March 19, 2014

Joseph’s Annunciation

By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

In all likelihood, most of us would not make important decisions based on a dream we had. According to psychoanalysts, dreams tell us a truth about ourselves but in confusing ways.  The individual must decode the images so that the truth will emerge clearly.  In the psychological thriller, “Spellbound,” and in the musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” this is what happens thanks to dream sequences.  But make a decision over a dream?

Joseph’s Dilemma

The Matthean Gospel narrative is familiar (1:18-25).  The written marriage contract between the parents of Joseph and Mary has already been drawn up. Legally they are married. As soon as Joseph takes Mary into his home, the marriage ceremony will be completed.  But when he finds that she is pregnant, he is shaken to the core.  He is not the child’s father. Either Mary has committed a sin of unchastity or she has been violated.  Joseph could not have dreamed of encountering such a dilemma. Apart from a public trial, how to untie the knot!

Joseph’s Sensitivity

Joseph’s devotion to the Law is exceeded by his sensitivity to Mary.  Though the mystery of her pregnancy is deeply disturbing, he is convinced of her virtue. Still he will not pursue a public trial. Caught in between two ends, he will choose a middle ground: Divorce Mary quietly with a minimum of embarrassment to her. 

The Dream

When people brood over problems, the problems often follow them to bed.  This intractable mystery preyed on Joseph’s mind so much so that it entered into his subconscious. For Joseph, the dilemma came alive in a dream, a dream like no other.  He was about to be thrust into the center of God’s plan to save the world.  How could he know?

In Luke’s narrative (Lk1:26-45), Gabriel’s annunciation of the Messiah requires Mary’s consent to make it come about.  In the Matthean narrative, the angel who appears to Joseph in his dream seeks his cooperation in this event as well.  The message conveys urgency and calls for an immediate response:

1. “Joseph, son of David,” (Joseph belongs to the family tree of King David from whom the Messiah will be born.)

2. “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.”  (Joseph’s fear is anticipated and addressed.)

3. “For the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”  (This mystery is wrought by God.)

4. “She will give birth to a son, and you must name him Jesus.” (Joseph, as the Child’s prospective earthly father, must legitimize his birth, as the Law requires.  Without his consent, God’s plan for the world will be thwarted.)

5. “He will save his people from their sins.” (Joseph perceives that the Child born to Mary is the Messiah; the two and are one and the same.)
Joseph awakes from this dramatic but comforting dream. One thing is certain:  Mary is not guilty of any sin but a woman of virtue.   He does what the angel tells him. Their joint vocation sets them apart to nurture, guide, and protect the God-Man.  Together, they will be instruments of God to bring about the plan of redemption. 

The Byzantine tradition describes St. Joseph as, “Joseph, the comely,” which refers not only to his physical appearance but also to the beauty of his soul.  According to the Qu’ran, one-half of the world’s beauty was bestowed on Joseph and Mary, while the other half was given to humanity. (Robert Tottoli, Biblical Prophets in Qu’ran and Muslim Literature, 120).

Two Saints on St. Joseph

St. Bernardine of Siena writes that “there is a general rule concerning all special graces granted to any human being.  Whenever the divine favor chooses someone to receive a special grace, or to accept a lofty vocation, God adorns the person chosen with all the gifts of the Spirit needed to fulfill the task at hand.  This general rule is especially verified in the case of Saint Joseph.”

And from St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church:

“I do not remember even now that I have ever asked anything of St. Joseph which he has failed to grant.”

“I wish I could persuade everyone to be devoted to this glorious saint, for I have great experience of the blessing which he can obtain from God.
“Though you have recourse to many saints as your intercessors, go especially to St. Joseph, for he has great powers with God.”

Finally, Emily Dickinson describes a man who could be St. Joseph:

I fear a Man of frugal Speech

I fear a Silent Man
Haranguer I can overtake
Or Babbler, entertain.

But he who weigheth while the rest
Expend their furthest pound
Of this Man I am wary
I fear that He is Grand.

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is [email protected].

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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