St. Joseph, Father of God
I offer one consideration about St. Joseph himself, and then I give three ways that he is especially helpful for us today. If you prefer not to read the whole thing, you can scroll down to the bold type, which introduces each section.
St. Joseph – Father or foster father of Jesus?
For our daily table reading, we once read a book about St. Joseph which ventured to figure out how St. Joseph was a father to Jesus. The author began by stating that St. Joseph could not have been just an adoptive father of Jesus (which it called a “legal fiction”) and then tried to find out how he was “more” of a father. To me, this sounded like someone who, denying water is in the ocean, tries to figure out what's there. Is adoptive fatherhood a "legal fiction"?
A father generates another like himself. Generation is not enough to be a father, a man generates hair and other things, but these are not his sons. Only when a man generates another man is he called a father. Interesting too is that we reserve the name "father" for the more perfect animals. It makes some sense to talk about the “mother bear” (I suppose “father bear” too) but it becomes somewhat ridiculous to ask about the father of an earthworm or starfish. I don’t think anyone speaks about the father of a plant. But this is important in understanding adoptive fatherhood. When we move from plants up through the lower animals to the higher animals, and finally to man, the notion of fatherhood becomes more perfect.
When considering man himself, there are also various degrees. A man who accidentally has an unwanted child and then runs away, is hardly more of a father than a plant is. But one who raises the child to be virtuous, strong, and wise, this man is a father most of all. Although the phrase “he doesn’t have a father” might not be 100% accurate, it does say something. Raising and caring for a son is part of the very notion of being a father.
If we compare a man who begets a son and raises him, with a man who only raises him, certainly the former man is more of a father. But if we compare a man who begets a son without raising him with a man who raises a son whom he did not beget, the latter is more of a father. A man can become a biological father in a very short time. It takes years of hard work to raise, provide for, and love a son – a lifetime really. A man can beget a biological son for motives not always noble, but a man cannot choose to adopt and care for a son without a firm and real will to sacrifice and to work for the son. Again, what is greater, physical goods, or spiritual goods? Our bodies are good, but they are not to be compared with knowledge, wisdom, justice, fortitude, and the other virtues. A father who imparts these virtues gives his son much more than a man who merely gives the body, without these others. It is not a “legal fiction” to be an adoptive father. It is real work, taking years, and requiring enormous love.
Some of the Fathers of the Church spoke of St. Joseph as a foster father to Jesus. The phrase is not wrong. But Mary, our most holy Mother, simply called him “father”: “Son, why hast thou done so to us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” Luke 2:48
Adoptive fatherhood is true and real fatherhood. It is more perfect than mere biological fatherhood, although it falls short of biological fatherhood conjoined with raising the son begotten.
We are adopted sons of God. In this adoption however, we become sons in The Son through sanctifying grace. Certainly, God raises us and gives us all the virtues, but more than this, He makes us to participate in the very life of His only begotten son.
Three ways St. Joseph can help us today:
1. At some point in St. Joseph’s life, he must have learned about the slaughter of the children in Bethlehem. Perhaps he remembered the faces of some of the parents whose children were slaughtered. His great love must have caused enormous sorrow in his soul. Today, we have to face the horror of abortion. We cannot always consider the depths of this evil, but at times we can get a hint of it, and it causes enormous pain, the more so the more we love. How God can allow this to happen, the good He has in view when allowing it, the mysterious providence He has for these little ones – we cannot see the answers to these problems, but, like St. Joseph, we can suffer, and we can believe in God’s goodness. Surely in this pain, we can look to him, and ask for his help to suffer well and suffer with love, being always confident in the goodness of God.
2. We often face hard contradictions in our lives, from one source or another. St. Joseph did too, the details of which you already know. But think about what happened with St. Joseph: he considered the matter carefully (St. Thomas says that he deserved to be told what to do by an Angle because of the effort he made to think it out well), he surely prayed about it, and he chose what seemed like the best course. He chose wrong. This is very comforting: often we just don’t know the best thing to do. We can think and pray about it, we can do our best, and yet, we can be wrong. But being wrong does not take away our closeness to God – the only thing that really matters. He is there, and He loves us. His intimate love for St. Joseph (even when keeping him in the dark and allowing him to make the wrong decision) should be a sure testament to how He will care for us. In our difficult decisions, we must do what we can, but ultimately, we need to be sure that God alone matters, and He will watch over us with care. Choosing a wrong course, as long as it is not sinful, does not distance us from God. And He will always come fix the problem if He has to.
3. Cardinal Joseph Tobin – a man who publicly stated that the Catechism should be changed in teaching that homosexual inclinations were intrinsically disordered (of course, it shouldn’t) – was just appointed to the Congregation of Bishops by Pope Francis (the congregation that oversees choosing new Bishops, along with other things). In these modern times of profound spiritual blindness, it is easy to get discouraged. But we need to remember that St. Joseph is really a father to the Church (the body of Christ.) We have a father, truly, a holy father, in St. Joseph.
We need to remember too that St. Joseph was obedient to legitimate authority. His obedience to the civil ruler brought our Lord to Bethlehem, the “house of bread,” which fulfilled the prophecies. Jesus allowed himself to be led around by satan himself (in the desert) and subjected himself to Caiaphas and Pilate. Although we should never obey any sinful command (even an implied command to stop believing what the Church teaches as true) and we are not bound to obey commands which are outside the jurisdiction of the man in authority, we still need to follow St. Joseph and Christ by our obedience to legitimate authority, used legitimately.
Pray for Joseph Biden! May God convert his heart and prevent him from pursing evil! Pray for our Church leaders! That they return to the faith in all clarity and love!
In this life, we will not avoid sorrow, contradiction, difficulty, and evil rulers, but when we encounter them, let us encounter St. Joseph all the more! Let us pray to him, look to him, and have confidence in him, being confident and joyful that he is our strong helper and virtuous father. Someday soon, we will see him in person! (if we go to heaven.)
In Christ through Mary,
Fr. Peter Miller O.S.B.