“The Dream of St. Joseph”

by Larry Fraher, Ph.D., Director of Faith Formation & Education  |  12/18/2022  |  Images of Faith

Today, we are all like St. Joseph. As Christmas approaches on this final Sunday in Advent, we hear again the story of how Joseph, betrothed to Mary, but not yet married, will break up quietly. Through the action of the angel, however, Joseph has a turn-around. He realizes there is something more important—God’s plan—and pushes forward in love, entering into the marriage and becoming the foster father of Jesus.

Luca Giordano's painting, “The Dream of St. Joseph” (oil on canvas, ca. 1700, Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art), may help us to go deeper into today’s Gospel story. The image is split in two. On the left, Mary, depicted sitting in prayerful Father and reflection, the Holy Spirit. is directly Attendant below angels God the surround, representing the Divine Glory, some holding flowers symbolizing the burgeoning life that Mary will bring to the world through her Son. Even the pet cat in the lower left appears at ease with the glory of the Lord manifested through Mary, as it rests on a golden colored blanket. On the right we see St. Joseph in his workshop. Tools are set down, appearing to have been recently used, and Joseph, tired from his busy day of work, and perhaps, of thinking and stewing about the fact that Mary is pregnant, dozes as he sits at the workbench. The Archangel penetrates his dream, clearing a path through the clouds to St. Joseph, in order to assure him that it is in the plan of God to become wed to Mary. It is interesting to note that this image is well divided. One side represents peaceful fidelity to God, while the other seems to be a bit darker, more engaged with the world, tired, frustrated, questioning.

We, like St. Joseph, can easily become caught up in the busy-ness of the season and/or the stressful relational dynamics that ensue. We can become convinced that things aren't what we need or want them to be, and instead, we should just stick to our beliefs and attitudes. “If this is happening,” we say, “then I want no part of it.” We seek to divide, to separate ourselves from the trouble, or worse, silently just go along with it until we can’t any longer. Then, when we have had it, make a break.

The call of this Gospel and this image reminds us that we, like St. Joseph, are asked to take Mary into our homes, really, into our lives. Like Joseph, we must welcome her and allow her to help us by leading us to Jesus Christ. We may not have the benefit of the intervention of an angel telling us what to do, but we do have the example of this man, Joseph, who puts away the stuff and concerns of the world to become an agent of God's loving goodness and salvation. As we enter this final week of Advent, let us remember that today, we are all like St. Joseph. We must say “yes” to the mysteries that surround us, and allow the powerful love of God to permeate our lives so that Christ will be born in our homes, and we may become agents of His love and salvation.