A pair of Turtle Doves

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The chapel of the Irish College contains a mural of Joseph standing alone with two turtle doves, i.e. the offering made he would later make with Mary on the occasion of the Presentation in the Temple. The mural pushed my reflection in a different direction from the usual one for this feast.

The Joseph on the chapel wall is alone. He has doubts and fears perhaps, maybe even the shadows of resentments flickering on the far wall of consciousness. After all the situation he finds himself in, one not of his own making. Shepherding his new family into the temple, could there even be embarrassment that he, a skilled tradesman, is publicly humiliated by having to make the offering designated for those too poor to pay for a proper sacrifice? His past seemed assured, his present is confusing, his future is anxious, and Joseph is alone.

Joseph on the chapel wall is not the pater familias of a mature “Holy Family” of Nazareth, a partner with Mary, raising a healthy, if unusual, Son. Instead our mural is the “new father” Joseph, adjusting to a life not of his making. He is unwilling/unable to share his emotions with his betrothed who is growing into her role as Mother with every step they take. His excuse perhaps might have been a desire to protect her from his anxieties about the future. A deeper honesty might have been that he also felt too sheepish to share his turtle dove engendered indignity. He was being ridiculous, he knew that, but it might shatter a frail ego were his wife to put voice to that assessment. Instead he, like many an new father before and since must stumble haltingly into his role while watching his betrothed seemingly to blossom naturally into hers.

And yet Joseph is not alone. In our chapel, beside him there is the angel-messenger of divine protection, repeatedly whispering the plan of God to this man of integrity. Nearby is Mary, maturing rapidly into the strong, aware mother of an extraordinary Son, whose heart, even when pierced by a sword, is never broken. Not far away is the child now grown, shedding blood on the Cross for love greater than that of any natural born son. Joseph is not alone.

Draw close to these three, dear anxious, unsure, good Joseph. In obeying God’s messenger you will become certain, in leaning into Mary’s strength, you will become strong, in knowing, really knowing the love being directed to you by the Child born in a stable, you will become whole, you will become empowered, you will become SAINT.

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