thing needed to bring about the success God wills.

The Lord Jesus gave his disciples sufficient indication of this through parables, instruction, and personal example. Just before taking our sins to the Cross, our Lord told the Apostles, “He [the Father] takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.” The Benedictines has a saying for this: “Pruned, and it grows again.”

Have you ever wondered why, after appearing to the Blessed Virgin to announce the coming of Christ, the angel Gabriel did not immediately appear to St. Joseph in order to inform him that the Messiah would be conceived of the Holy Spirit; that God would make it possible for Mary to be both virgin and mother?

Instead, there was an interim period of misunderstanding and anguish on the part of St. Joseph. God could have prevented this misunderstanding but he chose not to. And the reason he chose not to was due to some moral and spiritual benefit St. Joseph would gain. Certainly, a lot of tears could have been spared; but often tears can be every bit as redemptive as the blood of martyrs which, as the early Christian adage goes, is the “seed of the Church.”

In his temporary emotional estrangement, St. Joseph, when having the wrong impression about his betrothed, had to rely on God. Indeed, during this short period of time not even the Mother of God could help him because, after all, she was the object of his suspicion and doubt. Alone he stood, confounded over God’s plan.

Little did St. Joseph know that the first moment of our Lord’s conception was not accompanied with peace but a sword; a sword that would test the holiest of relationships; namely, his parents. “Whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” This refining sword would even fall between Jesus and his parents some twelve years later in the Temple. Even then, Jesus could have prevented the three days of agony his parents were to endure in searching for him; nevertheless, he permitted the trial knowing full well that his holy Mother would not appreciate it. Our Lord shows us that the very mission we are called to carry out sometimes is the cause of pain to those we love.

It is conventional wisdom or should I say, “prudence of the flesh,” which makes harmony and peace an absolute. In our day, even among Christians, truth and fidelity to God’s law is sacrificed at the altar of “keeping the peace.” The absence of conflict is the kind of peace the world claims to give; but it is not the peace Christ offers us.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” But we know this peace is not without a sword because he also said, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man 'against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law…” Indeed, doing God’s will is often an occasion of unwanted conflict. As much as we try to minimize it, people we care about the most will sometimes be offended by the witness we give. Nevertheless, we press forward and do the will of God anyways!

Although it was for a short period of time, St. Joseph had to learn the discipline of putting God first; even before the Blessed Virgin- his friend and spouse. The irony is that the sword of trial and purification came between him and the woman he was called to serve and protect. Before he could benefit from the most blessed of friendships under heaven, St. Joseph- like Abraham who was called to sacrifice his son, Isaac -was given the opportunity to renounce, out of love for God’s justice, the person he loved and respected.

From this discord between St. Joseph and Mary, a better man would emerge. As such, he would be better prepared for even greater trials in the future. God's sword of conflict pruned and refined one of the greatest men to ever have lived.