Rev. Pierre Allard, pastor and president of the International Prison Chaplain’s Association, relates a telling detail that speaks to the state of fatherhood today: “Come Mother’s Day, … chaplains are flooded with requests for Mother’s Day cards. In 21 years of ministry in prison, I am yet to be asked for a Father’s Day card.” This anecdotal evidence illustrates at a glance what social scientists are now able to observe in large numbers and general trends: that fathers play an irreplaceable role in the family and, therefore, society. Fatherless criminals, who were not taught good lessons in the home, instead bring the strife they inherit upon their victims. Truly, it is difficult to overstate the importance that a father has in the life of his child. And yet, it is just as difficult to find a voice in the popular media that will admit this simple fact.
On the third Sunday of June, Canada celebrates Father’s Day. But how can a nation celebrate its fathers if fatherhood is not respected? For too many children today, fatherhood means little more than their biological lineage. But if fatherhood is not honoured and esteemed as an ideal, it cannot support society as its very pillar.
To rehabilitate this noble vocation, an example of true manliness is needed to excite the imagination and guide the eager heart. But who can be held up as a model father for the modern world? Who else but patient, selfless, saintly Joseph, the head of the Holy Family?
His first lesson is the example of fidelity in marriage. So often, the sudden news of a pregnancy is the cause of great divisions in the family. In irregular situations, recrimination and rejection take the place of congratulations. The news of new life is, so often, sadly, bad news, and the opinions of the neighbours make even some parents – who are now grandparents – forget that, even under the most difficult circumstances, the words of the poet ring true: “A baby is God’s way of saying the world should go on”.
Notice that Joseph is no stranger to these trials, but he reacts with neither judgment nor cruelty. The new child is welcomed into the family, even before he is known. Joseph’s silent, fatherly heroism is such that even his understandable confusion and inner turmoil are not mentioned in the Gospels. He welcomes life, even when it hurts. Instead of sending Mary away quietly, he endures an inexplicable situation with patience, charity and sensitivity.
Notice, too, that this man of faithfulness is also a man of faith. An angel comes to him in a dream. What is the lesson for us here? First, we observe that Joseph does not doubt, but believes the extraordinary message of the angel and accepts his wife and her child.
Through his human fidelity and spiritual faith, Joseph’s fatherly care for Christ begins even before the child is born. Joseph is given the name that he is to call the child while the baby is still in the womb. But Joseph gives two more counsels to the modern world about the nature of fatherhood, in his industry and in his purity.
While a carpenter would never be rich, the Holy Family is never destitute, even in their exile. This can only be explained by the hard work of Joseph for his family; like another Joseph in Egypt, he becomes a provider for his loved ones. Yet, this daily work is also not recorded in the Gospels. Instead, with paternal humility, Joseph’s virtues do not advertise themselves and his countless silent sacrifices go unmentioned. The industriousness of Joseph is hidden.
This brings us to another of saintly Joseph’s strengths: his purity. Augustine observed: “In Christ’s parents, all the goods of marriage were realized – offspring, fidelity, the sacrament: the offspring being the Lord Jesus himself; fidelity, since there was no adultery: the sacrament, since there was no divorce.” Faithful and prayerful, industrious and pure, humble and silent, saintly Joseph is a true model for manliness and fatherhood – an example of we lack most.
In the modern world, marriage has never been more misunderstood or devalued. If it bothered to look, it would see in Joseph the extraordinary execution of ordinary duties.