God Dreams Big

by Fr. David May

Saint Joseph is known as a man of dreams. If you are familiar with the scripture passages that speak of his life, you know that he is a man obedient to those dreams sent from God. His obedience was quick, immediate, unquestioning, total.

By so doing, Joseph protected from all harm his little family, consisting of the Virgin Mother Mary and Jesus her son and the Eternal Son of God the Father.

He saved Mary from the deadly consequences of being charged with adultery. He saved Jesus from the murderous intentions of King Herod.

In every respect, therefore, St. Joseph is seen as a righteous man. He is an example all fathers and husbands can follow in this regard, that is, in trusting obedience to the word God gives them.

Have you ever wondered if this man of dreams, at one time in his life, had his own dreams? For it is normal that someone starting out in life have some kind of a dream or intuition of what that life will be.

We can only assume that he planned to have a happy married life with his betrothed, Mary of Nazareth.

Moreover, since he was of the house of David, there would at least be the possibility that the Messiah come from this union. Wasn’t that what God promised to the house of David: that it would endure forever and would one day be glorious again?

The Scriptures, however, are silent as to the personal dreams of the man of dreams. These, to the extent that they existed at all, are not mentioned as relevant to the narrative.

What is relevant to the narrative are God’s dreams for the human race. And his dream is that the human race would be saved from certain destruction by the coming of his Son, born of the Virgin, and son of David, of which Joseph represented a concrete presence.

God dreams big. His dreams far surpass the scope and the vision of our paltry dreams, even if at times our dreams are filled with strange images and seemingly cosmic upheavals. Maybe.

But after all, when we awaken, we say with either relief or disappointment, depending on the dream, “Oh, that was only a dream. Time to get up and make my cup of tea.”

Occasionally, dreams do have consequences for our lives, but this is comparatively rare, and most dreams have little conscious effect on the course of events. All the same, isn’t it part of the makeup of human nature that we have dreams?

I wonder what God did with the dreams of St. Joseph. Were they simply discarded, a kind of human Plan A that wasn’t meant to be, and now we have moved on to the (better) divine Plan B?

When we read about the attitude of Jesus toward the Scriptures of the old covenant, we read that he came not to abolish but to fulfil them. I wonder if the same principle applies to the dreams of St. Joseph, or your dreams, or mine?

Evidence seems kind of contrary. In other words, some people seem to live out their dreams quite extensively, and others are required to live a life having little to nothing to do with what they had hoped for.

Or is that selling God a bit short? Does he not unfailingly fulfil his promises to us, even if it is in a way we had not ever imagined or thought possible or even desirable?

When God fulfils his word, he seems to abolish it, annihilate it before he brings about something new. But maybe he is only burning away what is passing so as to salvage and bring forth what is eternal and deepest in our dreams.

For example, due to circumstances, I come from a family with two children. Something inside me always wanted to be part of something with many children. And here I am years later in a community with dozens and dozens of brothers and sisters in Christ!

I also had a silly kind of thought that would recur before I left home, of starting something small that would become something big in a nondescript location. I wanted this rather than to go somewhere big and become part of that.

And here I am in Combermere, Ontario, living out the first scenario much more than the second one!

I also dreamed of one day pouring out my life heroically to set other people free. This dream was usually centred on Eastern Europe, the one I knew as a child back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Perhaps that is being lived out another way as a priest, although the jury is still out on that one.

Yet most of these kinds of dreams featured yours truly as the conquering hero. Something in the dreams needed a drastic purification. I think the Lord is making every effort to secure said cleansing and stripping of the ego.

In that sense, my dreams have been abolished, annihilated, but in another sense, they have been fulfilled in a manner I could never have anticipated, and in a way that has far more scope than I could ever have imagined. For the Lord is faithful to his promises, and not outdone in generosity.

Joseph probably envisaged himself always as a protector of his family. It would be the natural desire of a righteous person obedient to the law of Moses.

But he never anticipated, I would think, to be a protector of the mystery of God on earth, in the persons of Mary and Jesus. His dream was transcended and carried to a far higher plane. He may have dreamed of being a father one day, but to be called to be the example of fatherly love in human form to the eternal Son of God, and thus an icon, one could say, of God the Father? Probably not quite!

He may have dreamed of pilgrimages to Jerusalem or trips to faraway lands, but losing a child for three days as the reason for returning to Jerusalem, and racing to Egypt to save the life of this child from a brutal king? Unlikely.

Can we not say therefore that Joseph knew the joy of losing himself to find himself anew in the mystery of God? For the Lord was to say at one point that our joy would be complete to the extent that we lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (John 15:11 ff.). Joseph, the righteous man, must have discovered this joy at a very deep level.

The transformation of the whole world depends upon this kind of righteousness. Few can help us so well to live our own offering as the man of silence who was also a man of dreams carrying out God’s plans in darkness and in light.