Drawing from the traditional Litany of St. Joseph and the writing of the Popes on St. Joseph, we hope to sketch some of the virtues of human fatherhood. As Leo XIII said in his encyclical on St. Joseph, "Fathers of families find in Joseph the best personification of paternal solicitude and vigilance." This was confirmed by Blessed John Paul II, who in a meditation on St. Joseph, observed that St. Joseph is "a perfect incarnation of fatherhood in the human and at the same time holy family."
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - It may be said that fatherhood is the vocation of all men. Though "Father's Day" focuses on the fathers of human families, fatherhood itself is a broader concept. Fatherhood is, in fact, a highly analogical word. That is one reason the term can be applied to God the Father, from whom all fatherhood, in heaven and on earth, is named. (Cf. Eph. 3:14-15)
Fatherhood is a relationship that is much more than biological fatherhood. We understand that when we commonly acknowledge St. Joseph to be a father to Jesus, though he was not his biological father. As Pope Benedict XVI noted in 2009, St. Joseph "is not the biological father of Jesus, whose Father is God alone, and yet he lives his fatherhood fully and completely."
In this article, we will focus on the qualities of St. Joseph, who is often called the Umbra Patris, the "Shadow of God the Father," to try to understand the characteristics of human fatherhood which find their origin in God and the Father, and which are honored by Americans on this day.
Drawing from the traditional Litany of St. Joseph and the writing of the Popes on St. Joseph, we hope to sketch some of the virtues of human fatherhood. As Leo XIII said in his encyclical on St. Joseph Quamquam pluries (No. 4), "Fathers of families find in Joseph the best personification of paternal solicitude and vigilance." This was confirmed by Blessed John Paul II, who in a meditation on St. Joseph, observed that St. Joseph is "a perfect incarnation of fatherhood in the human and at the same time holy family."
A father acts justly. Justice is one of the four cardinal virtues which every father must nourish and practice. A father treats those with whom he comes in contact, in particular those who are members of his household with justice. St. Joseph, the Scriptures say, was a "just man" (Matt. 1:9), and so sought a way to handle Mary's "'astonishing' motherhood" with justice. (JP II, Redemptoris custos, No. 3) While just, St. Joseph was also open to the equities of mercy. He was also aware that, in applying justice, the just man must consider all extenuating circumstances, even the most unexpected circumstance of Mary's conception by the Holy Spirit.
A father is chaste. We call St. Joseph "the most chaste spouse" for a reason, and he exhibited heroic chastity. However, all men are called to chaste living. Chastity in marriage means, above all, conjugal fidelity to one's wife. More broadly, however, it means also rigorous conformity with the Church's teaching of human sexuality, including rejection of the modern ills of unnatural sex, artificial contraception, and pornography, as these are destructive of the marital relationship and the family and are intrinsically anti-life and so unbefitting to a virtuous man. This purity is spiritually required, as only the pure in heart shall see God. (Matt. 5:8)
A father exercises prudence. St. Joseph, we pray in the Roman Missal at the Preface for the Solemnity of his feast, was placed "at the head of his family, as a faithful and prudent servant." Prudence, which might be defined as "right reason in action," is called by St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bernard of Clairvaux the auriga virtutum or charioteer of virtues. It is a habitual disposition to dispose "practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it." CCC § 1806. For its proper exercise, it obviously requires maturity, discipline, obedience to the natural moral law, and openness to God.
A father exhibits strength. The strength exhibited by a father is not necessarily physical strength, but moral and spiritual strength, that is, the internal power, force, vigor, and moral stamina of human character required to do right when difficult and avoid evil when temptation beckons. In short, a father has the virtues of fortitude, the strength to do good in adversity, and temperance, the strength to avoid evil when tempted.
A father is obedient to God and to his family. Obedience to God, is, of course, essential to any human life. There is also a sort of obedience that a father owes his family. Though the father is the head of his family (Eph. 5:21-25), it is important to recall that such authority is ordered to giving one's self up for the benefit of the body, as Christ to the Church. Obedience to this duty gives rise to the subjection by the father of his own good for that of his wife and family. He gives of himself in an act of "complete self-sacrifice," like St. Joseph, who gave to Mary "a husband's 'gift of self,'" without reserve. (Redemptoris custos, No. 20).
