“Dear Father in heaven, I'm not a praying man, but if you're up there and you can hear me…
show me the way... show me the way.” From It’s a Wonderful Life
On Christmas morning, I contrasted St. Joseph to George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life and Tomas the profligate surgeon in Milan Kundera’s, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Tomas choses to live life “lightly” without central commitments or core convictions. Jimmy Stewart’s Bailey, after having lived a life of sacrifice for others at the cost of his own goals and happiness, finally breaks under the burden of one too many setbacks. Joseph confronted with both an extraordinarily and impossible situation, submits to the task out of his devotion to God and his compassion for Mary. He is neither Jesus’s father nor is he the one who carries the baby to term and gives birth to the Savior of the world; but he is both the midwife and the protector of the Son of God.
There is a point at which Kundera’s Tomas makes the following observation:
“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the lover longs to be weighed down. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”
St Augustine once observed that “My love is my weight.” Joseph’s “love” led him to carry “the heaviest of burdens.” God’s plan to redeem the world moves forward in a large part because this humble carpenter says yes to the severe mercy of sacrificing for the good of others.
At one point in It’s a Wonderful Life, Clarence the Angel remarks “Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. And when he isn't around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?" Joseph disappears from the story (and history) at the end of Luke 2, but his influence I think continues in his “adopted” son’s willingness to also sacrifice himself for God’s greater plan. In the Roman Catholic Church, St Joseph is the patron saint of fathers, expectant mothers, immigrants, craftsmen and working people in general. I think he represents all those folks, who day in and out, quietly sacrifice for others; they do the right thing when no one is watching, sometimes at great cost to themselves. Joseph represents the “meek” gallant souls, though invisible to the world, are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.