If anyone’s vocation deserved to be free from the hardships it was St. Joseph’s. After all, he was given the exalted task of protecting God and the Blessed Virgin. Yet from the word “go!” he encountered one hardship after another that could have been easily been prevented by God. In fact, he was given three hardships that gave him great anguish of spirit.
If we but seriously meditate on his life we will never approach the work God has for us with the expectation that it should be without hardships. Rejection by our own people, scorn from others, the disappointment of failures, waiting for long periods of time, detours, exile and even the appearance that the Lord himself has abandoned us will not throw us for such a loop. Indeed, following the example of St. Joseph, we too can press on knowing that the Lord uses circumstances that take on the appearance of failure for our greater good and his greater glory.
Estrangement from His Spouse:
Have you ever wondered why, after appearing to the Blessed Virgin to announce the coming of Christ, the angel Gabriel did not immediately appear to St. Joseph in order to inform him that the Messiah would be conceived of the Holy Spirit; that God would make it possible for Mary to be both virgin and mother?
Instead, there was an interim period of misunderstanding and anguish on the part of St. Joseph. God could have prevented this misunderstanding but he chose not to. And the reason he chose not to was due to some moral and spiritual benefit St. Joseph would gain. Certainly, a lot of tears could have been spared; but often tears can be every bit as redemptive as the blood of martyrs which, as the early Christian adage goes, is the seed of the Church.
In his temporary emotional estrangement, St. Joseph, when having the wrong impression about his betrothed, had to rely on God. Indeed, during this short period of time not even the Mother of God could help him because, after all, she was the object of his suspicion and doubt. Alone he stood, confounded over God’s plan and anguished in spirit.”
However, the angel appeared to St. Joseph in a dream in order to vindicate the virginal integrity of Mary’s pregnancy. At last, his anguish was relieved. With a sigh of relief St. Joseph concluded that in good conscience he could remain the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And to be sure, his joy of doing so was revived. But in a matter of a few short months two things were to happen simultaneously that would make his calling as a protector and bread-winner of the Holy Family that much more difficult. Indeed, his hardships were only beginning. After he weathered the first hardship, the second one was soon to follow.
The census edict was issued by Caesar Augustus enjoining the head of each household to register in their hometown just when Mary was due to give birth. From a human point of view, the timing could not be worse! And as for St. Joseph, he probably hadn’t been to his hometown in Bethlehem, where he was to comply with this edict, in quite some time. After all, the traveling distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem was at least a two to three day walk, maybe even more. And because of the edict, traveling from one town to another would be like traveling on a busy holiday. Scores of people would be frequenting the roads and the inns. By the time the Holy Family would get to Bethlehem, St. Joseph’s innate instinct as a husband and father to provide for his Family would be greatly challenged.
St. Joseph's second hardship then was leaving the security of his work and the comforts of his home when his Spouse needed the best kind of care for the birth of her First Born Child. Such was God's will. But as Jesus would say some thirty years later, "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God." This man of God would be forced to totally rely on Divine Providence. Once the Holy Family arrived in Bethlehem, another hardship awaited him.
Failure to Provide:
Certainly a man as good as St. Joseph would deserve the hospitality of Bethlehem, his hometown, and any accommodations it could afford to provide. Certainly a nice warm room or a spacious house would be made available to him. And certainly, if he was called to make these sacrifices for the Son of God, he would get a little cooperation from Divine Providence. But God's ways are not our ways. The third hardship that was imposed on St. Joseph was certainly not to his liking. After all, there is no worse feeling for a man than to not be able to provide room and board for his family.
A quick glance at this story may give the average person warm feelings. But when one really sits down and meditates on the real historic details of that story, one cannot help but consider the angst and worry St. Joseph must have felt after having encountered one closed door after another. It is even conceivable that he was tempted to despair. What a failure he must have felt!
Regarding God’s chosen servants, Fr. Paul Marie de la Croix said that “sometimes they encounter a failure which he permits even though he has first assured victory; sometimes, for no apparent reason, they experience a reversal of God’s relationship to them. They seem to be permanently abandoned or even rejected, though divine favor and friendship had been theirs before. They have not been guilty of the slightest infidelity, but they must become fit for the final mystery of faith.” Indeed, in the eyes of the world being forced to seek shelter in a cave right outside of Bethlehem is not a blessing but a curse.
However, it was the will of Jesus Christ himself, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, to be born in humble circumstances. It was fitting that the King of Kings be born in a grotto so that even the despised and yet humble shepherds would approach him and do him homage. Hence, little did St. Joseph know that what appeared to be a “failure” on his part was a great blessing for the world.