ADVENT PONDERINGS 3
St. Joseph was an extremely sensitive man. “All of his senses tingled with the awareness of God’s presence everywhere.”(1) Because he was a man of such sensitivity and faith, because he was so pure and close to God himself, he would surely soon have sensed God’s action in this circumstance of his life. Joseph, as well as Mary, lived in an atmosphere of the spiritual. They easily referred everything to God and saw everything as coming from God. And so Joseph moved on, even if in a puzzled and confused way, to the wondering realization that somehow this situation must be an act of God. You and I would not have come to this conclusion, but St. Joseph was a man of superior faith. “He saw God in the light; he saw God in the darkness.”(2) God was as present to him as the piece of wood in his hands.
Even as Joseph was sure that his beloved fiancée was not guilty of sin, he was nevertheless in anguish over the mystery before him. He felt he could not marry her, but he could shelter her with his silence By not taking her before the law court, he gave testimony to Mary’s innocence Yet he still felt he would have to “put her away privately”, since this was the most respectful and only solution he could think of with his human reasoning powers. He made his decision trusting in God as his fiancée had. God would bring this situation to His own good end, even if first they both had to go through deep suffering. The two of them suffered and waited, neither one knowing fully what was in the other’s mind and heart.
Why did Joseph want to “put Mary away privately” if he did not suspect sin? If this pure woman is not a adulteress and this pregnancy does somehow come from God, then there would be reason enough to fear the awesomeness of what was taking place in the life of his betrothed. God has in some unheard of manner brided his bride. Could he dare intrude on what God was doing? Could he claim a child that was not his own? Surely he would have been filled with fear of God and with a sense of his own unworthiness. Perhaps he felt like St. Peter at the miraculous catch of fish saying to Our Lord, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man”, or like Isaiah saying to the angel, “I held my peace: I am a man of unclean lips.”
St. Bernard had this very same thought: “Joseph wanted to put Mary away for the same reason that made Peter seek to put away the Lord when he said, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man.” St. Bernard also brings in the centurion who said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.” Joseph felt he was not worthy to enter under the roof of marriage with God’s bride.
All of this surely caused Joseph anguish as he considered putting away her whom he loved with all his heart. He had decided that he would have to put her away not because he believed her to be guilty, but because he reverenced a profound mystery in her, one that he could not understand, to which he could only submit. Joseph’s heart must surely have broken at the very thought of giving up his bride-to-be. But not for long because Joseph’s reasons were quick. He would have come to a decision within a few days and, like Abraham, just at the moment when he was about to carry out his decision, an angel came to rescue him. But not before he had suffered heartbreak. We must not take from Joseph the glory of trial and suffering of which this event was undoubtedly the most searing in his life. Joseph grew into new manhood from this suffering test. It was a test surpassing the test of Abraham when he was told to sacrifice his only son because the love between spouses is more intimately profound than the love between father and son. And the love between these two extraordinarily pure spouses was an extraordinarily strong love.