People like to joke about hibernating during the holidays to avoid everything that goes along with them. “I’d rather just go to bed and not wake up until January 2nd,” I’ve heard many people say, and I think I probably said it, myself, during my post divorce years. When you’re trying to avoid painful reminders and encounters, it’s kind of hard not to feel this way. But the problem with this sentiment is that by avoiding the preparations and celebrations that go along with the holidays, you also run the risk of missing out on the great graces you can receive during this time. So, in case you are in this boat (and even if you’re not) I thought I’d share with you something that struck me – of all times – at 2:30 in the morning.
It was one morning during the last few days of Advent I was reflecting on the gospel of the day, Matthew 1: 18-25, and there was a particular verse that popped out at me as if I had never really read it before:
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.
What struck me was Joseph’s behavior in the face of a situation that would have most people these days on a rampage.
Scripture and tradition both reveal to us that Joseph was a fine, upstanding man. He was well-known in his community and I’m sure, well-respected as a carpenter and as a Jew. In this biblical account, he comes to find that his fiancee is pregnant – and not by him. Scripture doesn’t tell us the details, but it makes sense that he must have felt incredibly hurt and betrayed. The verse goes on to state that Joseph, despite this assumed betrayal, was “unwilling to expose her to shame…” This speaks volumes about the great kindness and generosity Joseph showed in a situation that would have any one of us up in arms, ready to retaliate.
When this same scenario plays out today, the outcome is completely different. When someone is betrayed, everyone hears about it! Family, friends, co-workers… it becomes a drama that can be as benign as a garnering of sympathy from others for a pity party or as dangerous as an act of revenge, but the simple fact of the matter is outrage over the betrayal gets broadcast far and wide. And I’m just talking about regular people, Lord help you if you’re any kind of a celebrity and the tabloids get a hold of your story.
The bottom line is St. Joseph was more concerned about Mary than he was himself. It serves as a testament to the charity and dignity St. Joseph possessed and how we should be treating those who betray us.
I reflected upon my own divorce that took place years ago. I could have been worse, but I definitely had my angry, resentful, uncharitable conversations with people who knew my soon-to-be ex-spouse. I recalled those awful things I said about him out of hurt and humiliation as I reflected on this scripture passage from Matthew’s gospel, and I marvelled at what a great example of virtue St. Joseph was. How good it is to look to him and all the other saints for guidance as we carry our crosses. St. Joseph illustrates for us how even the most painful and belittling moments of our lives are opportunities to grow and become better people because of the experience. They are moments of grace whether we recognize them or not; whether we take advantage of them or not.
Christmas Day is now behind us and no doubt, if you are divorced, you had at least a few crosses handed to you during the last few days through the careless words of a relative, perhaps the dig you felt when you delivered the kids to your ex-spouse, the agony of attending mass alone or as a single parent, or any of the other hundreds of ways the season reminds you of your status as a divorced Catholic. And that temptation is always there; the temptation to say negative things about your ex-spouse to your children or others who know him or her. But maybe St. Joseph’s example can help you deal with your frustration as we continue through New Year’s and the Christmas season.
Let not your hearts be troubled, as the gospel of John tells us. God’s grace can overcome any hurt, any evil and all you need to do is call on Him and ask for the grace to imitate Joseph. Ask Him for the grace to learn how temper your temptation to speak uncharitably about your ex-spouse with prudence, patience and love. In practicing this kind of selfless love, you will see a new you emerge from the old you.