Was St. Joseph really so extraordinary?
In the last of three reflections on the adopted father of Jesus, we are reminded how as ordinary of an act as caring for a child has great meaning.
By guest blogger Sean Flynn
During my most cynical moments as a foster parent, I feel like an afterthought. Or an innkeeper. Or a punching bag. Or a weirdo. I want to complain, throw some punches, and then give up.
Kneeling at church, I look stage left and see St. Joseph—the foster father of Jesus—and figure he must understand how I feel. After learning his bride-to-be was pregnant with a child that wasn’t his, Joseph could have gotten angry. He had the right to seek punishment against Mary, or to disgrace her publicly, or to send her away, or to walk away. When an angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him not to be afraid, he took that massive leap of faith, and stayed with Mary through the birth of Jesus. Two more times an angel appeared, and Joseph shepherded his family to safety, first to Egypt and then back to Nazareth. He persevered and entrusted his life, and that of his family, to God.
I figure he felt the same frustrations I have felt in my year as a foster parent: Anger at the world for allowing kids to enter it with so little in their favor. Exasperation at the parade of bureaucrats and authority figures who enter our home, know so little about the kids we care for, but have so much say over their lives. Exhaustion at the 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week job of parenting. Yet in our small glimpses into the life of St. Joseph, we see only righteousness, perseverance, courage and humility—the living example of giving your life up to God. St. Joseph followed God’s word on the unbelievable task he was given, and he did it without complaining or questioning. And as far as we know, he got little credit for what he did and most likely did not live to see Jesus enter the ministry.
When my wife broached the idea of foster parenting, it felt like the perfect idea. I had long held the belief that service is central to faith—otherwise, what’s the point?—and that it should “hurt.” Donating a hundred bucks to a charity is one thing, but waking up at 5 a.m. to feed eggs to the homeless is another. Caring for a child in need takes it to another level.
One year has taught me just how high a level that is, and just how much pain and heartache it can mean. Every day seems to confront the kinds of issues that draw me toward cynicism. At the same time, taking a deep breath and saying a prayer of thanksgiving, I can see tremendous joy that is greater than I ever imagined. The children we’ve welcomed into our home, whether for a weekend or several months, have taught me as much about life as I have taught them. They are my everyday beacons of joy, laughing and hoping and growing and dreaming in spite of the incredible odds stacked against them.
I don’t think there’s anything particularly extraordinary about what my wife and I do—we have an extra bedroom, jobs, two cars, anything we would need to care for two children. Take ourselves out of the equation—the nuisances, the fatigue—and it really just becomes a matter of opening our home and hearts to a difficult project.
Perhaps that’s what draws my eye to St. Joseph at church. There wasn’t necessarily anything all that extraordinary about what he did, either—listening to God and finding a safe place for his wife and a young son that wasn’t his. All he needed was the faith to keep going forward.
Sean Flynn is a writer living in Oak Park, Illinois. He graduated from Georgetown University in 2000 and was confirmed into the Catholic Church in June.
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Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.