St. Joseph: A quiet man with much to say
Father’s Day has become a day to recognize the important place of dad. While the celebration itself may be focused on a Father’s Day card, a gift, or a special meal, at its heart is the recognition that a father plays a singularly important role in the life of a family. Children need a father. Fathers have a God-given responsibility to their children.
Recognizing this, Pope John Paul II took action, holding up St. Joseph as a model of modern manhood. On August 15, 1989, he issued an apostolic exhortation on St. Joseph and the Catholic understanding of fatherhood – Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer: On the Person and Mission of St. Joseph in the Life of Christ and the Church).
Just as we call Mary “Mother of the Church” because she is mother of Jesus who is head of the Church, so we look to St. Joseph, who was foster father of Jesus and his protector, as the “Patron of the Universal Church, Protector of the Church.”
We can rejoice that St. Joseph through his marriage to Mary was caught up in the mystery of spiritual fatherhood and became a model of marriage, care of one’s child, and an exemplar of the Holy Family. St. Joseph is a model to every believer and particularly for men in their role as father.
We are called to be actively engaged in our vocation, our calling from God, in a way that quietly but effectively spreads the faith and extends God’s kingdom in everyplace and age.
Today (June 21), is Father’s Day.
Every year I always remember what my Father told me when I once asked him what he wanted for Father’s Day. “Although I will appreciate whatever you give me” he said, “I don’t really want another tie I am not going to wear or power tool I will not use. What I would really like is some peace and quiet”.
I think that comment says a lot about Father’s Day. People make a big deal about Mother’s Day. There are the cards, flowers and gifts as well as taking Mom out to dinner. They seem to know what to do on that day. Although there are cards and gifts on Father’s Day, the celebration is more understated and sometimes people feel slightly awkward at it. I wonder if part of the problem involves having a clear understanding of fatherhood.
There was a time when most fathers went to work and mothers stayed home and looked after the kids. Those days are over. With women working more outside the home, Fathers are usually spending more time doing domestic chores (cooking, laundry etc.) and looking after the kids. I think this is a good thing. Yet, what exactly is a father’s role?
I realize a son runs the risk of putting his father on a pedestal. I will try to avoid doing so. Yet, I think my father clearly understood his role: to give his kids the tools they needed to be a success in life. He taught me how to be a man. He always put the needs of his family before his own. He always gave a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. When he gave you his word, he kept it no matter the cost. He never talked about any of these things. He just lived them out daily.
Sadly, many fathers (back then and especially today) do not understand what fatherhood entails or why it is important. The number of families where the father is absent or plays no significant role is growing rapidly. Statistics indicate children growing up in such an environment have a greater chance of having emotional and social problems (including getting in trouble at school or involved with crime). Many fathers who do remain with the family abdicate their responsibilities by having their wives go to parent-teacher nights or bring their kids to Mass. They do not provide their kids with a good male role model.
I think part of the problem lies with how fatherhood is perceived within our society. When marriage and the family can be redefined easily, there are no fixed points of reference which means no clear responsibilities. Few television shows present fathers in a positive light. Many male celebrities show their disdain for commitments and feel no obligation to be a good role model. Our society needs to have a serious conversation about fatherhood.
Those in ordained ministry or undergoing formation for it likely encounter the effects of this troubling situation on a regular basis. I am surprized at how many of the newly ordained or seminarians have experienced it in their own lives. The situation is not likely going to change much in the near future. Those in pastoral ministry need to be sensitive to the needs of mothers and children in fatherless families as well as being supportive of fathers who are trying to fulfill their responsibilities.
Yet, I think there is something else we can do. Ordained Catholic clergy should strive to be positive male role models for those whom they serve. A Priest can never replace a father. But, he can show boys how to respect women and girls how they should be treated through his example. He can highlight the qualities of a good man (sacrifice, honor, hard work, commitment etc.) by just living them out.
Although my father died in 1991, I carry what he gave me every day. This Father’s Day I can’t give him a tie, power tool or even some peace and quiet. But, I can honor his gift by using it.