The events surrounding Jesus’ birth did not go smoothly for St. Joseph. He was instructed by God to act as foster father for Mary’s child, but the disruptions to his life didn’t end there. In today’s Gospel reading, Joseph is instructed to leave behind his home and extended family, emigrate to Egypt, and await further instructions.
When, at last, he was instructed to leave Egypt, he was forced to settle in Galilee, a predominantly gentile region. Joseph’s marriage began under perplexing circumstances, progressed to a harrowing escape from mortal danger, and concluded in exile among the unclean.
Despite the fact that he never seemed to have enjoyed a reasonable measure of security and peace, there is no indication that Joseph regretted his choices to follow God’s instruction. Many people would have had second thoughts about fulfilling such demands. No one would blame Joseph for wondering if his life might have been less interesting and more comfortable had he gone through with his original plan to divorce Mary surreptitiously.
Joseph, and his unconventional family, faced more challenges that any family deserves. They were subjected to persecution and homelessness. When their lives settled somewhat, they lived in poverty on the margins of Jewish society. They had quite a lot to worry about, but seem not to have worried at all.
On the First Sunday of Advent this year, I suggested that you observe this Advent as a season of fasting from worry. If you made an effort during the Advent season to follow my suggestion, you probably experienced a few challenges to your resolution. You probably experienced an increased sense of tranquility, as well. At this point, you might be wondering whether it’s possible to make your fast from worry a lifelong practice.
The Holy Family of Nazareth provides an example to imitate. The Holy Family had many troubles about which to worry, but chose not to worry at all.
Obviously, it was their deep trust in God that gave Joseph and Mary the strength to face the difficulties that came their way. I think, however, that it was one practical means of expressing faith that gave them the strength to face overwhelming challenges without worry.
Joseph was instructed by God to give the name Jesus to Mary’s child. (Mt. 1:21) The name means “God liberates” because Jesus was sent to liberate God’s People from their sins. In Jesus, we are offered Divine forgiveness and freedom from our sins.
It should come as a surprise to no one that the forgiveness later preached by Jesus was present in nascent form in the family life of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. Before he proclaimed Divine forgiveness, Jesus was the embodiment of Divine forgiveness, and that forgiveness took root in the hearts of Joseph and Mary.
Joseph and Mary experienced many trials and afflictions. All of these could have led them to worry, but they chose to forgive. They forgave the evil in the world and the evils that afflicted them. Because they forgave the limitations of the world, Herod’s jealous rage, and the sin that surrounded them, they were free from worry.
At this point, it is necessary to point out that their faith did not preserve the Holy Family from a life of challenges and troubles. Joseph never became wealthy, nor was he highly regarded; he seems to have died in relative obscurity. Mary’s faith did not preserve her from suffering and loss. The forgiveness learned and practice by the Holy Family of Nazareth did, however, allow them to live tranquil lives in the midst of deprivation and adversity.
It is fully possible to make a lifelong practice of fasting from worry; it is possible on the same basis that the Holy Family managed to face their trials free from worry. The Holy Family learned and practiced forgiveness in spite of having legitimate cause for worry over the circumstances of their lives.
What can you do about the things that might be legitimate causes for worry? You can imitate the example of the Holy Family of Nazareth: learn and practice forgiveness.