“My spirit is faint within me” (Ps 143:4). Everyone is tormented from time to time with doubts and uncertainty. It is a very unpleasant feeling, and people look for a way to get rid of it. How can they do it? They search for more information, or they make a decision based on feeling, or they don’t make a decision.
Neither, was St. Joseph saved from doubts. Engaged to Mary, the love of his life, he found that she was with child without living together. “When his (Jesus’) mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.” (Mt 1:18-19) Joseph found himself in an embarrassing situation. The one, who loved and revered his spouse as no other in the world, experiences a great torment. Is Mary unfaithful to him? Does she love another man? Or, is Mary a victim of violence? If she is, why did she not tell him anything? Such and similar questions could swirl in the mind of St. Joseph. Yet, his conduct during this period is “the greatest proof which confirms the fact of Mary’s purity and the truth of the Gospel’s praise that Joseph is the just man”, writes Father Filas, Jesuit, in the book “The Man Nearest to Christ” (p. 69).
The Scriptures are concise and do not state how Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy. Yet, they state that Joseph was thinking what he should do. According to Moses’ Law, Joseph was bound to expose Mary to be stoned. “Some way or another he hoped to obey the Law by dismissing Mary privately. By this merciful course he would spare her disgrace and punishment. Of course he would fail to observe the literal prescription of the Law, but he would not cease to be a just man inasmuch as he would be exercising the more perfect virtues of mercy and self-control”, writes Father Filas (ibid p. 70).
St. Augustine explains Joseph’s doubts as follows, “The husband was perturbed, but the just man did not rage. He was so just that on the one hand he was unwilling to keep an adulteress; on the other, he would not expose her to punishment. Therefore he wished to put her away privately. Consider his untainted justice. Deservedly, indeed, was he chosen as a witness of his wife’s virginity.” St. John Chrysostom continues, “Do you perceive the moderation of this man? He did not chastise, he mentioned the affair to no one, not even to Mary, but he debated the matter with himself, seeking to hide from the virgin the reason for separation. Nor did he say that he wished to cast her off, but rather to send her away, so kind and self-control was he. While he was pondering over all this, the angel appeared to him in sleep. And why not openly, in the manner that he appeared to the shepherds and to Zachary as well as to the Virgin? This man was ready to believe that he did not require such a manifestation.” St. Jerome says that Joseph’s doubt is evidence for Mary that Joseph, knowing Mary’s chastity and wondering at what had occurred, concealed in silence the mystery he did not understand (cf. FILAS, F.L.: The Man Nearest to Christ, p. 71-74).
Yet, God eased this heavy burden with the same great consolation. The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and he dispelled his uncertainty with words, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” (Mt 1:20)
When we read the Biography of Blessed Alphonse Marie, there we also find doubts with which she struggled. As a youth, with an interest she observed all the Sisters, who came to their town to take advantage of the thermal baths to restore their health. She would have liked to speak to them, but she did not have the courage to do it. She desired to enter a convent, so she asked her parents for permission. They refused it despite she was convinced that the salvation of her soul depended on that. Although she obediently submitted, she was filled with deep pain. She began to doubt. She was convinced that if her parents deny their permission to become a Sister, then it is because God does not want her and she must fear eternal damnation. Her family, companions and many others afflicted her with reproaches for her piety. Yet, she remained silent and never responded to an insult, never complained about an offensive word. Even the tempter told her, “God doesn’t want you!” “Is this phrase God’s judgment about my former life?” she wondered. A heavy gray cloud settled upon her soul, darkening the sunlight of joy. The calm, the peace that she had known was transformed into a storm. She was seized by doubt. She wondered, “Have I ever loved God? Or in praying, was I only satisfying my own self love? My God, what then were all my practices of piety, all good works?” (Cf. PERRIN, J. M.: The Life of Mother Alphonse-Marie, p. 18-19).
Alphonse Marie asked herself whether there were lacking the very qualities that make them pleasing and of value to God. Then, she was seeing only sins in these practices and looked upon them all as having sprung from self love and from natural motivations. Even her confessions and communions appeared to her as sacrilegious, as offenses against the most pure God. She already has been seeing hell opening before her, and how God was turning away in disgust from the ugliness of her soul. Fortunately, her confessor calmed her and showed her the right path.
Are not these doubts of Alphonse Marie parallel to Joseph? Joseph was convinced that Mary loved him as he did her, above all. He made plans to have his own family. Yet, it seems to be something else… Mary is with child, although they haven’t live together.
Alphonse Marie was convinced that God loved her, for she loved Him above all. Her all effort laid in, to avoid offending God, the Love of her heart. She even found means for avoiding sins, “speak little, and speak only when it is necessary; carefully close the ears to useless conversation; guard the eyes and allow them no curious or inquisitive glances.” (Ibid, p. 25) And behold… it seems that she was unworthy to love God serving Him in a religious consecration.
Discovering the secret of a supernatural conception through the angel brought to Joseph another doubt. This deeply humble man did not feel worthy to live with the Son of God and the one, who was “full of grace” under one roof. He feared to be called the husband of such a wife. Later, this feeling of unworthiness confessed a centurion to the Lord, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof” (Mt 8, 8), and which is repeated during Holy Mass over the centuries by pious people. Yet, Joseph, a righteous man, did what was right: trusting in God, he took Mary and the Son of God under his roof.
When once again an inner voice urged Alphonse Marie to surrender herself wholly and completely to God, a great concern about the future weighed upon her soul. Will she be worthy of the grace to dedicate herself to God for life, to renounce herself completely? She cast herself to her knees at the foot of the crucifix and talked to her Savior. Although she suffered much she never said anything to her friends about her interior suffering. (Cf. PERRIN, J. M.: The Life of Mother Alphonse-Marie, p. 21)
In 1848, Alphonse Marie, with a great desire to become a Sister, asked for admission to the Sisters of Divine Providence in Rappoltsweiler. She ardently hoped to be soon received into this religious community. Shortly, she received a letter from Superior Bacher in which he agreed to her admission into the community. Although many priests had warned him against this “Seer”, he assured her of his good will and counseled her humbly and silently to endure all criticism and persecution. But for her great influence, the Bishop did not give her permission, recommending, “For the time being we must simply pray and observe. Let us pray that this chosen soul may remain an instrument of God’s mercy and an overflowing fount of heavenly blessings.” (Ibid p. 38) Alphonse Marie could again have doubts about whether she would ever be able to enter a convent. Yet, she accepted this rejection humbly and silently as God’s will. Later, the Lord Himself revealed to her that she would found a new Order, “My daughter, soon I will let you know the form and the manner in which the new Order is to be established.” (Ibid, p. 42)
Through uncertainty and doubts God purifies us from self-love and assessment.
Let us neither be seduced by external manifestations,