Do you believe that God is guiding every step of your life right now? Do you believe in God’s Providence for you personally? Providence means literally to ‘see ahead.’ Divine Providence means that the Lord sees ahead and is guiding me. The Lord sees your immediate situation within a larger plan for your entire life. Even though you may not be able to see clearly how things will work out for you, God sees every moment of your life as part of his plan. Do you believe that?
If you believe in Providence, it’s a huge asset in the darkest moments of life. It’s like a shining light pointing the way forward when you cannot see where to go. This Sunday, we hear how Joseph trusted in God’s Providence. He had no idea what was happening in his betrothal to Mary. (Mt. 1:18-24) When he found out that she was pregnant, it seemed that the only right thing to do was to “divorce her quietly” (Mt. 1:19) Imagine his darkness and isolation. Yet, he trusted in Providence, and it made all the difference.
Before we look at his situation in more detail, what is the darkness in your life? Maybe it is an unplanned pregnancy, or a medical diagnosis for your unborn child that is overwhelming. Perhaps it is a life change: anticipating graduation or getting married, moving to a new job or the loss of a job. It could be undocumented status and living in uncertainty for your well-being and your children’s safety. For some, the darkness is depression or mental illness. For others, it is a cancer diagnosis or the recent death of a loved one
This is the darkest week of the year. Joseph teaches us to trust in Providence when things are murky and mysterious, when we are thrown a curve ball in life, and we’re not sure what to do.
None of the gospels record a single word from Joseph. He must have been the strong silent type. Joseph is known not for what he said, but for how he acted. Joseph’s silent ‘Yes’ to God was pure action. This gospel describes him as a ‘righteous man.’ That means that he had a ‘right relationship’ with God and with people.
He acted out of a deep relationship with God, and he sought to treat people with justice, not merely human justice but rather God’s justice. In other words, he treated others the way God treats people. You can see this in his reaction to Mary who “was found with child through the Holy Spirit.” Most people in that situation would go off the deep end. The temptation would be to lose hope in God and to run off at the mouth. Here his silence is even more striking. That he held his tongue at a time like this, speaks volumes. But “Joseph being a righteous man, and unwilling to expose her to shame, planned to divorce her quietly.” (Mt. 1:20)
His first righteous action was not to embarrass her and to keep it quiet – not to gossip. He must have thought, “This business is only between me, Mary and God.” It seems likely that the first person Joseph spoke to about this was God. That makes sense if you’re ‘righteous’ because a righteous person always acts out of a right relationship with the Lord.
When things get really dark, do you react with gossip or do you turn to prayer? The righteous person instinctively prays about the struggles of his or her life, “Lord, what on earth are you doing in this turmoil? What do you want of me here?”
As Joseph brings this situation to prayer, he listens with trust in God’s Providence. When the angel tells him, “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. . . [Immediately] Joseph did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” (Mt. 1:20, 24)
He did as he was told. Where did he learn to listen and act with such trust in Providence? Why did he obey God so decisively? How can we learn to act with this kind of trust in the dark struggles of life?
Joseph was the “son of David.” That title – ‘son of David’ – always reminded the people of one thing. God had promised David that he would always be faithful to him and to his descendants, despite their sins. Ps. 89 is one place where you can find the promise. It states: “Even if his descendants turn away from me, and do not keep my commandments, I shall never withdraw my faithful love. I have sworn my holiness once for all. I will never betray my bond of faithfulness to David’s family” (Ps. 89:32-33).
As a son of David, Joseph knew this solemn promise from God: “I shall never withdraw my faithful love.” In addition, God promised to make the son of David the promised Messiah. These promises were the trademark of David’s family.
Do you trust that God is guiding you in his faithful love, even in the darkest times? By our Baptism, we became sons and daughters of God, which is so much more than Joseph’s status as a ‘son of David.’ As a son of David, Joseph trusted in God’s Providence when he could not see the way forward. To be a Christian is to trust even more! It is to believe that Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us.” God dwells with us, never withdrawing his faithful love, even when we sin. Jesus is the promised Messiah who “saves us from our sins.” (Mt. 1:21)
This last October, John Henry Newman was canonized a saint. But his road to sainthood was marked by plenty of troubles and darkness. He was an Anglican priest who converted to the Catholic faith, which resulted in rancorous opposition and painful isolation. In his writings, he describes his experience of darkness together with trust in God’s providence. The following meditation captures it best.
He wrote: “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission – I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next . . . I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work . . . [God] does nothing in vain . . . He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me – still He knows what He is about.” ~ John Henry Newman, Meditations and Devotions of the Late Cardinal Newman
No matter what happens, always remember that you are a child of God. In the darkest days, trust in Providence. As a first reaction, pray with trust that God is with you and guiding you.
Second, listen to saints like Joseph and John Henry Newman. Be inspired by how they trusted and obeyed God. Joseph knew the promises of God. He lived inside of those promises. As Christians, we have more reason to trust.
The Lord promised to be with us, in his Word and in the Eucharist. In these days before Christmas, ask for a renewed sense of his presence. Pray for faith in divine Providence.