Real Talk with Saint Joseph

If discouragement overwhelms you, think of the faith of Saint Joseph; if anxiety has its grip on you, think of the hope of Saint Joseph. — Pope Benedict XVI

Today, March 19, was supposed to be the high point of a seven-Sunday period of meditating on the life of St. Joseph — not only because today is his feast day, but also because today is supposed to be my wedding day.

I had asked St. Joseph to be my guide in navigating the transition from bachelorhood to married life. After all, he married the best woman and became ‘father’ to the best Son.

That rosy outlook — nay, plan — did not, of course, play out as expected. A global pandemic exploded. The wedding was deferred. People got sick. Many died. The period that was supposed to be the happiest became one of the most difficult in recent memory.

Looking back on the past month-and-a-half, however — in that period of reflecting on St. Joseph’s “joys and sorrows” — I’ve come to realize the hard (and painfully obvious) lesson of that Seven Sundays devotion: life is joys and sorrows.

It’s an ancient custom wherein for seven Sundays before the feast of St. Joseph you ponder on the holy patriarch’s joys and sorrows — such as his sorrow when he lost the Boy Jesus in the Temple, and his joy when he found him three harrowing days later. The Seven Sundays of St. Joseph may be seem like an easy devotion (you only do it on Sundays!), but its lesson is quite the toughie.

Life is joys and sorrows! Many times we think sorrowful times are defects or blots that should never mar our life-story — such as the dark areas on a Caravaggio painting. We forget that it’s wrong to expect our lives to be perfect tales where no conflict or lack or loss exists. We are supposed to consider life as we do a Caravaggio: see the dark areas actually bringing out the beauty of the illuminated parts — indeed of the whole picture.

And given this salad or confetti nature of life (joys and sorrows galore), the deeper lesson from St. Joseph is that whether we are glad or sad, the love of God is as constant as the sky.

I can only imagine St. Joseph’s distress when he had to bring Mary and the Infant Jesus to faraway Egypt, because Herod was about to have a baby-killing spree in Bethlehem. But St. Joseph surely wasn’t troubled for very long: he understood that God Who is Constant Love was with him — literally — and so soon had peace and joy.

Of course, our unfortunate lot today is that we are amidst a ravenous pandemic. A sorrow in every way you look at it. But — without diminishing the gravity of the suffering of COVID-19 victims and their families — we also know this is just one of the sorrows we encounter throughout life. But we also understand — by faith — that despite these sorrows, God’s love remains mysteriously, inexplicably constant.

So we go through the crucible of this crisis with fortitude, as St. Joseph did in all his tribulations. We work, we pray, we help — we await the unfolding of the will of God.