statue of St. Joseph holding Madonna House's chapel

Patron of the Upset Plans

Fr. Denis Lemieux

The Fourth Sunday of Advent for Year A (Dec 18 this year) tells the story of Jesus’ virginal conception in the womb of Mary (Mt 1: 18-24). In Matthew’s Gospel we hear the story, not from Mary’s perspective, but from that of Joseph her betrothed.

Oh, St. Joseph! Patron saint of the upset plans! Patron saint of all those who find their lives turned upside down, all they thought would happen not happening, and things they never imagined could happen to them, happening. Who can’t relate to this man and his situation?

There he is, betrothed to a young woman who must have seemed to him the most wonderful, beautiful, virtuous of all women. Which she was and is, of course.

While we don’t really know much at all about the inner life of Joseph and Mary and their relationship, it must have seemed to him that a graced, joyous life of marital happiness was stretched out before him.

And then . . . it all changes. She is pregnant. This must have seemed to him a shattering of everything he thought he knew about her, and of everything he thought his life was going to be.

He would divorce her quietly, and somehow carry on, he knew not how.

But then . . . the angel, the dream. The word. The unfathomable possibility that somehow all of this was from God and for God and had salvific meaning and purpose. God was with us (vs. 23) and more importantly for Joseph, God was with him in the midst of it all.

We all know the happy ending of the story: Joseph did as the Angel of the Lord had commanded him; he took her as his wife (vs. 24).

On the other hand, Joseph would never have the kind of married life he must have imagined; the child was to be his, but not his, his life caught up in a mystery of God he could never have anticipated.

Well, what about us? Leaving aside the particulars of Joseph’s situation which are of course unique to him, who of us cannot identify with this to some great or small degree?

Who gets through life without ever having their apple cart upset? Who has not had the experience of calamitous change, life changing radically and dramatically in a moment of time? And all we planned, all we hoped for, all we thought would be, lying shattered in pieces all about us.

St. Joseph, patron of the upset plans, pray for us.

I think of people in my life just in the past months who are in that situation.

One man driving down the road, healthy, full of energy, full of ideas for the future. Then suddenly he suffered a massive heart attack. Now as I write this, he is fighting for his life, his wife at his side, the future uncertain for them both.

St. Joseph, patron of the upset plans, pray for us.

Or the married couple with a bunch of kids, finding themselves pregnant when they did not expect it, and having to adjust their life accordingly, which they do. A new plan, God’s and not theirs.

But then a few weeks later, the child miscarries, and the plan changes again, attended by much grief and loss.

St. Joseph, patron of the upset plans, pray for us.

Or the young couple just starting their family, full of expectations and hopes for their children. And then one of their children develops multiple medical issues and special needs, and it all changes, in ways scary and uncertain.

St. Joseph, patron of the upset plans, pray for us.

A young couple, after a few years, their life together is not at all what they thought it would be. Financial worries, inter-personal conflicts, struggles on every level—not what they had hoped for at all on their wedding day.

St. Joseph, patron of the upset plans, pray for us.

Oh, it goes on and on—we think this will happen, but then that happens. Or what we thought would happen does, but it is entirely different from what we imagined.

And on the more mundane everyday level, the plan we had for our day, the work we intended to get done or the things we had hoped to accomplish—whatever happens, it usually isn’t quite that, and we just have to deal with it.

Their plans that day come to nothing (Psalm 146: 4). St. Joseph, pray for us, indeed.

Well, what are we supposed to do in the face of all this? After all, some of the scenarios I describe above (all real ones, so if you could pray for those folks, that’d be great!) are serious ones, involving real suffering, loss, heartbreak.

Death is the ultimate “upset plan” in all of our lives. One day indeed, all our plans will come to nothing, for good.

The famous silence of St. Joseph seems to me the key to the matter. In the face of life and its twists and turns, reverses and seeming tragedies, it is silence that opens us up as Joseph was open, to the angel, the dream, the word, the God who is with us in the midst of it.

We are creatures stubbornly fixed on taking control of our lives. We do this in many ways, all the paths of mastery and manipulation, of aggression and able domination of a situation.

But there is a way of control which all of us engage in that is so woven into the fabric of our lives that we don’t even know we are doing it.

And that is the way of our words. Putting words to our experience, shaping into manageable meaning the raw data of life as it comes to us, making sense of life through articulating that sense to ourselves and to others—all of this is inescapably human and not really all that wrong (After all, that’s what I’m doing by writing this article, right?).

Except . . . it is our sense that we are giving to things, our meaning that we ascribe to the experience, our story that we are fashioning from what is happening to and around us.

What about God’s sense, God’s meaning, God’s story? When the plans we have laid and the story we have carefully constructed for our life falls to pieces and lies in wreckage around us, it is time to become very silent and still, to wait and watch for God to write his story in us, to speak his word in us, to tell us his truth about what is happening, and from that, to learn what he would have us do.

We all want to be the author or at least the editor of our own life, and the central protagonist in the narrative, too.

St. Joseph’s greatness is his consent to be, in a sense, a character in someone else’s story, or to be precise, in Someone Else’s story, and to allow that Someone to write it the way He wanted it written, not the way Joseph would have had it.

And it is silence, the deliberate eschewing of our own words, our own shaping of reality by those words, that is needed for us to enter into the reality of God whenever it intrudes on us, when our will is not being done, when our lives fall apart in ways big or small.

St. Joseph, patron of the upset plans, pray for us.

Readings for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Dec. 18th: Mt 1:18-24, Is 7:10-14, Rom 1:1-7