By Jonathan Cain, Franciscan University
Men desire to be heroes. This is something each of us want – to be depended upon, to save the day, to have a unique and important role. Men who do not see that they have a role, or at least do not see that they are preparing for one, often feel lost, without purpose, or depressed. If we do not understand our purpose and choose to live for it, we feel that there is something lacking. But when a man knows his role and sacrifices for it, those who see him know that he is fully a man. Such a man is confident in himself. Such a man is heroic.
Then what is the role that each of us are meant for? The exact role varies from man to man. Some men are called to priesthood, some to be laymen; some of these laymen are further called to be doctors, some to be theologians, some to be factory workers. But one thing universal to all these roles is fatherhood: No matter what a man is called to do with his life, he will be called to be a father, spiritually or biologically. Much of the trouble that men have in finding a purpose for their lives today comes from the fact that modern society has rejected the family, and therefore has rejected the importance of fatherhood. If a man does not see that fatherhood is important, he will not see that it is worthwhile for him to pursue it, to live for it, to sacrifice and die for it. Something essential is missing from a man’s life purpose if the aspect of fatherhood has been torn from his masculine identity.
A man must come to see that his fatherhood is a fundamental aspect of his life’s mission if he is to live it out. But the fact that our society rejects fatherhood makes it difficult for any of us to understand fatherhood as something important and admirable, especially for those of us who did not have good father figures in our own lives. Thankfully, the Church, in her riches, offers us a means through which to learn these things: The greatest man, after Jesus Christ, to ever live—St. Joseph. St. Joseph found his purpose in his role as father of Jesus Christ and spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Not only this, but he sacrificed for and lived for this purpose in an exceptional way. When Herod sent to have every newborn infant murdered, Joseph fled with Mary and the Christ Child from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and then into Egypt – a place that would have been full of danger and crime, and a journey that would have been difficult. Throughout this time, Joseph sacrificed greatly for his family. A man does not sacrifice in such a way unless he understands the importance of his sacrifice and has the manliness to do so.
Contrary to how St. Joseph is often depicted, he was most likely a young man at the time of his marriage to Mary. Otherwise, it would have been difficult for him to travel such long distances. More than that, he was a man who knew his mission and what it meant to live for that mission. He would have had a quiet confidence about himself that earned him respect, and that kind of confidence comes only from a deep knowledge of one’s role. We can be assured of this by his silence in the Bible: St. Joseph never speaks a single word, suggesting his humility and quiet strength.
St. Joseph is the perfect example of why fatherhood is important and worth dying for. Although probably no one recognized St. Joseph’s importance during his life, he performed the role of being the earthly foster father of Jesus Christ and the husband of Mary. Without Joseph, Jesus and Mary would have been without support, and the entirety of salvation history would have been put on the line. But probably the only people who truly appreciated St. Joseph’s sacrifice and virtue would have been Jesus and Mary. Although he likely was respected by his friends, no one would have understood his true role and importance. Yet none of this would have mattered to him because he knew who he was in God’s eyes, and that he in his humble role as father was essential to God’s plan for Salvation.
The Catholic man of today is under similar circumstances: Just like St. Joseph, each individual man in the Body of Christ is called to play an essential role, one which is important in God’s plan. Although the exact role of each man in God’s history is unique, they all pertain to fatherhood. And, just like St. Joseph, the world will not see the role that many Catholic men play as important: The devout father who works forty hours a week and spends much of his free time fixing things around the house and playing with his children might not strike anyone as extraordinary. But what is wonderful about St. Joseph is that he shows us that such men can be the holiest and the most important of men on this earth.
Many men who live as fathers are discontent and lack peace. Many of them feel that they should be doing something more important, that they should be a hero, that they should do something which the world will recognize. But the holy man that knows who he truly is in God’s eyes and knows the importance which their fatherhood has in God’s plan of Salvation has no such misgivings. He knows that his role as a father may seem small, but that it is nonetheless important, for no one else can be the father of his particular children. The man who imitates St. Joseph in this way will find meaning in his work, fulfilment in his fatherhood, and heroism in his daily life. St. Joseph shows that fatherhood is always important, even when it is overlooked.
As Catholics, we have the blessing that the Saints are not merely examples. In the Communion of the Saints, we are able to pray to any of the Saints for intercession, and may even cultivate personal relationships with them. St. Joseph is therefore not simply an example to be imitated, but a spiritual father to be befriended. He can not only show us what it means to be a true man and father, but he can teach and intercede for us to learn these things. Any man who feels he is struggling with his masculine identity as a man should turn to St. Joseph and ask for his guidance in appreciating their unique role as part of God’s plan for Salvation. Joseph will teach any who turn to him to rely on God’s approval for confidence and freedom rather than on the world. He will bring them to God’s love to give the strength that they need to be the powerful leaders the world so desperately needs.