In discerning where God was calling our family, one of the huge draws of the seminary was that it wasn't just a calling for Andrew. It was a calling for our whole family. This incredible place where my husband teaches gladly welcomes professors' families to their chapels and courtyards and refectory and community nights, knowing that we represent the people they are called to serve. They welcome the cries of our babies, the shrieks of our toddlers, the chattering of our preschoolers, and the crazy thumping of a pack of our children racing down the hallways.
They also welcome the spiritual motherhood of the women associated with the seminary. They let me be a spiritual mother to them, as they are becoming spiritual fathers to me. And, in the case of many of them, they are open to growing in friendship, as brothers and sisters in Christ. That is such a gift.
(Pray for seminarians and priests, you all.)
The other day, one of my dear seminarian friends offered to give a tour to a visiting friend of mine. He took us to their gorgeous chapel, and my visiting friend was duly impressed. I actually learned some things about the chapel that I hadn't learned before.
One of the features that he highlighted was the "Ite Ad Joseph" inscribed above the altar. He explained how "Go to Joseph" is actually a reference back to the Old Testament, when during the famine in Egypt, Pharaoh instructed the people to go to Joseph for food. St. Joseph, as the foster father to Jesus, leads us to his foster son who will feed us with food that will endure.
I was suddenly reminded of a story that I hadn't told this seminarian friend, yet. It was a Gabriel story, and is actually one that I've already shared here, but I'll refresh your memory.
Back when I was newly pregnant with Gabriel, I went to one of the young adult nights (aptly named "Nazareth Nights") at the seminary. With that little guy newly nestled inside me, I prayed during adoration and was overwhelmed with anxiety. Then, I looked above the altar and saw those words, "Go to Joseph." I had a deep sense that I was called to make Joseph the patron saint of Gabriel's pregnancy. This was long before I knew anything was wrong with my sweet baby, and I wondered why Joseph would be a fitting patron.
After Gabriel died, I remembered that and realized that St. Joseph was the patron saint of a happy death.
Not knowing when Gabriel died, and being able to give him anything more than a conditional baptism/baptism by desire, I don't have a guarantee of heaven for him - only the hope of heaven. (I do nurse the hope that he died at the moment of the blessing given him by our priest, right after I received the Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick. Can you think of a more beautiful passing for him from this life? Surrounded by love and prayers and Jesus in the Eucharist...) Lately, I've been missing Gabriel terribly - it's almost physically painful at times. Triggers seem everywhere, and I find myself aching for him every day.
I think in the silence of prayer - like at adoration - the grief hits me the most. Sometimes, I just can't believe that he's gone. Once, when I was little, we went to my dad's company picnic at a park and found out after the fact that we could have brought bathing suits to go swimming. There was plenty to do without bathing suits, but I remember getting it in my head that if I just looked hard enough I would find my bathing suit in some forgotten corner of the trunk of the car. Needless to say, it wasn't there.
I keep having those kinds of moments with Gabriel. I keep thinking surely, surely it was all a terrible dream. The swelling bellies of my (many) friends who were due when I was due are reminders that it's all too real. He's gone.
But today something occurred to me. I had been thinking of Joseph as the patron saint of Gabriel's pregnancy. But maybe St. Joseph wants to be more than that to me. In a way I am, after all, still waiting in expectation for that day when I will be reunited with my little one.
But today, it occurred to me that St. Joseph is all too familiar with being asked to take sudden, unexpected journeys. He is betrothed to Mary, expecting to be a guardian to this beautiful woman who has taken a vow of celibacy. Then...wait for it...she's pregnant. Oh, yeah, and she needs you to take her on a journey to Bethlehem. Then, after that child is born...they need you to take them on a journey to Egypt, Joseph. Then, after the child has grown a bit and Herod has died...they need to take you back on a journey to Nazareth, Joseph.
Joseph never knew what was coming next. And make no mistake - taking a journey back in that day was no small undertaking, and was certainly not without its risks. Yet, again and again, Joseph embraced the unknown, the suffering, the inconvenience, the struggle...and the joy. He journeyed again and again, trusting that God would lead the way before him.
Maybe that's who Joseph wants to be for me right now. Maybe he wants to be my companion on this unexpected, painful journey. Maybe he wants to teach me to trust his foster Son.
Sweet Joseph, please pray for me. Because right now it still just hurts so much. I'm trusting Jesus to lead the way.
Because I still believe it - this story of our family isn't over. Our relationship with Gabriel isn't over. God still has a plan for the five of us...and there are five of us. Death has been conquered, and one day, God willing, we will all be reunited again.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
(Pictures courtesy of our epic hike in the mountains back in June. An apt analogy, I figured!)