Father’s Day, in the United States especially, has become a day to recognize the important place of dad. While the celebration itself may be focused on a Father’s Day card, a gift, or a special meal, at its heart is the recognition that a father plays a singularly important role in the life of a family. Children need a father. Fathers have a God-given responsibility to their children.
Recognizing this, Pope John Paul II took action, holding up St. Joseph as a model of modern manhood. On August 15, 1989, he issued an apostolic exhortation on St. Joseph and the Catholic understanding of fatherhood – Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer: On the Person and Mission of St. Joseph in the Life of Christ and the Church ).
Just as we call Mary “Mother of the Church” because she is mother of Jesus who is head of the Church, so we look to St. Joseph, who was foster father of Jesus and his protector, as the “Patron of the Universal Church, Protector of the Church.”
We can rejoice that St. Joseph through his marriage to Mary was caught up in the mystery of spiritual fatherhood and became a model of marriage, care of one’s child, and an exemplar of the Holy Family. St. Joseph is a model to every believer and particularly for men in their role as father.
We are called to be actively engaged in our vocation, our calling from God, in a way that quietly but effectively spreads the faith and extends God’s kingdom in everyplace and age.
When the angel comes to him in a dream and says to him that he is to take Mary as his wife, Joseph never hesitates (Mt 1:24).When he has to set out with very little provision to Bethlehem where the child will be born, he does so unflinchingly and without complaint (Lk 2:4). And when God tells him to flee with the child for safety, his response is total and complete (Mt 2:13-14). Little is said of St. Joseph in the New Testament but what does come through is the “just man” of great faith.
Joseph’s role in salvation history is linked by marriage to Mary. The pope tells us that this marriage is the “juridical basis of his fatherhood.” While Joseph was not the natural father of Jesus, he was spouse of the Blessed Mother and therefore, in that capacity, he assumed responsibility for the child Jesus and for Jesus’ mother.
The pope refers to “the service of fatherhood” and holds up Mary’s marriage to Joseph and their relationship to each other as the starting point for our understanding of Joseph’s relationship to Jesus. “The Son of Mary is also Joseph’s Son by virtue of the marriage bond that unites them” (7).