I have attended the Sardine Can a few times. I call it such because it is inevitably packed to the rafters with a standing-room-only-crowd. It is the oldest Catholic church building in Staten Island and is located in what was once a sleepy maritime village on the southern part of the island. The village has been mostly obliterated and its original inhabitants scattered to the four winds first by a devastating brush fire in the early 1960s which displaced 500 people and destroyed 100 homes, and then by the construction of the West Shore Expressway, the Verrazano Bridge and subsequent overdevelopment. Now, one can spot a humble older house here and there, nestled in between the McMansions and endless vistas of attached townhouses. White flight from Brooklyn and the North Shore of Staten Island has made this neighborhood extremely popular and its 19th century church extremely well attended. I could just as easily call it The Death Trap, as its single small exit would make it a tomb for hundreds in the event of a fire.
In any case, it's a charming edifice, with beautiful stained glass windows, traditional Stations of the Cross and other iconography. Its congregation appears to be mostly Italian American. For some reason the parish is officially combined with a booming, opulent parish a few miles down the road. Even though this parish is always packed, one doesn't get the impression of any special fervor. No
The priest, a handsome bearded man who couldn't have been more than 40 and who spoke with a theatrical voice and articulate delivery, gave a sermon on the Gospel story of how Jesus' divine paternity was revealed to Joseph in a dream, thus convincing Joseph not to divorce Mary after he learned of her pregnancy. The centerpiece of his entire message was that Joseph had not intended to divorce Mary because he thought she was unfaithful- that would have meant that Joseph did not trust Mary and that would have made him cynical, an unthinkable fault- but that he was going to divorce her because he thought she had been raped by a Gentile during her visit to Elizabeth, which would have rendered the child non-Jewish under the Law of the time, making their marriage illegal as well. According to the priest, this compelled a devout man like Joseph to divorce Mary, as much as he no doubt didn't want to.
No trace of this fanciful construction is found in the Bible at all. It was entirely a figment of this priest's imagination. Even if it could be argued that it was so, I am at a loss as to how there is any lesson in it that would be relevant to us today. I don't know anyone who ever faulted Joseph for wanting to divorce his pregnant wife whom he never had relations. In any case, how does this story edify us or inspire us to be better Catholics? This was truly one of the most bizarre sermons I've ever heard, which was a shame since the priest was a very good orator, with a persuasive and passionate delivery.