"Saint Joseph was a just man, a tireless worker, the upright guardian of those entrusted to his care. May he always guard, protect and enlighten families." - Pope John Paul II
I'm under the kitchen table again, dustpan and broom in hand, sweeping up crumbs. The chores of daily life are many, and I can't really explain why it is the sweeping of crumbs that I hate the most. It's not hard and it doesn't take long. There's no logical explanation for it at all, except that it's housekeeping and I actually dislike most housekeeping and this is the chore that must be done three times a day, every day.
If I were better, more evolved, more Zen in my approach to daily life, I would find spiritual practice in the liturgy. I would kneel not with resentment but with gratitude, humbled with adoration and thanksgiving that I have two healthy toddlers to clean up after. If I wanted to, I could count it toward one thousand gifts of small blessing that fill up the days.
But I am not better and I am not evolved and I am not Zen, so more often than not I'm just a grouch with a dustpan.
Something about the fine covering of crumbs reminds me of sawdust, and I think of Joseph. March 19th is Saint Joseph's Day, a feast day in the Catholic Church. It's traditional to serve dishes with breadcrumbs for his table, a remembrance of the days Joseph spent as a carpenter, providing for his family.
I wonder to myself if he would roll his eyes and smirk that this - sawdust - would symbolize his legacy, or if he would nod beatifically, smiling at his dusty legacy of devotion.
At first glance, it seems a little strange that Saint Joseph's Day would always be remembered in the midst of Lent when it is the Advent season that shines the most adoring light on the man. He is at the epicenter of the story of the coming of Christ as a newborn baby, a light borne into our dark world. It is in Advent that we look to Joseph as a man whose plan to quietly divorce Mary in her disgrace was sacrificed on an alter of fear and trust of the LORD, a man who supported and cared for his betrothed in her vulnerable state, a man who served as doula, serving the Virgin Mother in her delivery and the Holy Infant in His birth.
Yes, it is in the Advent season that we remember Joseph in all his bent-knee glory. But on second thought, it is far more appropriate to celebrate him in the midst of Lent, the season of sacrifice.
All we really know from Scripture of the man is that at every turn, he served God with quiet devotion. Marrying Mary in the face of their culture's heavy disapproval, traveling to Bethlehem to meet the census requirement, fleeing to Egypt following a dream-delivered warning against the danger of Herod, taking Jesus to temple, and then ... that's it. His last appearance in the black and white of the Word finds him collecting Jesus after a panicked moment of losing Him, and then radio silence.
We have to imagine in between the lines that the rest of his days (we don't even know how many they number) were spent in loyal devotion to his family, teaching his sons the family trade, raising the Lord Jesus Christ alongside the carpenter's bench, sweeping up sawdust as daily liturgy.
Whatever dreams he may have had for his life, he laid down in the echo of the angel's words.
Hundreds of years before the Church carved out forty days to practice the sacrifice of the Lenten season, he and Mary lived it in the flesh. And so it is actually incredibly fitting, isn't it then?, that we would remember Saint Joseph with a feast today. May we live as he did, yielded hearts and bended knees, dustpans in hand, open to quiet service of Immanuel, God with us.
* * * * *
The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.
While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:
Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).
Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus. -- Matthew 1:18-25 The Message