It is early morning. I am in my favorite chair sipping coffee hoping that the morning fog enveloping my mind will soon wear off. My wife’s whirlwind of activity continues but I can’t stir until the life giving liquid I hold in my hands starts coursing through my body. I contemplate the coming day, the routine I will follow, the actions expected of me and know that I need to get moving. This day, like everyday, will have trials and blessings, and as I stare down at the floor, I spy laying next to my feet the beginning of my first trial of the day — my boots. There was a time in recent memory when I could easily put on my boots in every conceivable position; not so now, for I have to plan a mode of attack which results in the least bodily injury. I use to stand, then bend down to put them on and tie them, but lately, upon rising, I have noticed that every pint of blood I possess has settled in my head, leaving my face beet red and my head spinning from the effort.
Currently I utilize what I call the snatch-pull-and-jerk method. Briefly stated, while sitting, you situate your leg to the closest boot, quickly bend down, snatch it, pull it on, then jerk back up before the blood has a chance to race to your head. There are times when I need to repeat this procedure when the boot I put on belonged to the other foot. My task is only half complete for I still need to tie them, a job I can’t do while sitting in the chair: the cranial blood would once more be an issue. I have several methods for this most challenging task, all requiring the use of household furniture. If I think I can get away with it without my wife discovering my treachery, I hobble over to the armrest of the sofa and plant one leg, then another, and try to tie my boots. For fear of being caught, I have to do this quickly, which usually results in an awkward series of events terminating in my losing balance landing in destinations unknown. I tried using the kitchen counter once, but that only resulted in kicking in the cabinet door because I couldn’t raise my leg to the top of the counter. (I am normal height for a man, what most people would inappropriately call “short.”) I now use the dining room chairs — they are an acceptable height, I can get the task completed without losing too much breath, and if I get them dirty, I can always blame the dog. And for all my concerned readers who would suggest remedies to alleviate my after-middle age morning boot crisis, please don’t; my health is fine (although I do smoke) and I would not listen anyway. Not with a stubborn spirit, mind you, but with the same attitude I treat breakfast. You see, the so-called experts, such as doctors and nutritionists, consider breakfast the most important meal of the day, which is why I avoid it like the plague. This scenario doesn’t happen every morning, but generally enough to consider it one of my morning trials.
Should I tell you about the shoelace on my right foot — the one that always comes undone several times during the day for no explicable reason? All right, if you insist. I have a theory for this, so bear with me. During the course of the day, I fully expect at some point that the laces on my right boot will come loose — it never happens to the left, just the right. Knowing this, in the morning I always pay special attention to tying it tightly; not too tightly, for once in exasperation I tied with such vehemence that I sent the blood rushing to my head again. Somehow, it always comes loose, so here is my theory. You know how in the northern hemisphere the water in a toilet bowl, once flushed, goes from right to left, but left to right in the southern? My boot, somehow, has become attuned to the gravitational pull of the planet. Crazy, isn’t it, but there is no other possible explanation! And now I better get on with the second St. Joseph mystery before I get booted off this website. (And if you’re not reading this, I did.)
I call the second decade “Joseph, by Divine inspiration, is summoned to the Temple.” I place myself in Joseph’s workshop and notice that he is standing still staring at the corner of the room. There is no evidence of work activity, which puzzles me, because he always keeps his hands busy moving calmly but diligently from one project to the next. I recall there are times when there are no work orders from his fellow villagers, and at these times he usually fashions walking staffs, which are always in need. He is staring at his collection of staffs leaning on the far wall, some of these plain, some ornate, and one in particular simply but more elegantly carved than the rest. I have always wondered about this particular staff for it has always stood apart from the rest, and has never been offered for sale and never been used by him. I now notice that his robe is his Sunday best — or “Sabbath best,” I suppose. It being the middle of the week, I wonder what occasion would warrant this transformation from his work clothes. He walks to this singular staff, sighs a silent prayer, takes hold of it and leaves his workshop. I follow realizing that he is setting out for the Temple.
