What St. Joseph Teaches us about Mercy

Joseph had it rough.

Imagine being an all-around good guy, intentional about the reputations of both yourself and your family (after all, the Messiah is destined to come from your tribe!). You manage an engagement to the loveliest girl in town — one with an even more flawless record than your own — and you begin preparing a place to live according to Jewish custom. But then…

Pregnant. And not by you.

By Mosaic law, Joseph had every right to execute Mary by stoning. Doubtless, plenty of humiliated men in similar circumstances did just that. But the shamed fiancé knew what it was to love authentically, so he chose to quietly divorce her instead, delaying her punishment and tactfully separating himself from the situation.

Joseph acted with grace towards the betrothed who betrayed him.

Then, another curveball when the God of Abraham and Isaac personally sends him a message in a dream, telling him it’s best to get back together with the girl because not only was she faithful but— good thing you’ve kept that stellar reputation — it’s Messiah time.

The average Joe would wake up from an experience like that and, no matter how convincing the dream, brush it off in the looming shadow of inevitable scandal. But St. Joe wasn’t your average Joe at all. He woke up and took Mary into his home, moving forward with the engagement against all earthly reason.

Joseph acted with trust towards the God who created him.

The very existence of the Holy Family depended on the generous extension of grace to one another and trust in God, and all of salvation history was made possible. The mercy that Joseph poured forth in his unconventional circumstances was returned a hundredfold for the rest of his life as he tried to navigate the challenges of marriage as the only sinner in a family composed of the Queen of Heaven and the literal Son of God.

Even the holiest of families can only function with an abundance of mercy and trust in the Creator. How much more for regular marriages?

If marriage is a school of holiness, NFP is an accelerated program. Sometimes it seems like we’re acing it, but far more often we’re treading with our heads barely above water, trying to get back on track after failure upon failure — all the while trying to hold our spouses up with us.

Who would attempt such a thing without (dare I say it?) reckless trust, and who would stay afloat without the buoyancy of undeserved mercy? But this mercy cannot come from God alone but also from each spouse to the other, something that’s only possible with greater reliance on God. Greater trust opens up channels of greater grace, and the grace of mercy leads us back to more powerful trust.

St. Joseph, for all his virtue, was the weak link in his extraordinary family and all the more desirous of boundless mercies. Who better to turn to when our own households and marriages want for the stuff that will lift our own families to heaven?

St. Joseph, head of the Holy Family and giver and receiver of undeserved mercy, intercede for us that our family may grow in the grace and trust necessary for our sanctification. 

— Forest Hempen
Marketing and Communications Associate