Solemnity of Saint Joseph – March 19, 2023 

Three months ago on December 18th, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis reflected upon Saint Joseph during the course of his traditional Sunday Angelus address. From his window overlooking the Vatican Christmas tree and Nativity scene in Saint Peter’s Square, the Holy Father spoke of the saint and likened him to ourselves as we confront the often-harsh reality of our lives.

Like Saint Joseph, he said, “we too have our dreams, don’t we? Perhaps we lament over some dreams that have been shattered and we see that our best expectations need to often be put together with unexpected, disconcerting situations. When this happens, Joseph shows us the way.”

The Holy Father reflected upon the same gospel passage from Saint Matthew that was proclaimed just a moment ago. The gospel writer reminds us that when St. Joseph first learned that Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant, his dreams for the future must have been shattered. What do you think Joseph would have felt when informed by Mary of her pregnancy? Shock, pain, confusion, perhaps even irritation and disappointment. He experienced his world falling apart all around him – like any of us would have felt.

But Joseph’s situation was even more complicated than just a shattered dream. What was he supposed to do with this news? Jewish law at the time gave him a choice. He could accuse Mary and let her pay the price of her supposed infidelity, or he could secretly annul their engagement without exposing Mary to scandal and harsh consequences. Saint Joseph chose the second option, which Pope Francis described as “the way of mercy.” The Holy Father went on to state that “at the height of his crisis, right when he is thinking and evaluating all this, God cast a new light into Joseph’s heart — he declared to him in a dream that Mary’s motherhood did not come about because of a betrayal, but by the work of the Holy Spirit, and the baby that would be born is the Savior. Mary would be the Mother of the Messiah, and Joseph would be his guardian.”

Upon waking up from this dream, Joseph understood that in a totally unexpected way, he was to be the father of the Messiah. But for this to happen, Saint Joseph first had to accept a disruption to his own plans. He had to accept the reality of shattered dreams for himself and his wife. And he had to surrender himself and trust that God would take care of everything.

What about you? Is there some aspect of your life – a relationship that seems to have disappointed you – a plan that you had for your future that didn’t quite unfold in the way in which you had hoped – a difficult health diagnosis that’s created challenges for you and those you love – that reflects the shattered dreams of Saint Joseph’s life when he was about to take Mary for his wife? If we’re honest, I suspect that there are many examples from our lives that reflect such unexpected or unplanned experiences. … Maybe you never planned that your daughter would be pregnant and not married … Perhaps you never expected to lose your spouse through divorce or an untimely passing. … I never planned much less hoped to be a bishop and only wanted to be a good parish priest.

So what do we do when confronted with those unexpected crises or experiences that change our plans, uproot our world, disappoint our spirits and break our hearts?

Saint Joseph teaches us that when someone experiences a crisis and is wise and courageous enough not to yield to isolation, anger or fear but instead is able to keep the door of one’s heart open for God – to trust in the power and mercy of God – miracles can happen. God is given room to intervene. And dreams once shattered can take upon themselves new hope and promise. They really can. You know that well. So do I!

Ten years ago, the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, traveled to Rome for a conclave to elect a new pope to succeed Pope Benedict XVI who had resigned. At 76, his dream was to finally retire and assume the work that he so appreciated as a priest – working among the poor, the sick and the marginalized. His dream was shattered when he was elected as the 266th successor of Saint Peter. Yet, his life and ministry as our Holy Father, Pope Francis, remind us just how much he has embraced the example of Saint Joseph – trusting in the power of God – looking beyond his own needs to serve his brothers and sisters and in so doing, to discover the realization of an even greater dream and source for own fulfillment and peace.

Ten years ago this very day – the Feast of Saint Joseph – Pope Francis shared these words during his Mass of Installation when he began his ministry among us. “Let us never forget that authentic power is service.” Let us be “inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, open our arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect.”

For all the dreams that we have embraced in our lives – for all of the disappointments and challenges that we have faced – may we come to know that our greatest hope is discovered when our hearts are softened by God to love generously and selflessly – like the blest Saint Joseph whom we honor this day.