In the Catholic pantheon, the cult of Saint Joseph has three aspects: head of family, worker, and dreamer. In the gospel of Matthew, during the days of the birth of Christ, the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph three, perhaps four times (KJ Matthew, chs. 1-2):
- When Mary, “espoused to Joseph,” is found with child, Joseph is tempted to “put her away privily.” The angel speaks to him: Joseph, … fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy God. Then Joseph, “being raised from sleep,” obeyed the command of the angel.
- When the Wise Men departed from Bethlehem after their adoration of Christ, the angel of the Lord appeared once again to Joseph and spoke: Arise, and take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt, … for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. And Joseph did the angel’s bidding.
- After the death of Herod, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph for the third time: Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. And Joseph gave up his exile and went back to Israel.
- Afraid to return to Judea, where the son of Herod ruled, and “being warned of God in a dream,” Joseph settled in the city of Nazareth in Galilee.
Four dreams in total; three confirmed visits to Joseph by the angel of the Lord.
Even devoted rationalists cannot deny the appearances of Joseph’s angel, for his angel appears in dreams—in that world of vision and imaginative truth that we visit every night. The angel is both sign and symbol: a symbol of a new consciousness, and sign that compels action; the emblem of a revelation and the indication of a new direction.
Arise! is always the trumpet’s call of Joseph’s angel. Believe without evidence, leave what you must behind, and follow an unchartered path. And yet the wanderer is not left without guidance on the journey. According to Borges (see our blog post “History of Angels”), “primitive angels were stars.” The angel which visited Joseph to bring him God’s message is the same one that guided the Wise Men: We have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him. In the Gospel of Luke, the same angel which visited shepherds “in the field, keeping watch over their flock at night,” was accompanied by a “multitude of the heavenly host,” praising God and proclaiming peace on earth, “good will towards men” (KJ, ch. 2).
It is wise to look for angels in nightly dreams like Joseph, or in prayer like Mary, who accepted the command of God in the clear light of day. We do not live only by the cold light of reason, but by “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (KJ Matthew, 4:4). When we choose to see and hear them, angels give us vision and direction in difficult, even desperate, times.