The Gospel reading for this Sunday, the feast of the Holy Family, is one that most parents can relate to. It is the story of Joseph first taking his family to Egypt, then returning to Israel after Herod dies.
While Mary in her infinite trust in the Lord is able to say, "Be it done to me according to His word," the Joseph that we meet in the Gospel of Matthew analyzes and worries as he seeks to do what is best for his family.
Even when he gets the word from an angel in a dream that it is safe for the family to return from Egypt to Israel, the Gospel adds that Joseph was still weighing risks. "But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, [Joseph] was afraid to go back there" and he settles in Nazareth instead.
In the divine plan, this bit of an adjustment on the part of Joseph is taken in stride. His behavior, it would seem, was pretty much in keeping with his job description as husband and foster parent.
Those of us who are parents and spouses can relate in a special way to Joseph. We are keenly aware that becoming a parent means our quota of worries goes up exponentially. Even before there were Amber alerts and MRSA, before the grab bag of temptations that every child faces every day -- on the Internet, at school, on television -- parents worried for their kids.
Kids make us worry about the future. That's because they are the future. Childless, we may have a philanthropic or a philosophic concern for the future humanity. With children, we have "skin in the game."
And the future is certainly worrisome. The world is filled with threats to the physical and spiritual well-being of humanity. Pope Benedict XVI, in his annual message for the World Day of Peace (Jan. 1), tackles many of the big issues.
He mentioned the need to protect marriage and the family. The institution of marriage, the openness to new life, the needs for shelter, employment, education and health care -- all of these are at various degrees of risk throughout the world, the Pope warns.
Pope Benedict also addressed environmental threats: "The problems looming on the horizon are complex and the time is short."
The spread of nuclear weapons "causes well-founded apprehension in every responsible person," he said. Speaking out for disarmament -- both nuclear and non-nuclear -- he declared: "I feel bound to entreat those in authority to resume with greater determination negotiations for a progressive and mutually agreed dismantling of existing nuclear weapons."
"Well founded apprehension in every responsible person": Like Joseph, we worry about what the future might bring.
As Christians, however, we also know the saving hope won for us by our Redeemer. In Spe Salve, the pope reminds us that it is this hope that guides us. "Fear is useless," said the Lord. "What is needed is trust." As Christians we face the brutal facts of our time on earth not with despair, but with hope. We work for peace, we work for the family, we work for proper stewardship of our resources, because we seek what is best for all. Like Joseph, we die to ourselves for the sake of others, knowing that not everything is in our control.
On the feast of the Holy Family, the pope asks us to think about our larger human family. As Christians, as responsible persons, we all are challenged to work for the common good while always trusting in the Lord.