Faith

That one time St. Joseph broke it down for me

So, I started writing this on the feast of St. Joseph, but it ended up being too long. So, I’ve split it into a few posts to avoid TL;DR. Enjoy.


You may buy this lantern no longer. But, it is mustard yellow.

You may buy this lantern no longer. But, it is mustard yellow.

The theme of this post is mustard yellow.

Mustard yellow is different from the bright, lemon yellow or the straight Crayola variety; mustard yellow is more brown and 1970’s.

I don’t know why this matters. But it does matter that I’ve tried to write this post for the past week now, and I’m about to do it, dagnabbit, come heck or high water. Or even low water.

(That being said, I’m going to get a drink of water). (I’m back).

Here’s the thang. Jesus told us a lot of stories over the course of his life and four gospel writer’s worth of memories. Some of them I get, at least, I’m kind of close. Other ones I don’t understand well at all, this probably because I’m thousands of years removed from the Roman era and thousands of miles removed from the Middle East and thousands of tiny, collectable pieces of culture different from Eastern culture and understanding.

Case in point: the parable of the mustard seed. “And all the birds will live in its branches.”

Wut?

But. The theme of this post is still mustard yellow.

***

A million years ago I attended community college, a way of “saving money” which I didn’t fully appreciate then as my friends went to big-name universities. But it was a full experience, and I don’t regret it.

A million years ago I took a class. Sociology class, if memory serves. The professor was a very old man with a thick Polish accent but a cute old-man sense of style (outdated, but, whatevs, old men can do what they want). Some of his suits were almost mustard-yellow, remnants of the polyester-era. He wore his vintage suits and his over-sized ties and a way of over-sharing a bit about his wife’s beloved dachshunds. I liked him. I still do, even though I disagree with some of his teachings (homeboy, guardian angels are a thing, OK??). He gave a lot of work, but he gave a lot of grace, too. As the semester progressed, so did his stories. He grew up in Poland, he said. His father was a part of the Nazi-resistance movement in World War II. He remembered hiding under the bed one night when the Nazis came for his father. His father wasn’t home, so they dragged his mother across the room by her hair, trying to discover where his father was.

I don’t remember the rest of the story, but I remember that he eventually emigrated to the U.S. His perspective was interesting and unique, he who grew up exposed to communist ideals, then socialist, and, finally, capitalist. He saw the pros and cons of the different ideologies, spoke of them frankly, and moved on.

One day, though, he drew a graph on the chalkboard which, in retrospect, was kind of unfeeling. He basically outlined (and this has taken me days to get to this point) all the ways people could be hurt and how that would screw up your future relationships.

I don’t remember the list exactly, but it was something like this:

Tension with your mother | (would lead to) Constant fear to attempt your dreams
Strained relationship with your father | Inability to communicate well with a romantic partner
Delayed learning in one subject | Unrealistic approach to partnership/ relationship

OK, so that’s not the list at all, but it was like that. Only, the effects probably tied in better to the affects. OH WELL, YOU GET THE POINT. The point was that there was an entire chalkboard of these things and I read the left side thinking, “All of those. I have experienced all of them, or at least a healthy 90%” so then I read the right side and it was essentially, “HOPELESSNESS” in all-caps.

I left internally hyperventilating. For several days my inner-self was a wide-eyed, whimpering puppy. But then, two things happened.

The first is that I read a document by then-Pope Benedict XVI where he talked about our suffering, and it was legitimately one of the most beautiful things I have every read, too bad I’ve lost it to the chasm that is the Vatican website. The document said something about how through our sufferings we join Christ and through his sufferings He loves us, only a thousand times more profound because THE POPE HAS GRACES, friend.

The second is that I went to daily-mass, as I was apt to do in my college-years, in the early part of the day, freshly rolled out of bed.

For some reason I arrived early in church one day (this is rare, ya’ll). I was kneeling, looking at the crucifix and feeling internally-conflicted about all these newly-discovered flaws I would be bringing into my future life/ relationships, praying like mad.

But, silence. Frustrating silence.

And I remember that I turned my head to the right, to the marble statue of St. Joseph and exasperatingly said, in my mind, “St. Joseph, what are you going to do with me?”

In my heart I heard a simple, quiet, “It is human to bring flaws into relationships.”

And then my mind exploded.

Maybe I made that up about the being human and bringing flaws, but I doubt it. I’m neither that wise nor that succinct nor that quiet.

Saint Joseph and the Infant Christ, c. 1670-85 Artist: Giovanni Battista Gaulli. Location: Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena.

Saint Joseph and the Infant Christ, c. 1670-85 Artist: Giovanni Battista Gaulli. Location: Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena.

I think it was the voice of a man caring for the PERFECT child and the PERFECT wife who was fully aware of the flaws and weaknesses he brought to that relationship. You talk humility, you talk St. Joseph.

From that day forward, I have loved him.

St. Joseph, who was so human and dealing with so much divinity in one tiny little life, one tiny little family. He knew his flaws, and he still tried.

***

Today I read a blog post and I loved this line:

I have HALF A MUSTARD SEED to believe God can do what He says He can do.

I think this was St. Joseph, the man who was dealing with the smashed dream of a happy wedding, and then dealing with the swirling dream of God’s words and a heavenly messenger. St. Joseph who traveled with the pregnant, pregnant Mary until there she is, birthing in a stable. St. Joseph who hears the message to take his wife and child to Egypt, a different place/ culture/ life…and then, later, back again, here comes St. Joseph, listening and pulling the donkey we artistically allow him.

Today I realized: St. Joseph had it, that seed of faith. Every time he was asked to act, he did, and he had NO VISION of the greater picture. He had no idea Herod was about to kill all the babies, no idea wise men were following a star, no idea the angels were singing songs of glory, no idea who fathered the baby. (I mean, at first. He knows the answers now, of course.)

That seed of faith was planted and nurtured, and now so many people (like me!) and couples (St. Joseph is a patron) and entire church communities (named for St. Joseph) and peopleS (all the young people are entrusted to him) can rest in his faith. Rest like little birds…in a tree…a tree which has grown beyond what one seed could even imagine.

The end.

For now.

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