The Plans That We Make
I like to make plans. I try to see dangers or opportunities on my path and plan accordingly. I tend to get a bit anxious when I have to change my plans at the last minute. In fact, one of my Redemptorist confreres used to say to me, “Don’t anticipate, participate!” While I can be spontaneous at times, I tend to have my day scheduled and my activities prepared. It is for this reason that I can somewhat appreciate how difficult Joseph’s life must have been. Imagine this poor carpenter with his plans for his young wife-to-be. They would be married, have some children, and live as peaceful a life as possible under the Roman occupation. He was preparing a home for them and bragging to his friends about the beautiful young woman that would fill that home with love.
All of this was shattered when he found out that Mary was pregnant. We are not told how her condition was revealed, but Joseph knew and all his plans were ruined. I can’t imagine his sense of betrayal and his humiliation when all of his plans came crashing down. He had no sense of any miracle or that Mary was innocent. He just wanted to send her away and begin to rebuild his plans from the rubble. It is during this time that the Gospel of Matthew introduces us to Joseph. He was a righteous, but defeated man. He suffered great pain and heartache before the angel came to him. I feel great sympathy for the poor carpenter whose dreams were just crushed by a woman he must have believed was unfaithful to him.
What great strength he must have had to respond to the angel in his dream. He was able to forgive, believe and be joined to Mary based on a heavenly message that would be difficult for any of us to obey. While we Catholics rightly remember the sufferings of Mary, especially at the cross, I don’t think that we often appreciate the real sufferings of Joseph. He had to be willing to walk this difficult vocation with Mary and Jesus, based on a private revelation in his dream. I admire that kind of faith. I admire that kind of strength. He was certainly a righteous and faithful man. I come back again to the theme of detachment that we have heard from Saint Alphonsus this Advent. Sometimes we have to let go of our plans, even if they are good plans to deal with the reality of our situation. To have the surrender to let our plans change, our dreams be unfulfilled, is truly a grace that Saint Joseph can teach to us.
I think what connects many people to the story of Joseph is that so many of us have had hopes shattered and plans crumble around us. I am not referring here to the dreams of our childhood that we quickly outgrow, like I will be a professional athlete or an astronaut or a singer on Broadway. These dreams give us some joy, but we soon realize that so few people ever see these types of dreams come true. I am referring to the simple plans that we make that really do seem so easy. I am going to fall in love and get married. I am going to work hard and succeed in my career. I am going to have enough money to retire when I am older. For many of us, our plans that many seem to be able to attain end up out of reach. We think that we can plot out our future, but trials and crises force us to change and even abandon them. It is then that we are tested with the anxiety that Joseph understood so well. We thought that we would have a prosperous life, but then our child requires continuous medical treatment. We thought our marriage would be happy and lifelong, until we end up fighting and hating each other all the time. We thought we would have more time, and then the doctor says the worst word to our ears, “cancer”. Our plans lie shattered and we are suddenly so unsure of what the future will hold.
It would be really convenient if in these times God would send an angel to each one of us to calm our fears and tell us how we fit into His will. I have not had that dream yet, have you? Instead I find myself experiencing God’s angels in my friends or family. My church community and my neighbors can be the comfort of God in these times. When I hear the Word proclaimed at Mass or suddenly find some peace in prayer, it can be the time when my faith is strengthened and I can move forward to rebuild my plans. I can even ask Saint Joseph to pray for me in those times since he is so familiar with my struggles.
This last year a member of my family was diagnosed with cancer. While I tried to be a strong support and presence in times of need, my work and vocation did not always allow me to be there. What brought me great joy was when I would hear stories of members of my family rallying to help. I heard of neighbors visiting and sharing. I also know that people from the parish were praying and helping as well. It was a great testimony of a life surrounded by caring friends and family that brought hope and healing during treatment. It looks now as if the cancer has been completely removed and there is a rebuilding now of plans and a future. We walked with our Saint Joseph, and found God all around us in the love and support of the community.
I hope that each person here has someone that they can turn to when their plans are crushed. The worst situation is to find ourselves in the midst of shattered dreams and to feel alone and isolated as well. To face our plan’s destruction all alone is such a desperate and dark place. I believe this is one of the reasons why the Church is so important. This community should be one place where damaged people with lost dreams can come to find support and love. If someone has nowhere to go, they should be able to come to the believers to find healing and understanding. We are called to support the Saint Josephs in our midst, and to find our angels around us when our own plans are ruined.