Sunday, December 22, 2019


Joseph decided to divorce Mary quietly,
but an angel appeared in a dream and
told him to have no fear about taking
Mary as his wife. When Joseph awoke
he did as the angel had directed him.
                                                                    Matthew 1:18-24

When I first arrived here as pastor of the Cathedral in 1983, I was regularly attacked by people over the statues of Mary and Joseph that used to stand on shelves in the sanctuary above where the sanctuary side doors are now. They were placed there during the former 1970's renovation. They irritated the traditional sensitivities of many pious Catholics. We removed them during the present restoration. They are now, I believe, over in the History Center across the street.  

Mary and Joseph were portrayed in very realistic first century Palestinian clothes. Mary was old, stooped and weather-worn, as she would have looked at the end of her life, at the time of her assumption into heaven. Joseph stood there slumped, like a tired worker, with his mouth open in awe. They are fine pieces of art, but they were not what people were used to! They couldn't change their minds. 

I believe the artist did a good job portraying Joseph by having him standing there with his mouth open. What better way to picture this well-known saint? Standing in awe, with his mouth open, captures the fidelity, simplicity and openness of this holy man. He never seems to know what was going on around him!

Usually, when I talk about Saint Joseph, I talk about St. Joseph's fidelity to God, even when he didn't seem to understand what was happening. St. Joseph walked by faith and not by sight.  He never speaks in the gospel. Instead, St. Joseph, has become known as a "shut up and put up" kind of saint.

This year, I want to talk about St. Joseph as a man who could change his mind. Some of us have made up our minds about things years and years ago and we are proud that we are not about to change them now. We may even think that our inflexibility is a virtue. St. Joseph teaches us that, to follow the will of God, we need to be able to change our minds sometimes.

Here's the short version of how St. Joseph changed his mind. Mary and Joseph are engaged to be married. Mary becomes pregnant before the wedding and tells Joseph that she conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph refused to believe it at first. He may have even showered Mary with some harsh words. He had his mind made up to divorce her when he had a dream in which an angel appeared to him, confirming Mary's explanation and telling him not to be afraid to proceed with the wedding. Joseph woke up with a changed mind and proceeded with the wedding, accepting his new family.

 "Change your mind" is the very first challenge that came out of Jesus’s mouth as he began his ministry. Metanoiete!” he says in Greek.   “Change the way you look at things! Change the way you see because God is up to something new.  To see what God is up to, it takes a radical change in the way you look out at things.”  By being able to change his mind and look at the Mary's pregnancy with new eyes, Joseph was able to see that he was actually part of a great plan that God had formed long ago,  not being duped by an unfaithful fiancĂ©e as it might appear.   

One of the many times I can remember consciously changing the way I looked at something in my life, as a priest, took place two weeks after I was ordained. I had my heart set on being an associate pastor here is Louisville where I could enjoy all that a big city has to offer. What I got was an assignment to the “home missions” as far away from Louisville as I could get back then. I was angry, but I had to go. Then, half-way down there, in Danville, I had a dramatic conversion in my thinking. It was obvious to me that I would probably be there for 10 years, whether I was mad or not! I decided to change my mind and embrace the assignment. Since I didn’t get what I wanted, I decided to want what I got. I decided to give it my all!  What I didn’t know at the time was, because I had changed my mind, it was going to be a great assignment. Because I decided to look for the blessings of that place, I found what I looked for! Because I chose to look at that assignment in a new way, my experience of the following ten years was a different one, one filled with fabulous experiences and opportunities. I shudder to think what my priesthood might have been like today, if God had not helped me change the way I looked at things.

Through the years I have learned a helpful lesson from St. Joseph - the ability to look at things in a new way, the ability to change my mind.  

Where are some of the places you need a new way of seeing in your life? Who are the people and what are the situations that you have been hoping would change to make life better for you? Why not change your experience of those people and situations by re-choosing how you see them?  Do you feel your children or spouse have let you down? Are you still grieving over a huge personal mistake you have made in the past? Did you lose a child or a spouse and can’t get over it? Do you feel you have been cheated, discriminated against or slighted and still fume inside over it?   Are you still waiting for someone to say they are sorry, give back what they took or take back something they said? Are you down on yourself and bitter about something in life?

St. Joseph can teach us that we can change all of that by changing the way we look at it and think about it! People say you can’t change the past. I am here to tell you that you can change the past. You can change it simply by re-choosing the way you think about it, how you want to remember it and what you want to believe about it.

St. Joseph, teach us how to change our minds, like you changed yours!  

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