Journey With a Father’s Heart – Day 5

Day 5 – An Accepting Father

Excerpt from Patris Corde

Often in life, things happen whose meaning we do not understand. Our first reaction is frequently one of disappointment and rebellion. Joseph set aside his own ideas in order to accept the course of events and, mysterious as they seemed, to embrace them, take responsibility for them and make them part of his own history. Unless we are reconciled with our own history, we will be unable to take a single step forward, for we will always remain hostage to our expectations and the disappointments that follow.

The spiritual path that Joseph traces for us is not one that explains, but accepts. Only as a result of this acceptance, this reconciliation, can we begin to glimpse a broader history, a deeper meaning. We can almost hear an echo of the impassioned reply of Job to his wife, who had urged him to rebel against the evil he endured: “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (Job 2:10).

Joseph is certainly not passively resigned, but courageously and firmly proactive. In our own lives, acceptance and welcome can be an expression of the Holy Spirit’s gift of fortitude. Only the Lord can give us the strength needed to accept life as it is, with all its contradictions, frustrations and disappointments.

Jesus’ appearance in our midst is a gift from the Father, which makes it possible for each of us to be reconciled to the flesh of our own history, even when we fail to understand it completely.

Just as God told Joseph: “Son of David, do not be afraid!” (Mt 1:20), so he seems to tell us: “Do not be afraid!” We need to set aside all anger and disappointment, and to embrace the way things are, even when they do not turn out as we wish. Not with mere resignation but with hope and courage. In this way, we become open to a deeper meaning. Our lives can be miraculously reborn if we find the courage to live them in accordance with the Gospel. It does not matter if everything seems to have gone wrong or some things can no longer be fixed. God can make flowers spring up from stony ground. Even if our heart condemns us, “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 Jn 3:20).

Here, once again, we encounter that Christian realism which rejects nothing that exists. Reality, in its mysterious and irreducible complexity, is the bearer of existential meaning, with all its lights and shadows. Thus, the Apostle Paul can say: “We know that all things work together for good, for those who love God” (Rom 8:28). To which Saint Augustine adds, “even that which is called evil (etiam illud quod malum dicitur)”.  In this greater perspective, faith gives meaning to every event, however happy or sad.

Nor should we ever think that believing means finding facile and comforting solutions. The faith Christ taught us is what we see in Saint Joseph. He did not look for shortcuts, but confronted reality with open eyes and accepted personal responsibility for it.

Meditation

From our two thousand-year-later vantage point, the life Saint Joseph led alongside our Blessed Mother and the child Jesus can seem romantically perfect.  While the Holy Family was certainly an oasis of beauty and love, the circumstances they faced were often far from ideal.  An impossible dilemma involving his betrothed’s unexpected pregnancy, an arbitrary command to drop everything and leave to register in a census while his wife was nine months pregnant, a midnight escape from a massacre threatening his child, a two-year exile in Egypt… these were only a few of the trials that stretched Joseph’s faith to the limits.  I invite you to take a moment to imagine just one of these that might be particularly relatable to a situation in your own life.  What must Joseph had felt, thought, experienced?

The Holy Father writes that “Joseph set aside his own ideas in order to accept the course of events and, mysterious as they seemed, to embrace them, take responsibility for them and make them part of his own history.”  As great as the trials he faced were, Joseph did not allow adversity to submerge him in bitterness, but rather accepted and embraced these trials: not because he understood them, but because he trusted that God was mysteriously present and at work in the midst of them.  The trials were not miraculously lighter to bear because it was the Holy Family who was living them.  The pain and suffering of displacement, persecution, anxiety, and uncertainty were no less acute; in fact, they were likely more intensely felt by such pure hearts.  Kingly jealousy, an emperor’s avarice, and apparent adultery were certainly not godly things, but rather than rejecting their place in his story, Joseph embraced them and sought to discover God’s invitation through it all.  Because his heart was open and accepting, what were only terribly flawed human choices were transformed into mysterious yet powerful bearers of grace.

Joseph teaches us that no circumstance of our lives can be considered irremediably removed from grace’s reach.  Disappointment and suffering, evil and tragedy are realities in our world, yet these are not on the periphery of God’s saving action in this world, but mysteriously intertwined with salvation history.  In the school of Saint Joseph, we are invited to learn to accept both the light and the shadows in our lives, not in an attitude of resignation, but rather with the childlike attitude of one who trusts that his Father has not left him alone.  This trusting acceptance, in turn, paves the way for a mature attitude of faith which seeks to actively choose to love in the midst of adversity and to discern the way that we are called to cooperate in God’s salvific plan, seeking to harmonize life’s dissonant tones with the melody of God’s loving plan.

Questions for Reflection

  • The Holy Father invites us to be “reconciled to the flesh of our own history, even when we fail to understand it completely.”  Is there a specific part of my history, be it my own personal history, family history, or even cultural history, that I have of yet been unable to accept as an arena for grace?  Acceptance does not mean excusing or whitewashing what is sinful or broken, but rather allowing God to enter in and shed his light on that situation, rather than keeping the broken in our lives artificially walled off from the possibility of God’s saving action.  Am I willing to allow Saint Joseph to teach me how to walk a journey of acceptance in my life?
  • “God can make flowers spring up from stony ground.”  What barren, stony landscapes are currently present in my life or the lives of those who are dear to me?  Do I truly believe that God can bring new life even where there is none to be found?  Am I willing to entrust these situations into his hands, to give them over to him completely?  Am I open to discern in prayer and trustingly embrace the small way he might be inviting me to collaborate in watering this stony ground, even if my natural idea of collaboration might look very different?
  • The Holy Father speaks of the Christian realism that embraces everything that exists.  We are not called to reject reality, but rather to embrace it as the place where God wishes to act in the here and now.  Rather than standing by as passive critics, often we are called to take a place as active workers in the construction zone of our hurting world.  Is there an aspect of “reality” which particularly vexes me?  Could I be called to transform my vexation into a more evangelical attitude of courageous acceptance and commitment to being an instrument of God’s transformative power?

 

Prayer

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.

Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy, and courage,
and defend us from every evil. Amen.

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