The subject of dreams and their interpretation is usually related to unresolved issues which may be left over from previous years or from current problems.
So Joseph has a remarkable dream. Most people wouldn’t make important decisions based on the mandate of a dream. But according to the wisdom of Depth Psychology, dreams offer us a latent truth about ourselves, however confusing. The individual must decode the images so that, clearly, logically, the truth will emerge.
The angel speaks:
‘Joseph, you belong to the family tree of King David from whom the Messiah will be born. You must not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the Child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit, a mystery wrought by God.’
‘Mary will give birth to a son, and you must name him Jesus. As the Child’s earthly father, you must give him his identity. The Law requires it. Without your consent, God’s plan for the world will be thwarted. This Child will save his people from their sins.’
Joseph awakens with the certainty of Mary’s innocence. He will obey the angel’s message. Fear no longer grips him. He and Mary will be God’s instruments in the plan of salvation. The angel of the Lord has untied the knot. Peace floods his soul. He hasn’t flaunted the Law. Rather, he has discerned its depth according to God’s design.
Throughout the Child’s infancy, Joseph faced many decisions that needed discerning, supported by faith and reason. His faith excluded naiveté and superstition. Still, there was a limit to reason, and, in the long run, in this singular event, reason had to be suspended in favor of the leap of faith and complete trust in God.
Patron of Discernment
Strictly speaking, the notion of discernment refers to making small and big decisions in the light of faith and at the level of faith. We human beings are moved by a maze of complex motives which are driven by images, ideas, attractions, revulsions—in other words, spirits, good and bad. We use the word spirit in a number of ways, for example, school spirit, the spirit of generosity, the spirit of ’76, the spirit of the Constitution.
When confronted with making a decision, certain variable emotions or spirits make us take notice. Feelings of serving God’s pleasure or only my own may clash. Certain feelings may pull us in the direction toward God, while others pull us away from God. It’s a tug of war, the battle from within.
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Discernment may first involve a tug of war between choosing the good and the bad or between choosing the good and the better. Prayer evens out this tug of war so that interior balance remains. When we can honestly tell ourselves that the good spirit is bringing us peace, joy, charity, and the like, then we can be virtually certain of a good decision. If the opposite is true, that is, if in making a decision, unrest and agitation are present, we can almost always be sure that the decision is not a good one. In “A Man for All Seasons,” Robert Bolt assigns these discerning words to St. Thomas More:
“God made the angels to show him splendor
As he made animals for innocence
And plants for their simplicity.
But to man, he gave an intellect
to serve him wittily in the tangle of his mind.”
Out of Obscurity: A Patron for All and for All Seasons
There is good reason why Joseph is considered a hidden or forgotten saint. After the year 1,000, his name is mentioned in a few saints’ lists in Germany and Ireland. In the Christian East, Joseph ranks as a minor figure in the life of Christ.
Beginning in the fifteenth century, Joseph is depicted as an old man because the Church wanted to preserve the notion of Mary’s perpetual virginity. In the Counter-Reformation, he is depicted as the patriarchal head of the Holy Family, but he is still old and considered the foster-father of Jesus and not his earthly father, a more precise description. Following the leads of St. Bernardine of Siena and St. Francis de Sales, contemporary art rejects earlier depictions, and portrays the sound theology that Joseph was young, virile, and of marriageable age. (Sandra Miesel, “Finding St. Joseph,” Online article).
Our saint is the patron of families, patron of fathers, patron of laborers and of organized labor. He is the patron of many religious institutes named after him. In him, we have a shining example of all the virtues needed for the Holy Family, the Christian family, or any family.