“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid…”
Right now I am afraid. Where I once had meaningful work, now I am in a liminal space where I can’t hide in what I do. The world is uncertain. The safety of loved ones is in jeopardy. And my emotions are on a roller coaster that I cannot understand no matter how much I try to stuff what is happening to me into some pre-made psychological explanation.
I’d love someone to talk to. Someone outside the situations in which I live where I could pour out my heart. I struggle with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and the radical emotional ups and downs that are part of the illness. I want to hide. Hide the shame of not having it all together. Hide the humiliation that comes with loss and replacement and transition. At story lines changed…. At personal images cracked…. At the uncertainty of how it will all turn out… At the weakness exposed in my surrender to the Lord…
These words, the images they evoke, the feelings they express are way larger than the situation I am living calls for. But everyone knows what it’s like when we can’t seem to fit what’s happening in our lives into the previous plan we’ve had for ourselves and others.
The Gospel today offers a lifeline for times such as these when they happen to us. Joseph was in such a dilemma. The plans he had made with Mary, the expectations, the idea he had of her and the image he had painted in his heart for the rest of his life suddenly no longer made sense in the face of the inexplicable and undeniable fact that Mary was with child.
It is part of our responsibility as adults to plan, to project the future, to prepare for it. We think we know who we are and what God is asking us to do and we do our best to make that happen. And at the very moment when we feel sure, secure, pleased with ourselves, the plans break down, mercifully so.
As beautiful as Joseph and Mary’s plans may have been, and they remain in the secret conversations they must have had, they were based on what they knew and wanted at the moment they made them, and on what they believed God wanted of them.
At our birth, however, God’s pristine plans for our good and his delight are imprinted in our destiny. Again and again I have to remind myself to let my plans go in order to let the eternally-desired destiny willed by God for me to unfold.
Today is the feast of the Nativity of Mary. There is a long venerable tradition since the sixth century of celebrating the birth of Mary, the mother of Jesus, the woman who, in the words of Augustine, “is the flower of the field from whom bloomed the precious lily of the valley.”
Joseph, at the words of the angel and the desire of God, dropped his plans and expected future in order to perfectly conform their life together to the mystery that had been inscribed in Mary since her conception.
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.”
This saint chosen to play such a key role in the story of salvation solicitously looks after each of us as he looked after the Son of God. Joseph teaches us to sing the “Let it be as you will” in a patience that waits for the storm of emotions to subside, suffering to deepen into union, and love to raise us up in spirit. The solitude and slowly transformative work of grace in these difficult situations carve out our greatness of spirit.
So today, if you are wondering what your life is meant to be—or that of someone else you care about—if carefully laid plans or self-images are falling apart, look back to the moment of creation and birth. The Trinity sang a song over you, has a plan for you, desired you, delights in you even now and will forever. The breaking apart of all we think should be is often the divine path back to the source of our own beauty, call, and happiness.
Ask Mary and Joseph for the courage to say your own Fiat—Let it be….
Kathryn James Hermes, FSP, is the author of the newly released title: Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life’s Disappointments, by Pauline Books and Media. An author and spiritual mentor, she offers spiritual accompaniment for the contemporary Christian’s journey towards spiritual growth and inner healing. She is the director of My Sisters, where people can find spiritual accompaniment from the Daughters of St. Paul on their journey. Website: www.touchingthesunrise.com Public Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/srkathrynhermes/ For monthly spiritual journaling guides, weekly podcasts and over 50 conferences and retreat programs join my Patreon community: https://www.patreon.com/srkathryn.