A father is faithful to God and to his family. Joseph remained faithful to God, and scrupulously complied with all his religious and familial obligations. As Pope John Paul II put it: "In the course of that pilgrimage of faith which was his life, Joseph . . . remained faithful to God's call until the end." Fidelity, along with offspring and the sacrament, is, of course, one of the goods of marriage, and the father will honor that with all the strength of his being. He has promised that fidelity until death parts him and his wife, and he abides by such promise with great fidelity.
A father is patient. Here, we might do no better than quote Fr. Francis Xavier Lasance and his book on Patience: "The patience of St. Joseph was tried by a series of tribulations, and in the midst of it all, Joseph was calm and resigned. He understood that tribulations are the crucible in which God purifies the virtue of those whom He loves, that the way of the cross is the only one which leads to heaven, that all the just must pass along it, and that Jesus never visits a soul without taking His cross with Him."
A father loves poverty. Things, things, things will not be at the forefront of a father, who will reject consumerism and materialism. Fired by the "bond of charity," a bond cemented by love of God and of his family, a father will have spiritual poverty, and so imitate the Holy Family's "poverty of Bethlehem, then in their exile in Egypt, and later in the house of Nazareth." (Redemptoris custos, No. 21). St. Joseph shows us that material wealth is not life's end; rather, material wealth is to support the spiritual part of man. "Joseph, content with his slight possessions, bore the trials consequent on a fortune so slender." (Quamquam pluries, No. 4).
A father works. What Blessed John Paul II said of St. Joseph should be said of all fathers: "He is a man of work." "Work," for the father, is "the daily expression of love." Whether one is a carpenter, as was St. Joseph, or a financier, or anything in between, the value of hard work, of labor, of its role as a "human good which transforms nature and makes man in a sense more human," will be recognized. (Redemptoris custos, No. 22.)
A father glorifies in home life. A father will see home life as the life of the "domestic church," as Vatican II's Lumen gentium wonderfully put it. Indeed, here also, a father can imitate St. Joseph, who, as custodian of the "divine house which [he] ruled with the authority of a father, contained within its limits the scarce-born Church." (LXIII, Quamquam pluries, No. 3) It is this, indeed, which makes St. Joseph the patron of the universal Church.
A father guards virginity. In his encyclical on St. Joseph, Pope Leo XIII described St. Joseph as "the model and protector of virginal integrity." (LXIII, Quamquam pluries, No. 3) By his example, and by his custody, St. Joseph, the most chaste spouse, guarded and protected his own virginity and the virginity of Mary and of Jesus. Through his example, we learn that virginity is a great good, not because marriage or properly-ordered sex is evil, but because it is a voluntary giving up of a great good for an even greater good.
A father is the pillar of the human family. Nothing in the family will occur without his being present. He will gives solace to those who suffer in the family. He will offer hope and care to those who are ill. He will love those in his charge unto death.
A father provides his family with physical sustenance. Like St. Joseph, who "regularly by his work . . . earned what was necessary . . . for nourishment and clothing," a father will provide for the physical needs of his family. (LXII, Quamquam pluries, No. 3) A father who, though capable, fails to provide for his family, is "worse than an infidel," as one translation of St. Paul's first letter to Timothy put it. (1 Tim. 5:8).
A father provides his family with spiritual sustenance. Like St. Joseph, a father should develop a "deep spiritual closeness arising from marital union and the interpersonal contact between man and woman," one that has its "definitive origin in the Spirit, the Giver of Life." (Redemptoris custos, No. 19). Like St. Joseph, a father should listen to God's direction. He must develop a sense of silence and learn the art of contemplation. "In the silence of daily events," Pope Francis said recently in a catechetical address on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, "St. Joseph, together with Mary," had "one common center of attention: Jesus." St. Joseph learned to contemplate God, which is to recognize the Lord's "constant presence in our lives," together with the ability to "stop and converse" with the Lord, and "give him space in prayer."
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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