December 22, 2019 | Sister Anne Shepard
As a freshman in college, I was in Sister Madonna’s introduction to English composition class. One of our first assignments was to write about the smell of a hamburger. Of all of the senses, smell is the hardest to describe in writing. As a math major, I just sighed and inwardly groaned thinking that this would be a long semester class that I would probably dislike. However, in early November she asked us to write about Advent, and she left the assignment that open ended. I wrote about Joseph, the forgotten saint in the nativity stories. Mary, the angels, the stupid shepherds (as one homilist in New Jersey used to say with some regularity), the animals, and the baby Jesus, all received attention. But seldom was anything said about Joseph.
Over the centuries many artists depicted Joseph as an old man although some showed him as young. Some history scholars believe Mary and he were both young teens when Jesus was born. While there are differences in how Joseph is painted and written in art or put into lyrics in song, what is universally understood is that Joseph was in tune with the living God. Was he a dreamer? Perhaps. But he was a man of contemplative prayer who allowed the voice of God to steer him. Caught between a rock and a hard place, he chose to protect the reputation of Mary rather than save his own name. Deciding on a divorce, he listened to God to tell him to put aside that thought and consider another alternative to his moral dilemma. And he did.
I believe that if Joseph would walk in our midst today, he would be an advocate for pregnant women and the unborn; he would be pleased at the new use of Peace House and would understand the resistance that the neighbors are having in approving zoning because he met that same kind of resistance when he and Mary were looking for a place to stay before Jesus was born. He might be at our national borders inspiring workers and families to keep running from unjust situations and threats of death in their countries. Those who work with refugees, immigrants, and unjustly imprisoned people do so in the spirit of the Saint Joseph we have known over the years who listened to the voice of angels telling him to run with his family and hide, to escape the brutal and unjust killing of all the male children under Herod. Joseph would be sensitive to parents experiencing the heartache of separation from children due to human trafficking. Mary and he must have been very anxious when Jesus was away from them for three days.
Joseph was obedient and diligent. He was determined to protect his family. He was in touch with the voice of God in his everyday life, even in his dreams.
Joseph seemed to be so very human! He was a carpenter, and tradition has it that he taught Jesus some of his trade. Jesus had great parents. His home life must have been amazing. We listen to and pray the parables—the stories Jesus uses to illustrate his wise teaching—always with concrete images and scenes in nature, images that are so practical they invite us to grow closer to God by being more hopeful, more faithful and more loving persons.
Last year our St. Mechtild’s living group reflected on the ”O Antiphons.” We were invited to compose our own Ö Antiphon, and one of the members in the group wrote “O Son of a carpenter, come save us.” This year my prayer is:
Oh carpenter, father of the living God, thank you for your life of contemplative prayer and work.
Oh carpenter, thank you for your example of protecting the unwed mother and the newborn.
Oh carpenter, thank you for not giving up on finding a place to stay with Mary. Protect the homeless and help authorities find more affordable housing for the poor and displaced.
Thank you for insisting on the safety of people who were forced to flee their homes. Protect all immigrants and asylum seekers throughout the world.
Oh carpenter, inspire us to deepen our prayer lives so that we may always have listening hearts open to doing the will of the Father and to act in practical, kind and gentle ways in our lives as Benedictines.
Oh Son of the Carpenter, come to save us.