The Church continues to speak to her children and the world through the eloquent personages with profound admiration from God. The world today needs icons and examples that must speak to us through their touching experiences.
For us as people of faith, we have the patriarchs and the matriarchs who are our models. These personages do not only talk to us about their experience with God but with the very fact of relating with our neighbours. We recently celebrated Christmas and the various actors who played their roles were set before us.
A typical and unnoticed actor who played his role and continues to play his role is St. Joseph. He is truly a universal intercessor and an icon for fathers and father figures in the world. Pope Francis has proclaimed a “Year of Saint Joseph” from 8 December 2020, to 8 December 2021.
The Roman pontiff issued the Apostolic Letter Patris corde (“With a Father’s Heart”) to mark the 150th anniversary of Blessed Pope Pius IX’s declaration of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1870, Blessed Pope Pius IX’s proclaimed St. Joseph the Patron of the Universal Church. The description of St. Joseph by Pope Francis in Patris corde is worth emulating by fathers and father figures in our world today.
According to Pope Francis in Patris corde, St. Joseph has seven attributes that fathers and father figures can emulate. Interestingly, seven is a perfect number in Biblical language. Therefore, emulating and seeking the intercession of St. Joseph through these perfect qualities can help fathers and father figures build a better home and a better world.
A Beloved father
In our world today, fatherhood is in complete crises because of the many challenges battering it. Fathers and father figures now neglect their roles in the families. There is an enormous shirking of responsibilities by some fathers in the world. But Pope Francis sets before us the example and model of St. Joseph. Fathers and father figures must quickly run to St. Joseph for his intercession in times of their crises. Families and institutions in the world today are dysfunctional because managers and bosses neglect their fatherly care for these institutions. Like St. Joseph as an iconic figure, fathers must emulate his sparkling example. Anytime the fatherhood is under siege, the one example to look up to is St. Joseph.
A tender and loving father
According to Pope Francis in Patris corde, “In Joseph, Jesus saw the tender love of God: “As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him” (Ps 103:13). Traditionally and naturally, mothers are said to be tender and loving despite the calamities they go through with their children. But St. Joseph brings in a useful twist that fathers can also be tender and loving. There are a lot of domestic violence and marital abuse cases piling up in offices for discussions and resolutions. In Ghana, statistics indicate that 33-37 % of women have ever experienced domestic violence in the form of intimate partner violence in their relationship (Macro, 2009). Also, even in schools, research has shown that 14 and 52 % of girls are victims of sexual abuse and gender-based violence respectively (Lithur, 2013, pp. 2-4). Can fathers and father-figures in authority look up to St. Joseph whose love and tenderness for Mary never left her when he got to know that she was a child? Can the non-violent yet profound outspoken Joseph speak to those fathers and father figures who abuse their wives and children? If St. Joseph can and always looks after the safety of the Universal Church, then we can seek his intercession for fathers and father figures in our world.
An obedient father
The father in the family and many institutions is the one to be heard and seen. Fathers exude so much power and authority that they cannot frequently falter. Do we at all have obedient fathers in our societies? Do fathers obey the voices of their wives, children and sometimes even God? St. Joseph sets before us an example. It is not the bossiness that always makes a beautiful family but also an obedient father who listens to his wife and children bring out wonderful ideas for the smooth running of the families. Is that the case in Ghana? Patris corde has something beautiful and an antidote for those fathers and father figures who do not give a damn about obedience to their families and institutions: “In every situation, Joseph declared his own “fiat”, like those of Mary at the Annunciation and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.” Therefore, St. Joseph is a universal icon for emulation. Fathers and father figures in the world today must inscribe on their hearts the very acts of St. Joseph.
