St. Joseph and the Holy Act of Discernment

Discerning good from evil, right from wrong, the essential from the useless, has not been an easy task for many people. The need for “wide-ranging” discernment affects every human being, committed to seeking motivation, to making choices not only in view of immediate well-being, but also to give meaning to one’s existence. Discerning is accepting that you do not understand everything. It’s knowing that there are times when you need to shut up and listen.

St. Joseph

On this fourth (4th) Sunday of Advent, we have the story of St. Joseph and his holy dilemma. I have always tried to imagine what might have transpired in Joseph’s heart when he received from Mary, his betrothed, the news of her pregnancy and (maybe) how it happened. I admit it’s just my interpretation (it’s not written in the gospel that Mary told him), but I reasonably believe that she told him about it. How must Joseph have felt in the face of this news?

Joseph is a man who is getting married; he is about to fulfill his dream of love by starting a family. In fact, faced with what has incomprehensibly happened, he is unable to immediately believe Mary’s version. But he also can’t bring himself to have feelings of hatred towards her, as to immediately expose her to public ridicule and consequently to death (by stoning). What fiancé would not, at least initially, have such feelings? Imagine the scenario: As your wedding approaches, your bride informs you that she is carrying a child that is not yours. What a betrayal! Right? And you still manage to hold your cool and give it a long thought. Difficult.

Lesson in Humanity

In a world that is constantly on the hunt for the latest (breaking) news that could accuse, mock, or tarnish the dignity of the person (even one who may have made a serious mistake), Joseph’s decision sounds like a lesson more in humanity than love. Today, the increased possibilities of human communication through modern technologies are certainly to be hailed as an important resource, but they should serve the humanity of our relationships, not their dehumanization or destruction. In this thinking of Joseph, we see the progress of a man who does not enjoy the disqualification or other evil that befalls others; a man who does not let himself be overcome by “gut” reactions, but rather maturely weighs a decision using his head and his heart.

In the liquidity of thoughts and behaviors of today’s existence, may the Lord give us new men like Joseph! Because certainly there is great novelty in what he alone proposes: in him lives a man who loves and protects life. Even when he starts to detach himself from Mary, he thinks of her as a true lover as she is, and thus, the only solution for everyone to get out of it the right way is to let Mary live.

A Complex Reality

Reality is complex and sometimes even incomprehensible. We realize this especially when we are faced with the need to make decisions and we realize that we may not have all the facts. Things are often not entirely clear. Sometimes it’s even difficult to understand where God is, because what appears to be good isn’t always good.


On this journey of discernment, Joseph does not feel alone, because God has revealed himself to him as Emmanuel, God who walks with us. Ascending to Heaven, Jesus reminds his disciples of that promise: I am with you always, to the close of the age (Mt 28:20). Therefore, we too are never alone in our decisions: even in the dark we are always in this great embrace of God, who never leaves us.

Readings: Is 7:10-14; Rom 1:1-7; Mt 1:18-24]

Fr. John Bosco Obiako

Fr. JohnBosco Obiako is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Orlu, Nigeria. He is a doctoral student of Philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome - Italy, with a special interest in Philosophy and Ethics of technology. He also provides spiritual and pastoral services as Chaplain to African Anglophone Catholic Community in the Diocese of Prato, Italy. Email contact: [email protected]


  1. Nancy J Coffey on December 18, 2022 at 9:04 am

    Thank you for your inspirational post.

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