FRIDAY OF LENT WEEK 4
(Gospel Mt 1:16,18-21,24. Her husband Joseph being a man of honour…)
Einstein said that you only observe what your theories allow you to see. We are full of blind spots even when we may have sharp focus on a portion of what is before us. Research into perception shows that totally new, unexpected phenomena can be totally blanked out, even from a whole group’s awareness, because the brain doesn’t know how to deal with it. What we don’t know, we don’t know and if we did know what we don’t know we would know everything. So we live with our limitations
Today is the feast of St Joseph, carpenter, husband of Mary, patron of manual workers. He’s usually in our blind spot when we read the first part of the gospel story, after which he drops out of the picture entirely. However, in the few words that describe his decision not to put his pregnant betrothed aside in shame, he has found mythical immortality, innumerable shrines, speculative biographies and recently a named place in the Roman canon of the Mass.
It would be hard not to like St Joseph, supporting role though he has. He’s not a star. He’s like the workman who comes to repair something in your house which has been causing you a lot of inconvenience and which you have been unable to fix. His superior knowledge and skill gives him a touch of the supernatural. He does the job on his own quietly after assessing it and deciding what he needs. He charges modestly and glides away like an angel having delivered his message, taking your profuse thanks without fuss. A model of good work that we would like to imitate in whatever, probably less useful, work we may be doing.
A good workman, good women manual workers too, deserves his fee and respect for what he does. He reminds us that all we have to do is what we are meant to do and to do it without greed or an egotistical desire for approval. A job well done is its own reward and brings benefits to others. Joseph handled the problem of somewhere to stay in Bethlehem, the royal visitors, the hasty escape into exile, the return to Nazareth and making a business that provided for the family. In one translation, Cassian calls the meditator the ‘Lord’s bedesman’, meaning the simple monk whose job it was to say prayers, to tell his beads. Repeating the mantra is good work. Like manual work, it involves the whole person, body and mind. It does not stroke the ego, in fact the reverse. It is its own reward.
It would have been culturally odd for the time if Mary had been the carpenter and Joseph the homemaker. But today gender roles are more flexible and allow both men and women to do the kind of work they are best suited for. The husband of an ambitiously powerful and successful woman told me he and the children had always preferred him to be the one running the home and family because he did it better than his wife. Consorts of women in positions of power that I have met strike me with their personal integration, masculine confidence in a backup support role stereotypically assigned to wives.
All that matters is that we recognise what we are meant to do and have the courage to do it wholeheartedly. We all have cultural blindspots and vanities to cope with. But meditation has a way of removing them and helping us to see what is before our eyes.
Lenten Reflections 2021