He Had Nothing to Do With It

by Fr. Denis Lemieux

On December 8, Pope Francis took most of us by surprise by declaring 2021 to be the Year of St. Joseph. His apostolic letter Patris Corde beautifully lays out his reasons for this declaration, and it is well worth reading, if you haven’t already done so.

While I was pleasantly surprised at this papal initiative, I must say Joseph had been much on my mind and heart for some time now. I always begin spiritual direction sessions (a major component of my priestly ministry at MH) by invoking the intercession of Our Lady of Combermere and St. Joseph.

In recent months quite a number of my directees, with little or no prompting from me,  consecrated themselves to St. Joseph. (They used a book by Fr. Donald Calloway that is quite popular right now: Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father.)

St. Joseph, in other words, was already having his own “year”, so to speak, his own moment of coming to a greater prominence in the lives of many of us, before the official proclamation.

Since his solemnity comes up on March 19, I thought I would depart from my usual monthly column on the Sunday readings and talk about this great patron saint of the Universal Church and of so many other things.

As I was pondering all this, I had a vivid flashback of our Melkite Rite Archbishop Joseph Raya and how he would talk about St. Joseph, particularly around Christmas and the specific reality of Mary’s maternity and bearing of the Word Made Flesh into the world. He would frequently say, with great emphasis, “Joseph had nothing to do with it!”

This often caused some consternation among us Roman Rite Catholics, where devotion to St. Joseph runs strong.

And while the Byzantine Catholic churches certainly do venerate Joseph as a saint, for the archbishop defense of the miraculous virginal conception of Christ was a more pressing matter to emphasize in his Middle Eastern context of religious pluralism and often tense theological debate and polemic.

This time, when I heard those old familiar words—he had nothing to do with it—resounding in my head, however, I heard them with a new meaning and relevance.

It is true, of course—Joseph is not the natural father of Jesus Christ. He had nothing to do with Mary being found “with child.” As the Gospels faithfully attest, his initial intention was to quietly divorce her and remove himself from what must have been a most painful situation.

He had nothing to do with it—and this is in fact St. Joseph’s true greatness, path to holiness, and abiding relevance to our world in the year 2021.

He had nothing to do with it… until he chose to have everything to do with it. It wasn’t his problem… until he chose to make it his problem. He was absolutely within his rights to walk away from Mary and the child she carried, according to any norm of society or religion in his day… and he chose not to exercise his rights.

And so he became a true husband to Mary and a true father to Jesus. And his life took on a new meaning, a new scope, a higher, deeper, and more exalted vocation to fatherhood and espousal than anything he could have envisaged.

This is so utterly relevant in all of our lives. Certainly for anyone who is a serious follower of Jesus Christ, and really anyone who is simply trying to live a decent life not driven by utter selfishness, there will be time upon time again when we are confronted with difficult and painful situations that have nothing to do with us.

People living in poverty and affliction that we didn’t cause and that we are not overtly responsible for allaying. Situations in all shapes and sizes of disorder, chaos, confusion, mess. And it wasn’t our mess; we didn’t have anything to do with it.

And yet… the call of Christ, the call of God, the call of selfless service is there—roll up our sleeves and get working, open our hearts, give our time, our attention, our wealth such as it is—all to make what was not our problem, ours to fix, or at least to do what we can to fix.

Our world in 2021 is addicted, seemingly, to finger pointing and blame shifting. The main goal when confronted with any situation of social evil and human suffering is to figure out whose fault it is (not ours!) and then bewail the wickedness and perfidy of “those other guys over there.”

Like small children confronted with a broken lamp, our primary concern is to proclaim that “I didn’t do it!”

Our responsibility ends, seemingly, when we write an angry tweet or Facebook post pointing out who did and how rotten “those other people” are. This happens across the political spectrum and over a wide range of issues and concerns.

St. Joseph did none of that. He didn’t bemoan his own victimhood and wash his hands as quickly as he could of a burden that was seemingly not his to carry. Prompted by the angelic dream and in a spirit of humble obedience to God’s call, he took Mary as his wife and took Jesus as his Son.

Well, if this isn’t a way forward in the year 2021, I don’t know what is!

We all gaze out on a world that is filled with problems and chaos that seems beyond our power to solve. Certainly, we behold a landscape of social, spiritual, and medical problems that no one of us can honestly say we caused.

It is a whirlwind of calamities, an edifice of disastrous mishaps so interlocked in their origin and outcomes that finger-pointing is a particularly useless endeavor.

We run out of fingers before we even get started. Not that this has dissuaded us from trying.

Instead of the tiresome path of blame and lamentation of how unfair it all is, perhaps St. Joseph could help us to take his path, instead. In other words, just pick up the baby and see what he needs!

Instead of expending our energies raging about this politician or that bureaucrat or those bad guys or those irresponsible people over there, maybe we should all just take some responsibility, not for having caused the problems we are all beset with, but for solving them.

Because no matter what has caused the broken wreckage of the world which we see on so many sides all round us, there are a lot of people trapped in that wreckage who are in pain.

What can you do, what can I do, what can each one of us do and the whole Christian community together do to assuage the pain of so many suffering people, to be spiritual fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters to so many who really need our help right now?

St. Joseph did what the angel told him, did what he was given to do (and no small thing it was, either), and so made possible all that followed. The whole story of salvation rested in its beginnings, on the silent hidden choice of this man to give shelter and succor, protection and provision, to this woman and her child.

And so it is, and so it always will be. The hidden small choices you and I make each day to love this person, to care about that situation, to do what is in our power to help here, there, wherever we see a need for help and our own ability to do so—this is the fabric Christ weaves day by day in his ongoing work of saving souls and healing hearts.

This is the house of God being erected day by day in the world, a refuge and a bulwark for many against the darkness and evils of our times.

May St. Joseph teach us to be good builders, and above all to simply get on with it—to give our lives to the task of love and service God has called us to do. It has nothing to do with us. It has everything to do with us. It is what our lives are for.