Before caller ID and cell phones, telephone etiquette included identifying oneself promptly when placing a call. However, growing up, I had this one relative who expected to be recognized by voice alone. I often failed that challenge, even when I had an inkling of who it was on the line. We just didn’t have that kind of relationship, and I was never quite certain. St. Joseph, however, did have that kind of relationship, and with God no less.

St. Joseph recognized God’s words because of their relationship: he knew himself, and he knew God. Therefore, he could recognize who was “on the line” when God was speaking to him.

What does it mean to know oneself? More than just knowing data, it means knowing the difference between who we are and what we do. It involves being comfortable with ourselves, too – being at ease in our own company. It means knowing our true purpose, aside from our role, job, career, or vocation.

The prologue of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that our true purpose is to seek, know, and love God. That’s it. Not to earn a living, not to have kids, cars, or homes – just to be in relationship with God. This relationship with God is what gives our lives meaning and purpose, and it’s the source of our human dignity. That meaning and dignity are found only in Jesus, the Christ, and in our relationship with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Looking for meaning, dignity, or purpose elsewhere only serves to cloud our identity, as the phone line did with my relative so long ago. It disguises God’s voice. Looking for our identity in other relationships muffles our hearing. The voices of the world mask and distort God’s message to us, or worse yet, shout Him down. It’s our job to hear, to listen to His voice, and to recognize His Word the way sheep recognize their shepherd, or the way someone close to you recognizes your voice on the phone.

So, how do we do that? How do we, today, living in the world, fulfill our role, our purpose in life?

St. Jerome said, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” St. Joseph would have known both Jesus and Scripture very well. We can, too. At Mass, we have the privilege of hearing Scripture from start to finish. By virtue of the marvelous technology available through the internet, we have access to the daily Mass readings and the entire Bible, anytime and in any translation we want. There are even multiple ways we can hear the Bible read to us, with or without commentary. Many parishes offer Catholic Bible studies, as do many publishers. With independent study, it’s helpful to remember that the Old Testament is revealed in the New, and the New is hidden in the Old. In other words, Jesus is described and promised in the first forty-six books, and we meet Him in person in the next twenty-seven.

Speaking of meeting Jesus in person, we do, in the Eucharist, at every Mass. He is there, Body and Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in that little wafer. I don’t know about you, but when I’m going to meet someone important to me, I prepare myself in advance. I dress up for the occasion, I think about what to say, what I’ll hear, what they like, and so on. I remember them, so I can recognize them when we meet again. Preparing to receive God, tangibly and in person, enables us to recognize Him. Without that preparation, we’re liable to miss Him, take Him for granted, or not recognize Him.

Private prayer is similar in that we benefit from some preparation. We benefit from solid formation, a suitable environment, and all the things that make for a good relationship. The hazards of everyday life include distractions,  busyness, and a lack of knowledge of Who we’re speaking with, but most of us can put in a little effort to nurture the relationship. Otherwise, we risk not knowing who we’re talking to and listening for, and we risk not recognizing when He speaks to us.

If someone doesn’t know me, they’re likely to miss half my answers. If my hands are tied, then I can’t speak – or so my family says. In answering people, I might shrug, roll my eyes, or give a look or a wave. It’s similar when we’re listening for God. His response is not always going to come the way we expect. This can be especially true in a season of loss or infertility. If we’re not attentive, and if we’re not familiar with His ways, we very well could miss His answer.

St. Joseph, as a righteous Jewish man of his time, would have studied Scripture thoroughly. He knew God’s voice and His ways; therefore, he recognized God’s messenger in his dreams. He recognized that the message revealed to him was consistent with God’s ways. Formation, for him, was ongoing, just as it can be for us.

How can we, today, imitate St. Joseph? How might we prepare ourselves to recognize God’s answer to our prayers and to encounter Him in our lives?

Delsonora lives in Central Ohio and has been married to the best husband a woman could want for over a quarter century. She has a disability and was adopted as an infant. Delsonora loves pets, crafting, and food, and she thinks that coincidence is often a “divine hint”. Catholic from conception, she’s convinced that the faith is why, despite the prevalence of other options, she was able to be born.