For St Joseph

The Gospels give us very little information about Joseph, and each of the readings for today seem to miss him by inches. He is almost anonymous on his own feast day. The reading from Second Samuel is read as referring not to Joseph, himself a descendant of David, but to his foster-son Jesus, and in the Gospel passage Joseph is referred to only third-hand by a distraught Mary as “Your father and I”— a handy witness for the prosecution. But he is not extraneous but integral. Joseph makes for Mary and Jesus the necessary protective setting, the home in every respect in which a young life can take root and grow.

The life of St Joseph in its context in the Gospels shows up a kind of Möbius Strip in which the life of the body and the life of the soul in reality form one single whole. As though a "Joseph" and a "Mary," the outer life of faithful practice and the inner life of contemplation are wedded to one another; both are one coherent loop.

Joseph fades from the picture not long after the events of today’s Gospel, as though his active work of helping to form a life was done. Just so, our monastic rule of life is to become so ingrained through use that its discipline invisibly and subconsciously informs all that we do. St Benedict adverts to this in the prologue to the Rule, saying that the road to salvation is bound to be narrow at the outset, but that later his monks shall run on the path of the commandments, their hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.

Even though Joseph was a model of the virtues for the Child who was at once foster son and the holy God in whose image Joseph was made, still Joseph "worked out his salvation with fear and trembling," understanding, however obscurely, that God was at work in him and through him for God's own purpose. For Joseph, it seems, as TS Eliot says, there was “only the trying.” The rest was not his business. So too for us. There is only the trying; the rest is not our business, and it is to this end that we have prayed today, “Give us grace to imitate St Joseph's uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands.”

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