Feast of St. Joseph – Some thoughts about inner authority, obedience and discernment

I must admit that I sure do love me some St. Joseph. St. Joseph never utters a word in Scripture, but he is known. He is called to act against his own instincts more than once and in ways that are very challenging indeed.

As a result, St. Joseph always reminds me that there is much to be known when we explore what is woven into all the ambiguity of life. I also like that he is very obedient to the law of his time, yet he is guided within in knowing when and how to respond to contradictions there. The choices of St. Joseph remind me of a quote from Isaac Hecker, founder of the Paulists (and yes, that is friend of the blog and real life, Mike Hayes in that photo!) :

“External authority without the internal life, the inward spirit, produces servility, weakness, on the part of the subject and usurpation, tyranny on the part of authority.

Internal illumination without the external criterion of authority gives birth to pride, self-sufficiency and rebellion, the destruction of legitimate authority and all government.”

The other day when I was on retreat with my co-workers (as opposed to my personal retreat last weekend) I saw the amazing image of St. Joseph that you see at the top of this post. It is not the flight to Egypt, which you might think it is. It is actually called Joseph’s Consent and refers to the Gospel of Matthew from today.

Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.

The intersection of internal authority and conscience, of hearing God’s voice from within and hearing our own is tricky business. Obedience means to listen and not just to react by rote. May we all have the discernment of St. Joseph in the dealings of our lives, today and always.