“Joseph her husband, since he was a just man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly” – Matthew 1:19
I find myself dwelling on this verse, which stands just before the angel “solves” Joseph’s conundrum with the good news that Mary’s pregnancy was indeed “of God.” But the time between Joseph’s learning of the pregnancy and the angel’s puzzling explanation must have been tumultuous for him – a jumble of shock, betrayal, anger, sadness, disappointment – with no clear path of how he should react. A just and righteous man, he knew the law of his religion and norms of his time and culture. Yet he could not bring himself to follow that law to its letter and expose someone he loved to the consequences.
I wonder how he moved through his confusion and hurt to come to his decision to “divorce her quietly.” How long did his inner struggle go on? Did he consult with anyone else or search the Scriptures? How did he pray for guidance? There are no clear answers to these questions in that single verse from Matthew.
As I sit with these questions, I realize I sometimes struggle with situations where religious, cultural, and even legal norms indicate one course of action, but my heart and my “gut” tug at me to find a more merciful way to respond. At times I have found consolation in the words of Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?” But I know that he doesn’t mean that as a simplistic “escape hatch” from the hard work of discernment in uncharted waters but calls me to struggle with the baffling ways to blend justice and mercy without forsaking either polarity. I know that polarities, while seeming to be opposites, are really two values that both must be held in tension. But that intellectual insight doesn’t offer any easy resolution or certainty that a decision is right. And I have never had an angelic message that alleviated the tension.
So, I continue to struggle with my own doubts and hesitancy as I try to dwell in an honest and faithful discernment. And trust that the outcome will be acceptable to our God who is the source of all justice and mercy.
Joseph, righteous and merciful, pray for me – pray for us!
Brother Arthur Caliman, C.F.X.
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