After listing the genealogy of Jesus in the first chapter of his gospel, Matthew tells us how the birth of our Lord came about and how the humble carpenter Joseph plays a key role but not in any sort of way that he could ever have expected. After deciding to spare Mary shame and to divorce her quietly, Joseph is visited by an angel in his dream. The context of “within a dream” is important because by letting Joseph know that Mary is with child through the Holy Spirit, the angel is inviting Joseph to set aside his own dreams in favor of God’s dream.
Surely Joseph had dreams and plans regarding his marriage to Mary and what their life together would be like. Surely Joseph found great anticipation and joy in those dreams but then he was thrown the biggest curveball in all of human history – his betrothed was with child, the infant was the Word incarnate and now his dreams must give way to God’s dream.
Joseph is considered the patron saint of a happy death because tradition holds that when he died (sometime between the finding of the young Jesus in the Temple and before the beginning of our Lord’s public ministry) Joseph had at his bedside both our Lord and our Lady. St. Joseph is also considered the protector of the Universal Church as he took on the duty and responsibility of protecting the newborn Christ and his mother. There are many titles given to this amazing saint and each title offers a different glimpse of his sanctity. The first chapter of Matthew offers another title worthy of consideration I believe – St. Joseph, the patron saint of handling the curveballs of life!
Life throws curveballs and they come at us at unexpected times and in many varied ways – an illness in the family, the loss of a job, the need to move, interrupted plans and projects, an unexpected pregnancy, even a random encounter with a stranger can turn things upside down! These curveballs come in many shapes and sizes and they all demand that we set aside our dreams and plans in favor of the needs of the situation and the needs of another person(s).
It is good to have Joseph with us in these moments. He shows that these moments can be navigated through in faith and in hope.
Joseph offers three lessons for the curveball moments of life.
The first is not to react in frustration and agitation (a common and often kneejerk response in such moments) but rather to step back, take a deep breath and choose to act in care for all involved. Joseph did this. Before the angel even visited him in his dream to announce God’s plan, Joseph finds out that his betrothed is with child. Joseph must have experienced pain, shame and a sense of betrayal in this moment. Yet, he does not react out of all of that. Joseph falls back on his faith and his honest care for Mary and he chose to act out of that space. He decides not to expose her to shame. Even in his pain he acts in care for the very one who it seems (on the surface) betrayed him. Joseph teaches that when life throws a curveball don’t react – rather step back, take a deep breath and act in care.
The second lesson is to listen. God is present even in the curveballs of life. God has a word to share even in such moments. We are told that Joseph was a righteous man – a righteous person lives in relationship with God which means a person who has learned that God is present in all moments of life and who has learned to search for the voice of God in all situations. Joseph listened to the message of the angel in his dream and he accepted that message. Even in the curveballs that life throws at us, God is present. Joseph teaches us to listen for what God is saying even in such moments.
Thirdly, Joseph (after listening) acts in faith. Faith means to be willing to just take the next step. Faith does not mean we know exactly how things will work out. Faith means we take the next step precisely because we trust in God and His will for us. Joseph did this. Joseph did not know how it would all end. Joseph did not fully understand all that was going on and neither was he given the whole picture but he trusted and in that trust he decided to act in faith. Joseph received Mary into his home.
Three solid lessons for handling the curveballs that life can throw at us: don’t react but rather act in care, listen for the voice of God in the moment and then act in faith, take that next step.
St. Joseph, patron saint of handling the curveballs of life, pray for us!