Honoring St. Joseph: a good and genuine example

Father John A. Kiley

Following the lead of his predecessor, Blessed Pope John XXIII, our current Pontiff, Pope Francis, has determined that the name of St. Joseph should be included in all four standard Eucharistic prayers read at Mass.

Now Jesus, present in sacrament, along with Mary and Joseph, present in memory, recall to believing minds the complete Holy Family of Bethlehem, Egypt and Nazareth. Quite prominent during the Christmas season from Advent until the Purification, the entire Holy Family will now receive attention throughout the Church’s entire year.

The careful inclusion of St. Joseph in the Church’s solemn prayer reflects an enduring appreciation of the Holy Family by Pope Francis. Since his time as an Argentine bishop, the Holy Father has featured Jesus, Mary and Joseph on his Coat of Arms. At the top of the shield Jesus is symbolized by the Jesuit emblem, a full sun with the monogram IHS, crowned by a cross and supported by three nails. Beneath is a star symbolizing the Blessed Virgin Mary, as well as a flower, the unctuous spikenard, symbolizing Blessed Joseph, her most chaste spouse. Such enduring papal appreciation of the Holy Family and especially the addition of Blessed Joseph into the canon emphasize the same deep concern that Pope Francis made public when he called for an extraordinary Church assembly on pastoral challenges to family life.

Amid all the concerns that modern families bring to mind, St. Joseph, as husband and father, ably “demonstrates the ordinary and simple virtues necessary for men to be good and genuine followers of Christ.” Clearly, the male role in contemporary family life is in desperate need of analysis and encouragement. The growing number of fatherless families affects both boys and girls. But, as Kay S. Hymowitz recently observed in a Providence Journal opinion piece, “It just may be that boys growing up where fathers — and men more generally — appear superfluous confront an existential problem: Where do I fit in? Who needs me, anyway? Boys see that men have become extras in the lives of many families and communities, and it can’t help but depress their aspirations.” The solution to the challenge of the absence of fathers is not simply increased funding for single mothers and their children, or more reliance on male role models in scouting and sports or directing of more money into educational programs.

Just as surely as God the Father placed St. Joseph in the family home at Nazareth, society must work to place fathers once again in America’s homes.

Researchers at MIT recently suggested that boys and young men aren’t behaving properly in school and society because their family situations have left them without the necessary attitudes and skills to adapt to the challenges of everyday life. Ms. Hymowitz draws a very common sense conclusion: “Boys need fathers because that’s who teaches them how to be men.”

As our bishops gather information on challenges to modern family life, as the Pope has insisted they do, much attention will be given to co-habitation, divorce, single-parenting, surrogacy, contraception, arranged marriages, same-sex unions, and how the Church should extend the Gospel message and the grace of the sacraments to persons facing in these situations. But paramount in the mind and hearts of all believers must be the plan of God for family life. Pope Francis himself wrote pointedly of the importance of the traditional family unit in his recent encyclical: “The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan. Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors many features of faith. Promising love for ever is possible when we perceive a plan bigger than our own ideas and undertakings, a plan which sustains us and enables us to surrender our future entirely to the one we love.”

The Christian family is not complete without a true masculinity on the part of the husband/father and a true femininity of the part of the wife/mother. The Holy Family, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, celebrated both popularly and liturgically at this Christmas season, must be not simply a fond memory but much more importantly an enduring model.