An accepting father
“Joseph accepted Mary unconditionally. He trusted in the angel’s words. “The nobility of Joseph’s heart is such that what he learned from the law he made dependent on charity. Today, in our world where psychological, verbal and physical violence towards women is so evident, Joseph appears as the figure of a respectful and sensitive man. Even though he does not understand the bigger picture, he makes a decision to protect Mary’s good name, her dignity and her life. In his hesitation about how best to act, God helped him by enlightening his judgement.” Whatever Pope Francis says here, it is worth musing. Fathers and father figures must always sit at the feet of St. Joseph to learn how to accept the conditions of their marriages, families and even their institutions and predicaments. Fathers today must try hard to accept the ‘disgracing conditions’ of their children and wives. When the task becomes herculean remember St. Joseph who protected the good name, dignity and life of Mary. This Year of Saint Joseph should set us thinking about this mysterious quiet yet eloquent figure of a father and father figure to the man and divine Jesus.
A father who is creatively courageous
The infancy narratives reveal that God acted by trusting in Joseph’s creative courage. The dangers and misunderstandings surrounding the marriage of Mary and Joseph and the imminent danger from Herod erupted the creative courage within Joseph. A quiet man he was, he did not only rely on the inner powers of the self but he looked transcendentally to God. Fathers and father figures must also exhibit the creative courage of St. Joseph in their families. There should be a quality time spent in quietude for the creative planning of families. As for our model Joseph, he did it creatively. Are fathers today ready to plan their families creatively or they are consumed with things that do not necessarily build up family life? Do parents especially fathers and father figures sit down today to plan the future of their families with the help of God? St. Joseph is ready to intercede and pray for fathers and father figures who need his intercession. As the year dedicated to St. Joseph unfolds, let wives and children pray for their fathers and father figures so that they can creatively plan their families.
A working father
The saintly model the Roman Pontiff puts before us is a worker. “Saint Joseph was a carpenter who earned an honest living to provide for his family. From him, Jesus learned the value, the dignity and the joy of what it means to eat bread that is the fruit of one’s own labour.” What do we see and experience in our world today? Some fathers burden their homes without working to put food on the table. There is also the tendency of neglect of work that dignifies the human person. Children are sent home from school because the father is not ready to work to pay the fees. Even if he works, then he puts the money into “interest-oriented” ventures like lottery, betting, gambling, etc. Fathers and father figures must learn from St. Joseph who worked to put the Holy family in Nazareth in shape to meet the family standard of the time. Pope Francis speaks to fathers about work which spells out the very importance or value of work: “Working persons, whatever their job may be, are cooperating with God himself, and in some way become creators of the world around us. The crisis of our time, which is economic, social, cultural and spiritual, can serve as a summons for all of us to rediscover the value, the importance and necessity of work for bringing about a new “normal” from which no one is excluded. Saint Joseph’s work reminds us that God himself, in becoming man, did not disdain work. The loss of employment that affects so many of our brothers and sisters, and has increased as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, should serve as a summons to review our priorities. Let us implore Saint Joseph the Worker to help us find ways to express our firm conviction that no young person, no person at all, no family should be without work!”
A father in the shadows
There are a lot of father figures in our world today who are doing extremely well in terms of fatherhood. Many of them are taking care of multitude of persons in the shadows. And it is always good to thank and pray for these father figures. Like St. Joseph who goes “unnoticed”, a man who welcomes the mystery and puts himself at its service, there are many of such father figures who also go unnoticed. This Year of Saint Joseph should be a year of renewal for these father figures in the world so that they can participate in that divine work of caring. The various institutions in the world today need fathers who are committed in discharging their roles and duties. Some accept fatherhood not because they fathered children biologically but for the love and care of fatherhood. Joseph was the earthly father of the eternal Son of God who took flesh and was under the auspices of Joseph. Father figures are encouraged today to work very hard to make those put under their cares feel the love of fatherhood. When things become tough for such father figures, they should seek the intercession of St. Joseph through the prayer:
Prayer to St. Joseph
O St. Joseph whose protection is so great, so strong,
so prompt before the Throne of God, I place in you all
my interests and desires. O St. Joseph do assist me
by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from
your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus
Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below
your Heavenly power I may offer my Thanksgiving and
Homage to the most Loving of Fathers. O St. Joseph,
I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in
your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near
your heart. Press him in my name and kiss His fine
Head for me, and ask Him to return the Kiss when I
draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing
souls, pray for us. Amen.
May St. Joseph help all fathers and father figures to discharge their duties.