St. Joseph, a saint for an Age of Anxiety

A couple years ago, I preached on St. Joseph during Advent and reflected on the image above, by James Tissot, “The Anxiety of St. Joseph.”

We tend to think of Joseph the way we see him in the manger scene outside our church, or on the cards we send, or the pageants that are staged.   He is strong, stoic, patient – “righteous,” as Matthew describes him.

But Tissot understood that the man betrothed to Mary was a man of worries, and apprehension, and even fear.  This morning, I’d like to suggest that Joseph is also a man who speaks to our own time.

He is a man for our age – an Age of Anxiety.

He must have known economic uncertainty – wondering how he would support and sustain his family, running his own small business.  He had to pay taxes – to “render unto Caeser.”  Like many people today, shortly after his son was born, Joseph and his family became refugees, immigrants in a foreign land – the land that had held his people as slaves.  Joseph also lived with the threat of terror – a ruthless king bent on murdering children.

On a more personal level, Joseph knew the anxiety of any man about to become a father. He must have asked himself: am I ready for this?  Am I good enough, strong enough, wise enough? And then, confronting the very real possibility of scandal, Joseph must have had more than a few sleepless nights.  How, he must have wondered, could he protect and spare the woman he loved?

And — like Mary, the woman he loved — he also must have thought at some point: this is not what I had planned.   Everything is suddenly different.

How many of us have said that about our own lives?  How many of us have had to face, like Joseph, a confusing world with uncertainty, and doubt, and anxiety and fear?

How many of us have felt like the man in that Tissot drawing, frozen in place, while the world moves on around us, and we stand there and worry and wonder:  what do I do?   How will I get through this?

But into all that, in Joseph’s complicated life, comes a voice in a dream.

“Do not be afraid.  God is with us.”

And his world – and ours – is changed.

In the middle of “the anxiety of Joseph” comes blessed reassurance – and a reminder that God’s will sees beyond our fears, beyond our limitations.

When our lives can seem a nightmare, we cannot forget to dream.

You can read the rest here.

Meantime, happy St. Joseph’s Day.

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    Ever since adopting my son (my only child) I’ve felt a special connection to St. Joseph. Plus I’m an engineer and I was startled to find that St. Joseph is the patron saint of engineers. Happy St. Joseph’s Day. Unfortunately I probably won’t be able to go out and get St. Joseph’s pastries this year.

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  • Dave in AR

    I too have felt close to St. Joseph since the birth of my first child. When anxious about being a good father I’ve asked for his intercession. I still wear the St. Joseph medal I bought a little over 18 years ago as the date of my son’s birth approached. Happy St. Joseph Day to all!

  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    Ha! I was able to pick up a few pastries and dropped them off home just prior to getting to the airport. I hope my caring wife and little one saves mer one by the time I get home at the end of the week. :D .

  • http://www.nfpworksblog.com NFPworks

    Thank you for posting this Deacon! I’m a huge fan of St. Joseph. I was trying to find James Tissot images of Joseph for an e-card to a friend for the feast day, and found your blog post!

    One, Joseph is amazing, such a gift to the Church for many reasons. Two, Tissot’s works are fantastic! I don’t know much about him, but I love how he pays such attention to the *garments* of the time. I’m not sure if they’re historically accurate, but I much prefer these images to the candy-colored sentimental images where dewy-eyed Joseph looks off into the distance.

    An acquaintance in Brooklyn told me about Tissot, who did an exhibit of his works not too long ago. I’m guessing that’s how you came across the piece? Related side note: bookmark AngelicoPress[dot]com, because they’re an upstart Catholic press who’ve obtained some rights to Tissot’s work, and will be including his work in some of their book covers.

    I’ll be including a link to this post in my blog post on St. Joseph. God bless you!

  • Deacon Greg Kandra

    Tissot’s work is extraordinary: many of his paintings are watercolors, and very small. His attention to detail is meticulous — he lived in Palestine for a time, expressly to study the color, light and people– and there’s a beauty and “realness” to his work that can be surprisingly moving.

  • crazylikeknoxes

    Like Manny, part of my devotion St. Joseph arises from my first two children being adopted. If only in this (having raised children not, strictly speaking, our own), I feel an identification with St. Joseph. I also believe that I benefited from the intercession of St. Joseph at the time my fifth child was born (of whom I’m the natural father – poor kid). For these and many other reasons it is well-said: Ite ad Ioseph.

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  • Winthrop Arnold

    I enjoyed reading about St. Joseph. Myself, unlike most of my friends I went to Catholic school with, went through confirmation when I had decided for myself. I went through in College, and since it was my decision alone, I think It meant a lot more to me. My Confirmation name was Joseph. I see many parallels between my own life and the life that St. Joseph lived, just not as beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  • Laura

    I’m a stepmother to a really great kid–with a really great Dad. Bless all loving, responsible fathers. I miss mine. Not just an exceptional Dad, but a fine husband and gifted artist.

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  • Adam

    My opinion only is that I think that St. Joseph did not have the anxiety that you think he did. He knew probably better than anyone else besides Holy Mary and Jesus that he and his family would be provided for by God. I think that this would have been a natural result of his faith and the knowledge of how special Jesus and Holy Mary are to God and His plan for man’s salvation. I think he was keenly aware of this.

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