Today we honor our fathers and I would like to present you with the figure of Joseph, the last of the patriarchs, whose fatherhood stands out among all of the fathers of the world!
In the Holy Family one of its members is clearly the least holy of them all. That of course is Saint Joseph! He is the “head” of the family, the one bearing the responsibility of guiding this family through what can only be described as a most “unfamiliar” territory (no pun intended!), for this particular family as such never existed before and can never happen again. He is tested in his prudence from the very beginning and it makes him experience his vulnerability, that place from where true strength is wrought! He must lead the family, but he finds himself absolutely unfit (and he is!). We should marvel at the fact that neither Jesus nor Mary are the “head” of this family, although they are both far ahead of him in holiness. They both follow and obey Joseph. How uncomfortable is that for this father!?! He must exercise his paternal God-given authority over his family while knowing that he is somewhat ofan ‘outsider’. In a sense he is the least competent and he knows it. I believe every Christian father is led to feel that way.
Joseph is at the end of the long line of patriarchs. The genealogy of Jesus shows us at once the continuity and the “break” in the lineage: Jesus does not descend from Joseph according to theflesh. Furthermore, Joseph is married to the Virgin Mother who will not “know man”. He will not have relations with this woman and the son is not his! That is some purification! Nevertheless,among all the men in history, who can argue that to be chosen as the husband of Mary and the father of Jesus Christ places you on top of the list of all males? God speaks to men in a particular way through the figure of Joseph! He particularly exemplifies the way in which the Heavenly Father would have us all grow into the maturity of our vocation as men!
He stands by Mary, in her shadow, because that is how the male is sanctified in God’s plan. Without his wife man would be such a diminished version of God’s image because he would be left quite clueless as to the meaning of life. Woman brings to man the sense of his “destiny” and enables him to understand why he possesses the talents that he has. God teaches man to serve his family. He protects the family and works to provide as best he can. All fathers lay down their lives for their families. The good ones do it with a sense of joy and fulfillment. What else could give him peace?
There exists a profound crisis of fatherhood in the world today. There is no doubt that women deserve the equality they have acquired in society. We are all equal. Women have put up a struggle in order to build a society where they would be equally valued and respected. But have men been able to rediscover their positive roles as males within today’s society? We have to make sure that we value men and fatherhood as much as we value women and motherhood. Let us pray that those who are called to become fathers may find themselves encouraged to become who they are meant to be in God’s eyes and fulfilled in responding to their call.
Fr Sean Mary