While awaiting a child, a future father might dream of many things: holding a new newborn in his 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 fatherhood unfolds, dreaming is intertwined with processing the experience of parenting, with all its joys and sorrows, excitement and drudgery, pride and regret.
Today, we celebrate St. Joseph, that 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 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 fathers 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 4 year-old artistic daughter and 6 year-old 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.
Solemnity of St. Joseph
Readings: Roman Catholic (USCCB)
Formed and shaped from dirt and water,
Forged in love from earth’s debris.
God’s own life now flowing through us,
God’s own breath our energy.
Life and death can never stain us,
Through the ash, God’s love we see.
Formed and fashioned as God’s people,
Saved through waters wide and strong.
Strong enough to end our bondage,
Wide enough for our shared song.
Psalms of triumph, hymns of service,
Voices raised, our life now one.
Formed and fed by bread from heaven,
Fed, sustained by hearty Word.
Ever-present in our wanderings,
God now tasted, seen, and heard.
Life renewed, transformed, transfigured,
Mission’s hope, a world restored.
A version of this reflection originally appeared on this blog in February 2012.
Dance for us, O Advent skies.
Erupt with pink and purple hue.
With light’s last gift, defy the night,
Creator’s love alive in you.
Dance in us, O Cosmic Christ,
Who moves in time with sky and sea.
With pulsing wisdom stir in us
Your surging creativity.
Flow through us, O Spirit soar,
Deep energy of dance divine.
Enflame our hearts with restless joy.
In us, God’s vibrant love abides.
Mid-Advent, Gaudete Sunday
An earlier version of this prayer originally appeared on this blog in December 2011.
The third Sunday of Advent (celebrated this coming Sunday, December 14), is known as Gaudete Sunday. In Latin, “Gaudete” means “rejoice.” The words “rejoice” and “joy” appear prominently in the readings and liturgical texts of the day. For example, at St. Michael’s (Canton, OH), our opening song will include the words, “Heaven and earth, rejoice! Salvation is drawing near.” (Emmanuel by Steve Angrisano, OCP), which reflects St. Paul’s exhortation to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:4-5, Traditional Entrance Antiphon for Third Sunday of Advent).
The joyful color pink (or rose) is sometimes used liturgically on this Sunday as we await with joy the imminent celebration of Christmas, with the faith that Christ has already been born into our world and is transforming our world. Even today, we can dance for joy!
Cross that leads us into glory,
Cross that bears a mystery:
Love outpoured and life exalted,
Tender grace that sets us free.
Grace that feeds us with affliction,
Bread of tears and saving cup.
Your life’s thirst, to serve your people,
Bending down, you are raised up.
Raised up high, your people scatter.
Arms outstretched, a welcome sign.
Life’s last breath, words that gather:
“You are each other’s, you are mine.”
Holy Thursday/Good Friday
God of all time,
In your great love, you have created all things,
And in all seasons your works praise you:
Flowing water and rushing wind find joy in your strength.
The sun’s warmth sings of the kindness of your love.
In the harvest time, all of creation is gathered into your care.
And in winter’s chill, the world waits in silence for your new life.
Your people join creation in praising you, O God.
We praise you for your light which shines in every one of us,
In every season of our lives.
God of our time,
Sometimes the winds and rains signal destruction, not refreshment.
Sometimes the sun’s heat leaves us with fire and drought.
Too often, harvest abundance gives way to careless consumption,
And in our winter waiting, we dwell, in peril, alone.
God of light,
In seasons of joy, and seasons of fear,
Awaken our eyes and hearts,
That we might see your reflection imprinted on each one of us,
That we might see strangers as sisters and brothers,
That we might be light for one another.
May your light, O God, shine through all our days,
Breaking through every shadow.
May its radiance be our hope,
Until at last we come to that final season of your glory,
When you will scatter all darkness.
An earlier version of this prayer was originally written for the youth Kairos community of St. Norbert and Our Lady of the Brook (Northbrook, Illinois).