Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. I have to admit that what truly strikes me this year in the readings is the focus on the father and particularly on the person of Joseph. In the Catholic tradition, you might think that since we have an all-male priesthood which person would we have truly focused on more in the holy family if it was really all about gender–it would be on St. Joseph. But is that really true?
We will find that this is absolutely not the case. Go to any Christian library and you will find 100 times as many books on Mary as you will Joseph. There is such a thing as getting a degree in Mariology, but there is no such thing as “joseph-ology.” Mary has easily gotten so many times the attention as Joseph in the Christian tradition to the point where there is no contest. When it comes to the Holy Family, there is no danger that the idea of motherhood will be lost. But there is a little bit of danger that the idea of fatherhood is misunderstood.
No, there is no contest between attention given to Mary over Joseph; Nor really should there be. Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus Christ–God the Father is. But Mary is truly his mother. It is through Mary that Jesus truly receives his human nature. Recall what happened when they found Jesus in the temple when he was only a boy. Mary actually corrects Jesus and says, “Did you not know that your father and I have been searched for you with great anxiety?” And Jesus actually gentle corrects his mother and says, “Did YOU not know that I would be in MY FATHER’S HOUSE.” He reminds his mother who his real father is.
But do you know that despite the fact that Joseph is only Jesus’s foster father, we must accept that in a very real way it was Joseph who taught Jesus how to be a man. Mary helped with this, of course, but it was Joseph’s primary responsibility to image manhood for Jesus. I find this fascinating. If this is the case, then Joseph is the man that God himself chose to image manhood to his own son. I think that we can safely say that despite the fact that though we know little about Joseph’s personality, that makes him one of the manliest men who has ever lived. You men, give that some thought. Maybe we should be calling on St. Joseph’s intercession a little more than we do.
So what is Fatherhood? I really cannot fully answer this question, but I would at least like to point to it. I would like to quote from the apostolic exhortation, “Gaurdian of the Redeemer,” written by Pope John Paul II: “St. Joseph was called by God to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood…. His fatherhood is expressed concretely “in his having made his life a service, a sacrifice to the mystery of the Incarnation and to the redemptive mission connected with it; in having used the legal authority which was his over the Holy Family in order to make a total gift of self, of his life and work; in having turned his human vocation to domestic love into a superhuman oblation of self, an oblation of his heart and all his abilities into love placed at the service of the Messiah growing up in his house.” (Gaurdian, #8) The TOTAL GIFT OF SELF that a man gives to his wife and the fruitfulness of their marriage is the essence of fatherhood. It is not about him. Is is not about what he receives, but what he gives. I know a man who was totally dedicated to his job but lost his family in the process. An emiment success in the workplace, he ended up an abject failure as a man. A man needs to remember that he never made a vow to take care of his job, but you did make a vow before God to take care of your wife and family. So see to it.
Again, I make a few comments on fatherhood over motherhood because I really think that fatherhood is in more danger than motherhood in this day and age, although both are under attack. This is just a homily and I can’t cover EVERYTHING….
That same document that I spoke about designates the whole mission of the family as the following: “The essence and role of the family are in the final analysis specified by love. Hence the family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church his bride.” This being the case, it is in the Holy Family, the original “Church in miniature that every Christian family must be reflected. “Through God’s mysterious design, it was in that family that the Son of God spent long years of a hidden life. It is therefore the prototype and example for all Christian families.”
What is the holy family? We have to remember that it was to a married couple that creation was originally entrusted–Adam and Eve. And they didn’t do so well with that. So it was equally to a married couple that the new creation was entrusted–Mary and Joseph. And instead, THEY did everything that they had been commanded to do. Because of Adam and Eve’s “no”, the Garden of Eden is closed. Because of Mary and Joseph’s “yes,” the Garden can be opened to us again. It is the whole mission of the family to be an image of the love of the Trinity–it is supposed to be total, fruitful, and faithful. This is one the reasons why the church can never bless a same-sex union. It cannot be fruitful. It is contrary to nature and flies in the face of God’s plan for finding a complementary partner and to be fruitful and multiply. An attack on the idea of the family is an attack on the church itself. And an attack on the church is also an attack on the world.
It is a good day to ask the question, “Just how much does my family image the Trinity? How much does my “yes” to God image itself in my actions towards my spouse, my brothers and sisters, my father and my mother?” How true is what St. Paul wrote today in Colossians?
Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
We even hear in scripture today that kindness shown to a father can actually cover over some of your sins. Wow. That’s impressive. I’m sure this works for mother’s too, because if your house is like mine, the way it works is this: if momma is happy, then everybody’s happy. So be good to your momma–it might actually make God forget some of your faults.
OH, AND HERE IS A THOUGHT:
Are my actions opening the garden of Eden or closing it? Isn’t THAT an interesting way of looking at things? What if our bad example could actually close the gate of heaven for someone and prevent them from entering? We are called to roll back the sin of Adam and Eve, one family at a time. And the one that made it possible is the Holy Family. And why are they holy? They are holy because they thought not of themselves, but rather of the God that summoned them to do great things by his grace.
My brothers and sisters, our egos grow like a weed sometimes. The ego is that part of us that is always whispering, “Me, me, me, me, me.…” The family has been given to us to remind us that it is not about me, and that sometimes a little pruning is necessary for us to belong in the garden of God.