In section 3, Pope Francis offers his reflection on Joseph’s obedience. Sometimes we shy away from that virtue. But in the Gospels, we have concrete examples of the man as attentive to God and in compliance with religious duties as well as civic ones.
Let’s begin with Joseph’s dreams.
As he had done with Mary, God revealed his saving plan to Joseph. He did so by using dreams, which in the Bible and among all ancient peoples, were considered a way for him to make his will known.[Cf. Genesis 20:3; 28:12; 31:11.24; 40:8; 41:1-32; Numbers 12:6; 1 Samuel 3:3-10; Daniel 2, 4; Job 33:15]
My take on this is less one of psychological interpretation and more one of the human condition. No matter what we accept in dream research–a psychological need, a subconscious communication, or even some psychic connection, dreams are a standard feature of the human condition. If we accept God made us, we have to accept God made us nightly dreamers. And dreams, especially the subsequent reflection on them, are a means of God inspiring us, and expressing the divine will to the dreamer.
In Luke’s Gospel, the angel appears to Mary in her waking state. In the first chapter of the longest Gospel, the annunciation takes place in the dream of Joseph. Clearly, the man was stressed out about events taking place with his beloved one, and deeply concerned for her well being.
Joseph was deeply troubled by Mary’s mysterious pregnancy. He did not want to “expose her to public disgrace”,[In such cases, provisions were made even for stoning (cf. Deuteronomy 22:20-21)] so he decided to “dismiss her quietly” (Matthew 1:19).
In the first dream, an angel helps him resolve his grave dilemma: “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21). Joseph’s response was immediate: “When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Matthew 1:24). Obedience made it possible for him to surmount his difficulties and spare Mary.
Joseph’s response was very much like his wife’s. Mary acclaimed God’s will by her fiat. Joseph by his immediate action.