Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are what I consider to be the “trip wire” holidays…wonderful when they are brunches, BBQs and rainbows but potentially miserable if a family is estranged, grieving a parent, struggling with infertility or painful for a myriad of other reasons.
My own relationship with Father’s Day is complicated. My parents divorced when I was 7 years-old and my dad was emotionally absent from much of my younger life. Father’s Day always seemed to be a prickly reminder of the relationship that we did not have with our dad. Nowadays as a spouse to a loving father, I have enjoyed the past years of celebrating the connection between my husband and our young sons.
To inaugurate the Year of St. Joseph, Pope Francis released his apostolic letter, Patris Corde. The Holy Father’s reflections on the fatherhood of St. Joseph have been a balm capable of soothing my bruised heart.
What exactly did St. Joseph model for contemporary dads?
- He showed up. St. Joseph participated in salvation history by being a husband to Mary and a foster father to Jesus. He trusted in God and became the foundation for the Holy Family. Last week my husband has opted for a game of Monopoly Jr. with our 5 year-old over the work call that he “should have taken” and the moment reminded me of the simple value of being present in our children’s lives.
- He was tender. Our conception of gender roles sometimes confuses this issue. If God our Heavenly Father, is unfailingly tender in His love for us, it stands to reason that His faithful servant, St. Joseph, would have modeled that tenderness towards Jesus. My hands-down, all-time favorite Christmas card depicted the image of an exhausted Mary passed out in the straw while Joseph carefully cradles the infant Jesus.
- He was accepting. Let’s be real, Mary’s pregnancy had to have been pretty shocking for him. Yet, St. Joseph was sensitive enough to fully embrace her and the future that they were creating together. My maternal grandfather was an extraordinary chef and his dream was to open a pizza restaurant. Unfortunately, he was about 15 years ahead of his time and the business failed. Afterwards, he opted to prioritize his young family and find a more stable career. My grandfather later told me that he never once regretted giving up his individual dream for the greater good of his family.
- He was courageous. When Herod threatened Jesus’ life, St. Joseph prepared his family and immediately fled to Egypt. I associate this part of the infancy narratives with immigrant and migrant fathers in the present day and throughout history who have made an untold number of personal sacrifices and hardships to offer a better life for their children.
- He was obedient. By listening to the angel and his dreams, St. Joseph guided the course of salvation history. I once had coffee with a priest friend who was reeling from a meeting with his superior. My friend would soon be moved from the city and the parish that he loved. He was grieving but he also had enough spiritual wisdom to know that wherever he would be sent would be an opportunity to form relationships and ultimately serve the people of God.
For this Father’s Day, I invite you to honor dads by celebrating the witness of St. Joseph and by offering Pope Francis’ prayer to him.
Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.
Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage,
and defend us from every evil. Amen.