Saint Joseph and the Measure of Fatherhood

Saint Joseph and the Measure of Fatherhood


Here is a link to the Sunday readings.

Here is a link to the Saint Joseph’s Day readings (Monday).

shutterstock_347433149This year, the Church celebrates the 3rd Sunday of Lent on March 19th, the day normally designated for the celebration of St. Joseph. As a result, St. Joseph’s feast day is moved to Monday the 20th. I’ll break with tradition myself a bit and use the readings for St. Joseph’s Day (rather than Sunday) to guide our reflection.

We traditionally call Joseph the foster father, or adoptive father, of Jesus. His role in Jesus’ young life is not detailed in Scripture. We get a glimpse of him protecting Mary and the young Jesus from King Herod’s jealous and murderous wrath (Matt. 2:13-15). We see him with Mary and the 12-year-old Jesus observing the traditions of their Jewish faith at the Temple. We learn about his anxiety and then relief and confusion when Jesus went missing there:

“After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.’ And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.”

We know Joseph was a carpenter, and we imagine him teaching the trade to Jesus. Then, we assume, he died before the events of the Passion, since from the Cross Jesus entrusted Mary to John’s care (John 19:26). What remains mostly hidden, though, is essential: the important role of fathers in the everyday life of their children.

What kind of father do you have or did you have? Maybe your father was absent: was there another person who filled that role? Have you filled that role for someone else? What kind of father have you tried to be? What kind of father are you married to? Reflecting on Joseph today gives us an opportunity to think about the important role of fathers in our lives. I remember leading a retreat for imprisoned young men in New York. At one point, we had them draw their image of God. We pray “Our Father,” but for these teenagers, their image of God was, overwhelmingly, their mother. Their own fathers had hurt them deeply in various ways, including simply being absent; but their mothers had never given up on them. Their mothers represented unconditional love and forgiveness without measure. In one sense, it is beautiful that they were able to see a feminine image of God. On the other hand, it is tragic that they had no male figure like St. Joseph to represent God the Father to them.

shutterstock_310513589 (1)Fathers matter. Their attention, interest, and care; their affection, encouragement, and role modeling; their unselfish sacrifices for their children’s well-being—these are of immense value in shaping a young life into a healthy, happy, responsible, and moral adulthood. In my work with youth and families, one of the most common wounds that people have shared with me regards being abandoned, neglected, belittled, abused, or otherwise unloved by one’s father. One teen told me years ago that his dad had a nickname for him: BFM. It stood for Big Fu#&n Mistake. Imagine the wound that caused! Terrible! A good friend once told me that every child needs to hear what Jesus heard from his Father in heaven: “This is my beloved son (or daughter) in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).

“Joseph… was a righteous man.” He was a faithful spouse to Mary and a good father on earth to Jesus. Though he was the only sinner in the Holy Family, he was the head of the household, and even Jesus was obedient to him and learned from him. This is the miracle of the Incarnation! In assuming human flesh, the Second Person of the Trinity entered a human family and was dependent upon His mother and father. I spoke in this blog of the importance of mothers before, but today, I ask us all to reflect on the importance of good fathers of all sorts. Are there ways we can help support fathers in their hard work, and pray for and assist those in tough situations? Can we make room in our prayer for those hurt by their fathers, for healing and the grace to not allow the violence to cycle into another generation? And maybe we could be alert to times when God may be asking us, like he did to Joseph, to be a father to someone else’s child.

shutterstock_404488648Thank you to all the fathers out there, including my own, who have placed their families first and have played a caring role in the raising of their kids, especially in the handing on of the faith. It is always so good to see fathers involved in the religious education of their kids. Like Saint Joseph, you really make a big difference!


Editorial credit: Renata Sedmakova / for the St. Joseph painting.

  • Marion Collins
    Posted at 20:44h, 22 March

    You went in a great direction , Kevin, in the importance and imagery of St. Joseph as a measure of Fatherhood! He seems to be the unsung hero in the Bible although acknowledged to be the earthly Father of Jesus.
    I have always prayed to St. Joseph to intercede for the unfailing Faith he had in believing his dreams. He protected and provided for Jesus as an infant, child and young adult, teaching Him the trade of carpentry before He began His Public Ministry.
    The imagery of Joseph as a loving and patient Father is difficult not to love and honor when it comes to ask intercessory prayers that he guide my sons to continue being wonderful fathers!
    Working as a DRE it has become quite easy to see kids who are not in a relationship with understanding fathers, who have been abused by them physically and emotionally or are absent altogether. Both boys and girls seem to try so hard to gain their father’s approval and suffer greatly when they feel they have disappointed them.
    It is Important for kids to see St. Joseph as a loving, forgiving, Father with empathy for others. Fathers, heed his example thus shaping happy, healthy, responsible and moral individuals as their children grow into adulthood. They also make a really lasting impression when they worship with their children.

    Kevin, thank you for leading us to renewed respect for St. Joseph who who cared for Jesus and Mary and is a Model for all Fathers.
    Thank you Bayard for having Kevin, to remind us to pray for all Fathers, those who love, teach and sacrifice for their children and the children who have been hurt or deprived of a father’s love.