When we put our home on the market in preparation to move to seminary, someone suggested burying a miniature statue of St. Joseph in our front yard. They promised it would help our home sell. I was more than a bit skeptical, to be honest. Nonetheless, I went to a catholic bookstore and bought a boxed “St. Joseph Home Selling Kit.”
As we unboxed St. Joseph and read the directions, I laughed at the fact we were to bury St. Joseph upside down and facing the home.
Upside down. Seriously? Poor Joseph! What did he do to deserve this treatment?! But, you know, the directions said to bury the poor guy upside down, so that’s what we did. Plunk. I really felt bad for Joseph.
The truth is, though, we often find St. Joseph in upside down situations in the Gospel stories, particularly in Matthew. Joseph learns his wife-to-be is pregnant, and then an angel comes to him in a dream, encouraging Joseph to embrace the mystery of the Holy Spirit and the revelation of this baby to be named Jesus. Faithfully, Joseph obeys the command from the angel of the Lord. Two more times Joseph is visited by an angel in a dream: once, to flee to Egypt from Herod’s violence, and then later to return from Egypt once things have settled down a bit.
I understand sleepless nights as a parent. Throw in a few angels visiting you between some tossing and turning, and I imagine life really begins to feel surreal and topsy-turvy. But truth be told, it doesn’t take an angel directing us to pick up and run to feel as though life is upside down.
Parenting and family life comes at us with all sorts of curveballs and off-speed pitches. Late-night ER visits, bad grades, a lost stuffed animal, a terrifying diagnosis, job transitions, puberty, forgetting to swap a dollar for that tooth under the pillow, and a host of many other scenarios will turn life upside down. From momentary, mild situations to severe and trying scenarios, it is a common experience to find ourselves upside down in a hole. Sometimes that hole is like an inconvenient pothole, and other times that hole is terribly deep and dark.
What I find really cool about Joseph is that, in the midst of these upside down situations, he is portrayed as someone who is steadfast and faithful to both God and his family. He is open to mystery and willing to trust God. He nurtures and protects with compassion and humility. Further, he is venerated for being patient, persistent, courageous, and hard working.
My dad happens to be a carpenter. He’s one of those old-world carpenters with tough, calloused hands from years of hard labor. And he is also a gentle and humble man who joyfully paints his granddaughter’s nails whenever she asks. He has never met a stranger and is generous to a fault. And when life turns upside down, he taught me to roll with the punches, get back up, and put one foot in front of the other.
Perseverance. Persistence. Courage. When I think of Joseph, it is easy to envision someone very much like my dad, which in turn makes it more accessible to become and embody a saint who feels so familiar. I find comfort and strength in the example of Joseph in the Gospel stories because they tell of a man that feels mysteriously familiar to me.
When life hits hard and I find myself upside down and in a hole, I hope to respond in a manner befitting of St. Joseph. I hope I can provide for my family (and myself!) a sense of peace and a steadfast grounding of trust in God. I hope I can embrace the mystery that comes with the movement of God. Mostly, I hope to be steadfast and faithful to God and my family, especially when that hole is deep and dark.
A Prayer for Today
O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
[Image Credit: Bartolomé Esteban Murillo [Public Domain], via Wikipedia]
How do you model a steadfast faith in situations that make you feel upside down?
What does a patient, persistent, and courageous faith look like, particularly as a parent?