While awaiting a child, a future father or mother might dream of many things: holding a newborn in one’s arms, watching her meander towards her first steps, listening to his first words, playing catch with a son or daughter… perhaps even that dance at the wedding!
The dreams after childbirth and adoption can be quite a bit different, coming in the midst of broken moments of sleep: scattered fragments that intermingle with changing diapers, cleaning messes, soothing sick ones, and chasing destruction-minded little speedsters. And as parenthood unfolds, dreaming is intertwined with processing the experience of parenting, with all its joys and sorrows, excitement and drudgery, pride and regret.
St. Joseph was a dreamer who found his calling as Mary’s spouse and with the mission of fathering God’s son, preparing Jesus for his earthly journey. Like his namesake from the Hebrew Scriptures, St. Joseph found time in life to dream, and those dreams told of the wonders that God had in store for him. But, like so many fathers and mothers today, Joseph’s brainwaves were also populated by fitful dreams, storehouses of fragmented anxieties about the safety of his spouse and child, as well as the effect that fatherhood might have on his future.
For St. Joseph, this dreaming was a profound source of peace, allowing him to see life in new ways, in God’s ways. We call this wisdom. Trouble still loomed ahead, of course, but his dreaming allowed him to face the present and future with clarity, with the wisdom to know that God would be with him and his family through it all.
Townsfolk might gossip and threaten shame, but his dreaming allowed him to experience the peace that comes from knowing oneself as loved by God. King Herod’s pursuit might threaten violence, but his dreaming allowed him to experience the peace of God’s presence while his refugee family fled in fear. And this baby Jesus might turn into a precocious child and death-defying adult, but Joseph’s dreaming allowed him to do what parents must always do: surrender their children to follow their own path, and to trust that these children will be able to dream their own way into purpose and peace.
As the father of two young children, I have come to be amazed at the ways that my own idealistic dreams have given way, not only to the reality of parenting, but also to the discovery of my children’s own dreaming. Their dreaming invites me to discover new worlds, particularly when their imaginations find inspiration in talents and skills that I do not share, as happens often with my artistic daughter and budding engineer of a son. Truth be told, their dreaming sometimes leaves me confused, even annoyed. At other times, better times, I find myself stretched, inspired, and changed by their imaginative worldviews.
The dreamer Joseph could certainly not grasp the dreaming that would erupt from the Spirit-filled mind and heart of Jesus, a vision that the Gospel parables call the Kingdom of God. Perhaps Joseph was stretched, even converted, by this vision, which would lead Jesus to embrace with clarity his own dangerous journey. Perhaps Joseph had doubts about the path that Jesus would follow. Perhaps, given his disappearance from the Gospels, Joseph’s own lifetime of dreaming came to an end long before Jesus embarked from Galilee into other regions, and towards Jerusalem.
But one thing seems sure: just as he was formed by Mary, so too was Jesus formed by the dreaming Joseph, who gave him not only a carpenter’s toolbox, but also a toolbox fit for a spiritual dreamer. Joseph loved Jesus with a fatherly trust that supported wherever that toolbox, and Jesus’ dreams, would take him.
St. Joseph in the Lectionary (Gospels at Mass):
- Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A
- Feast of the Holy Innocents (December 28)
- Feast of the Holy Family (Sunday after Christmas)
- Solemnity of St. Joseph (March 19)
For Your Consideration:
I write about the experience of parenting and family life in the midst of mobility, including the experience of Joseph and the Holy Family (Matthew 2:13-20), in my book From Home to Home: Finding Meaning in Mobility (from Little Rock Scripture Study and Liturgical Press).