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.
Failing to understand? This seems a feature of the human condition. Joseph acknowledged it as such in his worry over Mary’s situation as presented in Matthew 1:18ff. Fear seems to be a common response.
Just as God told Joseph: “Son of David, do not be afraid!” (Matthew 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 John 3:20).
So often I hear from people who are afraid their actions or intent have spoiled something. “Don’t be afraid,” is not only the message of just about every angel. It can be a motto, ne timeas if you prefer, to guide us to pick ourselves up, discern carefully, and move ahead. As Joseph did.
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)”. [Enchiridion de fide, spe et caritate, 3.11: PL40, 236] In this greater perspective, faith gives meaning to every event, however happy or sad.
This is good, taking care that by rejecting nothing, we take note that while many things are possible, some are not prudent or wise to pursue. God works the good when we stumble or fall into sin. Still, not an excuse for a deliberate spiritual pratfall on our part.
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.
This is perhaps the most important paragraph in Patris Corde 4. After praying and after faithfulness, do we see the road ahead as an easy one? Sometimes it may be. The caution is that every divine resolution to a challenge won’t be the easy way out. Joseph’s example in the infancy narratives looks shiny and pristine and easy. Moving from divorce to acceptance of Mary might not have been easy. Being a refugee family in a foreign land? Not likely. We have the perspective of the resurrection and the witness of Jesus in the Word. However, the man living at a moment with Jesus’ message still three decades in the future: his path may not have been as confident. Some of ours likely won’t be either.