THE TRIAL OF JOSEPH
“Now the generation of Christ was in this wise. When as his Mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost. Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately. But while he thought on these things, behold the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in sleep, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived of her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus. For He shall save the people from their sins.’ . . . And Joseph, rising up from sleep, did as the Angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife.”
1. It is natural, almost inevitable, for us to wonder where St. Joseph had been all this time, and what part he had been called upon to play in the work of these nine months. That Mary should have been able to tell him was impossible; even Mary’s word could not have been evidence enough for an event so eminently supernatural. Her word could have been a sufficient guarantee for her own innocence; hence that Joseph could ever have suspected Mary of infidelity is obviously impossible. But that must have made his own position all the more difficult. Mary was with child, and Mary was the most perfect creature he knew. But to be with child implied a father; and it was not himself. There seemed but one solution; he had no right to the Child, therefore he had no right to the Mother. His judgment went no farther.
2. On the other hand one may reasonably suppose in St. Joseph at least as much understanding of the Scriptures and of the promised Messiah as was found among the faithful Jews of his time. He knew what the priests knew, that the time was at hand; he knew that the Child was to be of the House of David, his own house and that of Mary; he knew that the prophecies included a virgin mother, Bethlehem, and Nazareth; he knew as much, perhaps, as Zachary knew, or Simeon, or Anna the prophetess. This was all on the positive side. But it did not solve his problem. He did not recognize any right of his own to interfere in a thing so sacred. If God had chosen Mary, and had given her this Child for her own, he had not yet evidence that he too had been chosen. If God had chosen her, God would look to her in His own way. Whatever else we know of Joseph, we know this, that he trusted God to work out His own ends.
3. At length came the answer, and it came in the manner consistent with all the rest of God’s dealings with Joseph. God might have told him at the outset, and so have freed him from this anxiety; just as later He might have sent him earlier to Bethlehem, and so have found a more becoming dwelling-place in which the Child should be born; as He might have given him longer warning before hurrying him off to Egypt; as He might have instructed him about his abode on his return; as He might have told him about the staying of the Child in Jerusalem, at the time that He was lost. But, that was not God’s way with Joseph, as it is not His way with most of us. This world is a trial ground; and not the least of our trials are the problems which we have continually to face and solve. In this Joseph is our model.
Summary Meditation Points:
1. The cause of the doubt to Joseph: what he did not know.
2. The evidence on the other side: what St. Joseph did know.
3. The consistency of this treatment of Joseph with the rest of his life.
Editor’s Note: This meditation is from Archbishop Alban Goodier’s “The Prince of Peace” (1913).
Art: The Dream of St. Joseph, Philippe de Champaigne, 1642-43, Restored Traditions, used with permission. Archbishop Alban Goodier, S.J., www.stmaryscadoganstreet.co.uk, all rights reserved, used with permission.