We all have our greatest fear, and in vulnerability I will share mine with you today. As a husband and father of small children, I am afraid that I will pass from this world to the next too soon. As the old country song says, “Lord, I want to go to heaven I just don’t want to go tonight” (Joe Diffie, Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox). The fear is twofold. The obvious reason is that I love my family and cherish every second with them. I have loved every moment of every day during my daughters’ first years. Sure, there may have been a few two year-old moments that I didn’t love so much, but overall every age has brought singular blessings I have been able to joyfully hold on to. I want to see my daughters as six year olds, sixteen year olds and someday as adults with their own children. Moreover, I want to be there through all the struggles in life to teach them, guide them and love them every step of the way.
My second part of this fear is much more intense. I understand that heaven is far better than anything I could hope for or imagine, so while missing out on their lives seems terrifying, I believe in the promises of Christ. I can trust that somehow heaven will be even greater than this. Therefore, the greatest fear is the thought of my wife and children going through life without their husband and father. While I avoid spending my days in fear, I do pray to God for a long life.
Once again, we have an incredible lesson to learn from the life experience of St. Joseph. Through the tradition of the Church, we recognize that Joseph passed from this earth before the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Many believe that Joseph lived with Jesus and Mary for thirty years. Thus we have a thirty day novena to St. Joseph, one day for each year he spent with Jesus and Mary. This idea helped influence this book as a thirty day journey. However long he spent with them, from a human perspective it was far from enough.
From the human relationship between a father and a son and between a husband and a wife it was not enough. Jesus began his public ministry without the presence of St. Joseph. Jesus had to go through the most challenging moments of his life, his bitter passion and death on the cross, without St. Joseph by his side. Mary, who had her loving husband to protect her for so long, had to go through her greatest suffering without him as well.
From a purely human perspective, the death of St. Joseph could appear to be a tragedy. Instead, we hear quite the opposite in Church tradition. The death of St. Joseph is known throughout the Church to have been a holy and peaceful death. If you have ever been to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame, there is a strikingly beautiful painting by Luigi Gregori of the death of St. Joseph with Jesus and Mary at his side. Peace in the midst of what may cause others distress. Peace in the midst of what I could call my deepest fear. How could there be such a superabundant peace in the death of this holy man who was leaving his wife and son behind?
Peace is a fruit brought about by the total abandonment and surrender to the will of God in our lives. Joseph had been through so many miracles in his life. He experienced the bountiful goodness and graciousness of God. Joseph fully trusted God with all of his mind, strength, heart and soul. Although Joseph could not continue to be present and available for his wife and son, he trusted once again in the goodness of God for them. He knew God had a plan. God chose Joseph as the guardian for the Holy Family during those thirty fateful years, but now God could accomplish his most holy will with Joseph alongside him in heaven.
The death of Joseph was not a crisis for Joseph, nor was it a crisis for Mary or Jesus. They knew he was a just man before God, a man after God’s own heart, and that they would be with him once again for all eternity. This deep trust and unshakable faith resulted in a death that was full of peace. They may have felt sadness for their temporary time away from him, but borrowing from the Scriptures, “Perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love (1 John 4:18).
Today’s reflection is less about death and more about trust. Trust in God drives out anxiety and fear. Joseph died in the arms of Jesus and Mary, and nothing could be more comforting at the hour of death. May we also rest in the loving arms of Jesus and Mary as we pass from this world to the next.
- Do you fully trust in the goodness of God for your life and the lives of your loved ones?
- Do you confide in the fact that God is an even better and more loving father than you are?
“Cast your worries upon him who cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
Heavenly Father, thank you for my life and the time that you have given me on this Earth. Thank you for the loved ones with whom you have filled my life. I repent of not trusting you with all my heart, of all my doubt and fears. Lord, you are all good and all merciful. Increase my faith and grant that I may walk in joy and peace all my days. It is for freedom that you have set me free. Give me the grace that I may not waste time in anxiety and fear. Jesus, I trust in you.
St. Joseph, take me to Nazareth and train me in your ways. Help me to exclude all evil from my heart and my home. Amen.