My father and I were never close. He worked in the diplomatic service and was away from home—or so it seemed—more than he was with his family. But even when he was physically present, he was not a person who showed or shared emotions easily. We were estranged when he died and there is not a day that goes by—but especially on Father’s Day!—that I don’t feel regret.
I know I am not alone. I know that there are fathers separated from their children for a myriad of reasons, and children growing up without fathers and feeling the ache. I feel that ache with them, and worry about fathers who, like mine, may be missing out on paternal joys.
Not having my father physically present has, however, given me space to really think about who fathers are, the roles they play in their children’s lives; and when I think about the ideal father, it’s always to St. Joseph that I return.
St. Joseph personified three distinct but interconnected missions that God entrusts to fathers: the mission to be a provider and protector, the mission to be a conduit for prayer and love, and the mission to listen and prepare a child for the future. So I’d like to spend a few moments in a meditation on these three missions as we see them through the life of St. Joseph.
In this first image, we see Joseph as an integral part of the Holy Family, in his role of protector.
When we first encounter Joseph, we understand him to be a good man, a man who walks with God, a man who probably looked forward to a reasonably ordinary life. Then, when the Lord’s angel informed him of the change to his plans, he didn’t say anything. He accepted God’s will. He married Mary and began taking care of her right away: there was the arduous trip to Bethlehem, the birth in the stable, and throughout it all we have the sense of Joseph always being nearby. He probably checked out everyone who came to visit Jesus, the shepherds, the strangers from the East, everyone!
And then when he learned his family was in danger, he again protected them, undertaking the flight into Egypt, a dangerous, weeklong trip through harsh conditions into a pagan land. (The Greek biographer Plutarch tells us that in 55 B.C. the same crossing was made by Roman officers, and that these soldiers feared the trip more than the war that awaited them in Egypt!) These years were certainly not a vacation: he had to find a place for his family to live, he had to find work so he could provide for them, and he did all of this in a foreign country where he didn’t even speak the language. Surely Joseph was a brave and faithful guardian! Through all this, Joseph fulfilled his obligations courageously. He was just and righteous. His pure love for Mary as his spouse, although virginal, was complete and real. He was the head of the Holy Family and protected and provided for them. It should not be surprising, therefore, that he is venerated as patron and protector of the universal Church; having adequately defended the head of the Church, he can also be entrusted with the body.
Many fathers face challenges in providing for their families; the past few months have been challenging for many families with the widespread job loss and a general economic downturn. Fathers want to do their best for their children, and, like Joseph, encounter challenges and obstacles that may seem unsurmountable.
Pray for fathers who are struggling to protect and provide for their families.
Pray and Love
In this next image, we see Joseph simultaneously embracing Jesus and praying with and for him. Joseph was a man of prayer; while we do not know the precise words he used, we know that he conversed in his dreams with God through the angels, and we know he was a religious man, a man who no doubt studied the Law and the Prophets, who prayed daily Jewish prayers, who blessed the food his family ate, who gave thanks to God when the meal was ended. Joseph would have taught Jesus to speak and to use human words to talk to the Heavenly Father—this is prayer. (And if St. Joseph taught Jesus how to pray, how much could he teach us how to pray if we ask for his help?)
We don’t know much from Scripture about the years Jesus and Joseph spent together in Nazareth, but it’s a good bet that Joseph fulfilled his responsibilities as a Jewish father.
There is a passage in the Talmud that explains literally what a father should do for his child after birth, and it reads: “A father is obligated to do the following for his son: to circumcise him, to redeem him if he is a first-born, to teach him Torah, to find him a wife, and to teach him a trade.” In other words, giving Jesus a love of learning, showing him how to create meaningful relationships, how to be productive and contributing in the world, and the practical skills one needs every day to survive.
Fathers sometimes feel that mothers are more attuned to children’s developmental needs, and leave that part of parenting to the child’s mother. Yet Joseph shows how intense love and involvement in a child’s life enriches it. One way to get involved in kids’ spiritual lives is to pray the Rosary together. This helps fathers feel that closeness with their children’s development that they crave.
Pray for fathers who are struggling to be role models of love and prayer for their children.
Listen and Prepare
I love this third image. Look at the joy, the tenderness, the familiarity that exist between Joseph and Jesus! They look like they might be sharing a moment of humor together. When you’re close to someone, you develop an intimate communication with them—phrases or words that can only be understood in the context of the relationship. We can imagine that such intimacy existed between Jesus and his earthly father.
Joseph spent many, many hours listening to Jesus. He knew from the start who Jesus was, and must have tried throughout the child’s conversations to discern the voice of God. But he listened, also, because he was in the role of father: his child’s well-being and happiness were in his hands. When you care about someone, you listen to them.
Joseph had to give Jesus a great deal to prepare him for his mission—a mission Joseph himself couldn’t begin to understand. He did it as best he could. He presented Jesus in the Temple at the correct times. The sources we have indicate that for boys the signs of physical puberty were thought to occur at around age 13, and at that point they were legally responsible for obeying Jewish law. (There is mention in a non-canonical addendum to the Talmud of a prayer that boys said at the temple after they completed the Yom Kippur fast for the first time. If so, then it is probable that Joseph supervised Jesus’ saying this prayer.)
Our culture is changing so rapidly, it is difficult for fathers today to know how best to prepare their children for the future. Many fathers struggle to listen to their children, as there are always many other pressing things to accomplish.
Pray for fathers who are struggling to know how best to prepare their children for the future.
Let us pray:
O Holy Joseph, virgin spouse of the Virgin Mother of God, most glorious advocate of all such as are in danger, or in their last agony, and most faithful protector of all the servants of Mary, your dearest Spouse, I, Name, in the presence of Jesus and Mary, do, from this moment, choose you for my powerful patron and advocate, in order that I may obtain the grace of a most happy death. I firmly resolve and purpose never to forsake you, nor to say or do anything against your honor. Receive me, therefore, for your constant servant, and recommend me to the constant protection of Mary, your dearest Spouse, and to the everlasting mercies of Jesus my Savior. Assist me in all the actions of my life. I now offer them to the greater and everlasting glory of Jesus and Mary, as well as to your own.
And… happy Father’s Day to all!
By: Jeannette de Beauvoir
Images: Kelly Sikkemens for Unsplash, and Vanessa Guerrero, RPM, and Alejandra Inés Arias for Cathopic.