[“The Dream of St. Joseph” by George de La Tour, 1640]
As children bring their broken toys
With tears for us to mend,
I brought my broken dreams to God
Because He was my friend.
But then instead of leaving Him
In peace to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help
With ways that were my own.
At last I snatched them back and cried,
“How could you be so slow”
“My child,” He said, “What could I do?
You never did let go.”
(Robert J. Burdette)
At the end of the movie, “Petty Woman,” there is a street performer in a colorful outfit who asks, “What’s your dream? Everybody has a dream.” How true that is. Each of us have had dreams about what our lives. As children, our dreams might have been more fantastical. How many of you dreamed of being an astronaut, an actor or actress, a famous rock star, superhero, sport star or cowboy. As we get older, our dreams become a bit more “realistic” but they are still our dreams for how we want our lives to be. Yet, like the person in the poem I just read, how many of us have had our dreams broken? Maybe we never made the team, failed to get into the college of our dreams, had a dream breaking injury or illness, or the person we loved just did not have the same feelings for us. What did we do with our broken dreams? Did we seek refuge in anger or despair? Or like the person in the poem, did we bring them to God, only to become frustrated when He did not “fix” them like we wanted?
St. Joseph also had a dream. It was a fairly simple, unambitious dream of having a loving wife, a family, and to be modestly successful in his trade of carpentry. He had even found the right woman — the beautiful Mary, the daughter of Joachim and Ann — who shared the same devotion to God as he did. Then it happened. The Gospel does not tell us how he discovered it, but before Mary had come to live in his home she was found to be with child. Joseph knew that he was not the father. How could Mary be with child? Was it possible that his “dream” woman had been unfaithful to him? What could he do? He loved Mary very much, so he did not want to shame her by exposing her condition, yet how could he accept her into his home when she was pregnant with a child not his own? Divorcing her seemed to be the only answer. His dream was broken — shattered — but there was nothing else to do.
In a manner of speaking, God had His own dreams for His creation, especially for humanity. God created us to live in perfect union with Him; first in this world, and then for all eternity in heaven. Our first parents shattered those dreams through their disobedience to God. Instead of trusting in God’s will, His plan for them, they “tried to help in ways that were [their] own.” Despite the Fall, God did not give up on His dream for us and all of creation. Starting with the patriarchs and the prophets, God started to reveal His dream to fallen humanity.
Then “the angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream.” The angel of the Lord told Joseph, “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.” It is rather ironic that we come to know God’s love in the Incarnation through Joseph’s broken dreams. Yet, unlike Adam and Eve who distrusted in God’s plan — God’s dream — Joseph had no doubts about God’s dream. By abandoning his broken dreams to God, Joseph receives from the Divine Physician a new heart to replace his broken heart — “the very heart of Jesus who fills his dreams and transforms his life” (Cameron, To Praise, To Bless, To Preach: Spiritual Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, Cycle A, p. 27).
The Gospel then tells us that Joseph “awoke.” The Greek verb for “awaking” or “arising” is also used in the St. Matthew’s Gospels to refer to Christ’s healing (Mt 8:15), His manifesting His divine authority over nature (Mt 8:26), Jesus’ power to forgive sins (Mt 9:5-7), and Christ’s transforming grace (Mt 17:7). When St. Joseph awakens from sleep, he steps beyond himself and meets Emmanuel, God-with-us, in the defenselessness of divine mystery. We also must awaken, we must let go of our broken dreams, so that by putting our confidence and faith in God, we too can be transformed, healed, and forgiven by Emmanuel.
“Joseph the just man prefigures the just who welcome Jesus when he is away from home (Mt 25:37). They testify how much they have come to know God’s love in his incarnate Son by the magnanimous way that they show God’s love to others. In reciprocity, at the Second Coming — the Final Advent — Christ the King will bless those just ones who emulate his foster-father Joseph and welcome them into the eternal home of heaven (Mt 25:34). In that welcome, all our dreams come true” (Cameron, p. 28)