Placing yourself in Bible stories is one of the most widely recommended spiritual exercises when it comes to reading Scriptures. We’ve been given the gift of our faith and listening to the Readings every week, it becomes all too easy to separate ourselves from the stories. The Bible becomes a collection of bedtime stories, historical events that happened in the past that hold little relevance today. Sure, we take the teachings, well some of them, and implement them in our lives, but most of the subject matter just doesn’t apply. I like to draw parallels between myself and the state of mind of the characters. To Mary and Joseph, they weren’t perfectly modeling the domestic Church. To them, it was just life. They wanted to do God’s Will and they did it, in just the same way that you and I could if we truly applied ourselves. This deep level of humility before God and man is what characterizes the greatest Saints in the Church.
Joseph, though he was indeed a holy man, was not exempt from sorrow, disappointment, or failure. He likely had boom times in his carpentry business and absolutely terrifying times when business was down. He was the sole provider for his family, and so he felt the same range of emotions tied to that station that we feel. Joseph was born with original sin, and so he sinned. Yet, his life points to a real detachment from sin. That was likely the result of years of diligent practice. I think we fall into the trap of thinking that holy people have great lives because they aren’t tempted. Not so. The saints endure their miseries, but they also don’t bring additional misery on themselves through sin. So much of the trouble and strife that we face on a daily basis is a consequence of our choices. We choose to sin and in doing so push love a little bit further from the center of our lives. Eventually we reap what we sow.
One of the best ways to describe Joseph’s spiritual state is receptive. Like an antenna raised high in the air waiting to receive messages transmitted to it, Joseph’s actions and state of mind were turned wholly to God. He achieved this through a robust interior life that we can never know, but also through faithfully living his vocation. His life was so oriented towards God that when the dream came, he was ready to listen. We’ve all had vivid dreams that felt very real, so how else could Joseph understand that the dream was a message meant to be carried out and not a fanciful creation of the mind?
The real path to virtue and holiness is through our individual vocations. While callings to the priestly and religious life are indeed beautiful and should be celebrated, they do not preclude, nor excuse, the laity from holiness. Each individual’s calling is specific to them and the special path they are invited to follow. By loving his wife and his Foster Child, Joseph fulfilled his marital promises and his calling in life thereby journeying deeper into the heart of God.
I thought about concluding this post with something pedestrian about how we can model Joseph’s life and try to live holier lives, but I think that’d be a mistake. The fact is, as hard as it is to believe, we can live a life just as holy and just as rich as Joseph, if only we start making different decisions. Joseph was not excluded from original sin, meaning he made some poor choices in his life. Yet, he pulled himself back up, worked towards perfection, and achieved that holiness that he sought. We can do it to, if only we have the courage and tenacity.