A saint like the rest of us

I still remember the time I didn’t get the job. Well, actually there were a few times I didn’t get the job and I don’t like to remember them. Then, there was the time I didn’t get the girl or the promotion or the mortgage or the college acceptance or (fill in the blank).

Life is full of disappointments, and I suspect if we sat around cataloging every time we were disappointed, we wouldn’t want to face another day. Sometimes you just have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again, as the song says.

My typical response to a major disappointment is to raise my eyes to heaven, shake my head and ask, “Why, God, why? Why did this happen? Why didn’t you prevent this?” But disappointment is a fundamental fact of life that we can’t escape, and it has always been that way. As they say in 12 Step programs, “You are not alone.”

One of the most painful scripture readings for me is in the Acts of the Apostles, and we hear it every May 14 on the feast of St. Matthias. Although he wasn’t one of the original apostles, Matthias got the job after they voted to replace Judas.

St. Luke recorded: “So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas—who was also known as Justus—and Matthias. Then, they prayed, ‘You, Lord, who knows the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this apostolic ministry from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.’ Then, they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the apostles.”

Joseph Barsabbas didn’t get the job, and he was lost in the shadows of history, eclipsed by someone else’s success. Did he go home and brood? Did he complain to his wife and family that he was better qualified than Matthias? Did he walk away from Christ like so many others and return to his Jewish faith? Was he angry and resentful?

To my thinking, none of our disappointments can compare with not being named one of the Twelve Apostles. That’s the kind of disappointment I don’t think I could have survived … without Jesus. I’m pretty sure the same was true of Joseph Barsabbas, now known as Saint Joseph Barsabbas, who stands as an example for all of us who’ve suffered disappointments in life. He didn’t let his disappointment defeat him.

St. John Chrysostom writes, “The other candidate (Joseph) was not annoyed, for the apostolic writers would not have concealed failings of their own, seeing they have told of the very chief apostles, that on other occasions had indignation, and not only once, but again and again.”

Joseph was one of the disciples, who followed Christ from his baptism in the Jordan to his Ascension. He served Christ faithfully until the end. He became a bishop, and tradition says he was martyred at Eleutheropolis, a city in Judea, southwest of Jerusalem.

During the first century, it was a village called Betaris, which Roman forces under Emperor Vespasian attacked in 68 A.D. to quell Jewish rebels. Among the 10,000 who were killed was Joseph Barsabbas, who refused to renounce his Christian faith. There’s a relic of him in the chapel at the University of Notre Dame, and his feast day is July 20.

In our success-obsessed culture, we typically consider the guy who didn’t get the job as unworthy, or worse, a failure. God, however, doesn’t have a corporate mentality. With God, worldly titles and honors count for nothing. He’s not interested in short-term gains at the expense of long-term goals. He sees the entire picture, or more accurately, the eternal picture. And here’s a secret: We find Jesus in our greatest disappointments.

Even though God’s will is inscrutable, I like to think he knew Joseph could deal with the disappointment. I also like to think Joseph wasn’t less worthy, just that God had a different plan for him. He was a humble man, and Jesus surely considered humility one of the greatest virtues. (Let’s not forget the other St. Joseph, who was a humble man of quiet, courageous accomplishment.)

Even though he hasn’t been designated the patron saint of a particular cause, Joseph Barsabbas should be the patron saint of the disappointed. St. Joseph Barsabbas, pray for us, that we see God’s will in our disappointments.