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A shadow of our heavenly Father

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Each year on the third Sunday of June, Americans observe Father’s Day to honor and express gratitude for fathers and the instrumental role they play in family life. During the present Year of St. Joseph (Dec. 8, 2020-Dec 8., 2021), Father’s Day for Catholics in the U.S. can take on a special focus in reminding us how Christ himself honored his earthly father and how St. Joseph can be an inspiring example for all fathers to emulate.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis remarks that due to St. Joseph’s placement at "the crossroads between the Old and New Testament … (he) has always been venerated as a father by the Christian people." Consequently, it is only natural that our reflection on Father’s Day would require a reflection of an ideal symbol of fatherhood. 

God’s call to St. Joseph is intimately related to another of his desires for him. Joseph is to remain the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as the angel reveals: "do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home" (Mt 1:20). Only as Mary’s spouse, united with her on a common mission through the covenant of marriage, can Joseph hope to carry out the great and grave responsibilities entrusted to him by the Father. The same concept is true for all fathers. This vocation is best lived out when, united with his wife and strengthened in the sacrament of marriage, a man serves his family in selflessness, leadership, and virtue, often in the practical needs and realities of life.

As it should be for all fathers, Jesus is the center of St. Joseph’s vocation. St. John Paul II articulates this very clearly, saying, "St. Joseph was called by God to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood" (RC 8). What a powerful witness this is for fathers who struggle, feeling tired or discouraged by their obligations and responsibilities. It is through those duties that they partner in Christ’s saving mission within their families.

St. Joseph fulfilled his fatherly vocation by making his life a sacrificial service and a total gift of self, as St. Paul VI reminds us (Discourse, 19 March, 1966). Pope Francis emphasizes that in this total gift of self, we can understand St. Joseph as "the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father" ("Patris Corde," No. 7). Similarly, each father is called to demonstrate for his wife and children the mercy and justice of our Father above.

This total gift of self is inherently challenging. Pope Francis notes that "Fathers are not born, but made." That formation comes from fellowship and proper guidance. Therefore, fathers should be in communion and fellowship with other devout, Catholic fathers who can help motivate and inspire them in their sacred mission. Often led by our priests as spiritual fathers, men’s Bible studies, the Knights of Columbus, men’s social gatherings, and similar fellowship gatherings can be pivotal for Catholic fathers in need of spiritual and emotional support.

Within every father’s fellowship network should be St. Joseph. His example of fatherhood is essential to the ministry of the Church. Fatherhood is a response to God’s call and a manifestation of his will for us, even if and perhaps especially when that call seems terrifying or unbearable. St. Joseph’s fatherhood raises up the enormous value of spousal love for fathers in carrying out the great and essential responsibilities toward their children.

As a Church united in upholding the importance and dignity of fatherhood, may we pray together that fathers live up to their sacred duty and find the strength they need in Christ Jesus to be strong and resilient when the temptation to give up is daunting. For those who may have been abandoned or mistreated by their earthly fathers, I pray they find the courage to forgive and keep their eyes fixed on our Heavenly Father, who is perfect in all things and heals our wounds. For our departed fathers, we remember them with affection and prayer for their eternal peace.

This Father’s Day, we pray that all fathers may, through the intercession of St. Joseph, experience that ongoing conversion of heart and mind required of all Christians. May that conversion lead them to imitate Joseph more fully so that they may be earthly shadows of our Heavenly Father.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021