The month of July is the month where we celebrate the feast of St Thomas. Commonly known as “doubting Thomas”, the theme of doubt called to mind the 2017 movie The Case for Christ. In the movie, the lead actor, Lee Strobel struggled to accept his wife’s conversion to Christianity. The family had lived well without God for such a long time and so Lee suddenly felt that he was in competition with God for his wife’s heart. An atheist, he doubted that there was any God to begin with and so, these Christians must have been a “cult” with ill intentions towards his family. A seasoned investigative journalist, Lee proceeded to go on a quest to prove that Christianity was all a scam and so save his wife from the clutches of a “cult”.
This movie reminded me of another man who had faced a similar crisis. A follower of Yahweh, he probably did not doubt the Lord’s providence and love. Except, his fiancé was found to be pregnant and the baby was not his child! And what’s more, the child’s actual father tried to make things right with him… No, I am not referring to a Korean drama but rather about St Joseph.
A silent character in the Bible, St Joseph has not one verse attributed to him at all. He who was the foster father for Jesus. He who was Mary’s protector and earthly companion. He was the man chosen by God to be Christ’s and Mary’s guardian. One must wonder though, did St Joseph ever doubt?
There’s something about Mary…
St Joseph probably had to deal with his doubts on the fidelity of Mother Mary – for she claimed that her pregnancy was through a Divine Cause. However, there had been no precedence for such an occurrence and instead many human reasons for this outcome. Yet, though he might have doubted her, he did not doubt God and probably would have taken it to prayer. And thanks to his doubts about humanity, we get to hear Divine clarity:
“He had made up his mind to do this (divorce Mary informally) when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name Him Jesus, because He is the One who is to save His people from their sins. When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home” (Matthew 1:20-23,24)
How we long for such a God experience, to hear such prophetic words as St Joseph must have. Yet are we willing to pay the cost? To risk becoming a pariah in our families and community due to our choice of taking in “damaged goods”? To give up even the sanctity of sleep as we wrestle to find what God wants for us? To surrender our control over our vocation, in this context – marriage, and simply become a foster father?
To run or not to run…
Doubts probably surfaced again once the birth of Jesus had arrived. Forget the difficulty of finding shelter for his wife to give birth in, discount the fact that St Joseph had to entertain royalty and shepherds who came to visit them in their shelter, the next big test was already on its way – running for their lives. I’m not sure how hard it is, but surely even Mary had to be tired after having given birth to her child. St Joseph would have had to deal the bulk of the entertaining as well as seeing to Jesus and Mary’s needs.
After all that activity, late into the night and in his dreams, St Joseph received a warning from the Angel of the Lord:
“Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt. And stay there until I tell you, because Herold intends to search for the child and do away with him.” (Mt 2:13-14)
Fleeing to a foreign country at the time of the day when robbers and thieves are abound, squatting in Egypt as a refugee for an unknown period of time all while caring for his wife and new born son – would you not have any doubts on the viability and even sanity of such an instruction? Undoubtedly fleeing from King Herold would be paramount for all their lives, but why until Egypt? Why not until the next town or region?
Sometimes our circumstances are more than we can understand, yet like St Joseph, we are called to listen and yearn for God so keenly that even sleep cannot stop us from hearing Him. The question is, how much do we want to hear God? Especially when that message or direction isn’t what we would like to do or say?
There and back again…
Finally, after having brought Jesus up, St Joseph lost Him just after the family had completed their religious duties. For as we hear from St Luke:
“Every year His parents used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When He was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When the days of the feast were over and they set off home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed He was somewhere in the part, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for Him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find Him, they went back to Jerusalem looking for Him everywhere.” (Lk2:41-45)
Maybe we have faced/ are facing periods of desolation in our prayer life, or perhaps falling to sin after just having received Christ. Surely, we can all identify with such an experience? Except, Christ was in the flesh when Joseph lost Him. Periods of desolation might pale in comparison to this event, yet we see what St Joseph does – continue to search for Jesus despite how it would appear that Jesus had left them to be in “His Father’s House”. The truth, though very painful for any parent to hear. The question for us is, how much of what I have labored for is truly mine? Can I bear to let it all go back to the Heavenly Father’s House?
Through all these events, perhaps one thing we can learn from St Joseph; though one may doubt man, find ourselves in unnerving circumstances and even lose God, if we follow his example – of just stubbornly searching for God despite our suspicions, our loss of control and our failings – God will come to us and we shall be saved. For Christ loves us more than we could ever love ourselves and so let us hope that like St Joseph, we will never doubt that.
St Joseph, pray for us.