He enters the city through a gate, and along the walls are clusters of older men discussing business, politics and the Roman occupation. They pause as he passes by, some wag their heads, others snicker, and still others make rude comments because they know, as I do now, about his mission to the Temple. A proclamation has gone out summoning all eligible men to proceed to the Temple, for a young virgin of remarkable sanctity is to be betrothed to the man most worthy of this singular honor. Every year Joseph has participated in this ritual, and every year he has returned with his sacred vow of virginity intact. He has passed many of these men time and time again, and it has become a running joke with them in seeing him return empty handed. He says a silent prayer forgiving them their callousness, and proceeds to the Temple.
The proclamation has stipulated that the selection of the groom will be chosen by lot using the staffs that all the eligible suitors were required to bring. As he enters, he sees the High Priest, surrounded by the other priests, arranged at the front of the court, and behind them he spies a most delicate creature staring down at the ground seemingly rapt in prayer, cradled by Anna, her protectress. Arranged in front of the priests is a row of young men, some noble, others from the priestly cast, and still others of wealth, all vying for the hand of this most noble virgin. Joseph is thirty-three years of age, poor and unknown, and as he surveys the lot beside him, he assures himself that his unworthiness will negate his election. But this is a singular event, and it is uncommon for the High Priest to preside over this ritual, but he has been inspired by the Holy Ghost to take especial care in regards to this most singular virgin. And though the great and influential do not know the heroic sanctity of Joseph, it has not escaped the priests of the Temple and thus, his presence is commanded.
The High Priest is divinely inspired to pray silently the answer given to Moses concerning Aaron’s priesthood, “Whomsoever of these I shall choose, his rod shall blossom” (Num. 17:5). He steps aside, and motions for Anna to bring the virgin forth and stand before the men, all of the tribe of David. For a moment nothing happens, then the virgin ever so slightly raises her head, glances at Joseph’s staff, and it blooms a riot of flowers crowned by the most beautiful lily ever created, a pale reflection of herself. It is her first Fiat, and the ancient prophecy of Isaias is fulfilled, “And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root” (Isaias 11:1). For a moment there is stunned silence, then gradually all drift away, leaving Joseph standing before his bride, both thinking thoughts best left to the angels. There is a commotion outside and I leave the holy pair to themselves, and go outside the Temple court to ascertain the cause of the tumult. There is a young rejected suitor leaning against the outer wall, crying uncontrollably, seemingly in despair for not being chosen. He suddenly clutches his staff with both hands and breaks it in two across his legs. I am familiar with this young man, for it has been handed down in tradition that he immediately left the Temple and retired to solitude on Mt. Carmel living the remainder of his life in heroic sanctity; a parting gift, I am sure, from the bride and groom.
Joseph exits the Temple, and though it is common custom for the betrothed to celebrate their nuptials amongst relatives, in my meditation I have Joseph returning to his home, there to pray more intensely, for he is considering, as is Mary, what this betrothal means in light of their vows of virginity. He walks by and at first I do not follow, but as I see him recede into the distance with his flower filled staff regally blowing in the breeze, I am overcome with emotion and try to pursue. I immediately stumble and fall, then realize that I have tripped over my untied shoelaces. Perhaps this is the reason they often come undone, as a subtle reminder that unless a man properly has his reins girt and his feet shod (Cf. Ex. 12:11), he will lack vigilance and stumble on the path of salvation. I give up the chase and leave Joseph to himself and his God, for I feel my presence will not be appreciated.
It is time to leave this meditation, but before I do, I turn once more and enter the Temple. There standing in small little groups are the priests discussing the incredible events of the day. The Virgin and Anna have retired, and as I turn to go, I notice two men huddled together, gesturing feverishly in their excited conversation. They are Annas and Caiphas, and despite what they have witnessed today, I know that during the course of their lives they will trip over their shoelaces frequently, and finally stumble for all eternity, over the cornerstone they will reject in this very Temple.
To be continued