Little is known about the life of St. Joseph. Back in the 1st century, there were no paparazzi to spy on the daily activities of all of Jesus’ family members. But the basic facts are impressive enough: a simple Jewish carpenter, a “righteous man,” appointed with the responsibility of raising God’s own Son. I’m not sure whether that sounds like the hardest job in the world or the easiest, but it certainly had a rough start, with a mysterious pregnancy, a near-divorce, an urgent race to the nearest manger in Bethlehem, and a covert journey to Egypt to escape a baby-killing tyrant.
As a parent, I can attest that fatherhood is a big responsibility – even when Herod isn’t trying to murder my kids. I also know the consequences that result when a child grows up without a father. Many of those children are the little boys and girls who rely on the compassionate work of our Cross Catholic Outreach ministry partners. Some have been abandoned, some abused, and some – especially in AIDS-ravaged Mozambique – orphaned.
St. Joseph had a special calling to be Jesus’ earthly father. But fatherhood is also a universal calling. Are we loving and protecting God’s children?
I wonder what these children imagine when their parish priest or school teacher tells them to pray to their “heavenly Father.” Do they see a protector and caretaker, or do they see an absent, angry, cruel, unreliable stranger who doesn’t care if they live or die? I think that depends in part on how we represent God by our own actions. We must love them, feed them, shelter them, teach them, defend them. We must set an example of godly fatherhood so that the sons of despair and poverty may grow up to be righteous men governed by faith and virtue.