Our Model of Fatherhood

St. Joseph is one of the most remarkable figures in the Bible. He is a man who is truly defined more by his actions than his words. His core function in the Gospels is to be the protector of Mary and the human father of the Lord. Scholars even suspect that the reason why Joseph later disappears from the Gospel narrative is because he had died sometime between when Jesus was a 12-year-old boy in the temple and before the Lord’s adult ministry began. God, in His providence, appears to have chosen Joseph for this exact purpose: to care for His Son and Our Mother. Joseph is therefore a model to us, chosen by God, for what fatherhood and masculinity ought to be. 


For example, we venerate St. Joseph for his chastity as he did not violate the Blessed Mother’s virginity. He understood that Mary was the bride of the Holy Spirit, and she belonged to God. Nonetheless, God allowed Joseph to be a husband and father in order to provide His incarnate Son a complete human family. Joseph recognizes that he is also a simple servant of the Lord, and though he is married to the Blessed Mother, he honors that she belongs to another. 


Our priests, our spiritual fathers, mirror St. Joseph in this way. They acknowledge that the Church is the bride of Christ, and they therefore remain faithful to her in their chastity. They care for us as if we were little Christs, needing their guidance and presence. They give us our spiritual food, hear our confessions, and heal us when we are wounded. Priests also recognize that the ministry of the Church will outlive them, as Mary had outlived Joseph. They are well aware that their life is but one passing moment in the story of Christianity, as St. Joseph is there for a moment in the Gospels and gone the next. 


Still, I can’t help but imagine how much Jesus loved (and continues to love) His human father. We know that God became incarnate and entered into our lowly humanity because of how much He loves us. But, imagine God saying, “I love you, Abba!” with a small child’s voice. Imagine taking God with you to the Greek-speaking marketplaces around Nazareth, into your workshop full of stone and wood, into Jerusalem with the Blessed Mother during the festival of the Passover; imagine holding God in your arms, teaching Him how to walk, and hearing Him cry. These realities demonstrate to us how much God loves the human race, and the sacred role that fathers play. 


I am particularly reminded of how Fr. Gale processed with the Blessed Sacrament alongside a group of other young men including myself during SEEK21. I had the flashlight trained on the Host and was able to track Fr. Gale’s face.  As the night went on, I could see his hands tremble a little from holding the monstrance up for so long. He would readjust his grip, while his eyes communicated to me his determination that Christ be presented to His children. 


Archbishop Joseph Nauman is another incredible example of St. Joseph’s spiritual fatherhood. Archbishop Nauman celebrated mass numerous times during Quo Vadis, a retreat for men discerning the diocesan priesthood. He brought  singers with him from the Little Sisters of the Lamb monastery and made sure to talk to us after mass about our discernment. His presence at the retreat touched all of us deeply, because we could see he really cared about us. He shared the things he loved, the Mass and the music of the Little Sisters. We learned so much about his character through his actions and the sacrifices he was willing to make. 


Both Fr. Gale and Archbishop Nauman model St. Joseph’s willingness to be present for his family, and Joseph’s resolve to fulfill his God-given duties. These are the keys to excellent fatherhood - both spiritual and familial. I’ll sometimes see during mass, for example, a father juggle a baby or two in his arms, as another slips by his lap and around the pews. He’ll hush the children when silence is necessary, and tell them when Jesus is really present. He’ll model for them how to pray and participate in the mass. My sister and I were also blessed to see a bunch of little girls celebrate as their dad said they could stay up past their bedtime because they wanted to see him return from work. A father’s presence and faithfulness is often overlooked in the hustle and bustle of life, but it is of immeasurable value. 


This leads me to a final lesson that St. Joseph can teach us, especially for young women. I’ve seen throughout my life how beautiful the relationship is between a father and his daughter-in-law, as she is adopted into a new family through his son. Through observing her husband’s father, she discovers new layers of her husband’s personality and where his mannerisms and masculinity came from. I think Catholic women would similarly benefit from getting to know Jesus’ human father and seeing where His love for created things and respect for women originated. Jesus, after all, not only gives us Himself in the Holy Eucharist but also a family in the Church, of both the living and the dead, and so we are not meant to experience Christ alone but in the family we have been adopted into. Joseph provides us a window into the humanity of Christ and the tenderness of His divinity. 


I want to close by encouraging you to know the human father of Christ more deeply and joining us for the 33-day consecration to St. Joseph beginning on February 15th. This is a wonderful opportunity to grow in our faith journey and see new dimensions of Jesus. 


St. Joseph, pray for us. 

 

Suan Sonna is a philosophy student at Kansas State University and a protestant convert to Catholicism.

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