Pope Francis became pope just before the Feast of St. Joseph in March of 2013. As one of his first acts as pope, he gave a beautiful reflection on the vocation of fathers, using St. Joseph as a model for all fathers.
Here are some excerpts from the Pope’s reflection:
“How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God's presence and receptive to God's plans, and not simply to his own… God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It is God himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit.
Joseph is a "protector" because he is able to hear God's voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God's call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!”
The Pope’s commission for fathers can be summarized as follows:
- Protector of family and Church
- Constantly attentive to God
- Hearing His voice
- Guided by His will
- Faithfulness to God’s word, to God’s plan
- Sensitive to persons entrusted to him
The role of protecting the family and the Church involves more than providing physical and financial security. With respect to the family, the father’s role is to ensure that the family is growing spiritually and to fight threats to the family’s spiritual and moral well-being. This means, among other things, leading the family in prayer and study of the Bible and Catholic teachings. It means limiting tv, internet, video games and smart phone usage to modest levels with no inappropriate content. It means making Sunday a day of prayer and time with the family.
Pope Francis calls on fathers to be contemplative, not in the sense of going off to a cave or a monastery but in the sense of listening to God’s voice and responding to God’s instructions. The Pope asks fathers to be “attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to [their] own,” “to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will…”
For so many of us, we think of prayer as talking to God. However, the most important part of prayer is listening to God, discerning his voice and his will. We will develop more on this in future blogs, but for now it is important to emphasize that the Pope is telling everyone, and in this case fathers, that God is always communicating to us. Are we listening?
St. Joseph provides a great example. At critical moments in his relationship with Mary and Jesus, Joseph listened to the voice of God and was obedient to God’s message, no matter how difficult it was to accept and respond to God’s instruction. Accordingly, in Matthew 1:18-25, Joseph obeyed the angel of the Lord who told him to wed Mary and that Mary would give birth to the Savior.
In Matthew 2:13-15, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to tell Joseph to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt to protect them from Herod. Joseph promptly obeyed. And, in Matthew 2:19-23, Joseph responded to another message of the angel of the Lord and brought Mary and Joseph back to Israel, choosing a location in Galilee rather than Judea so that his family would be safe.
Here’s a very big question. Do the people entrusted to us, if married, our wives and children, if single, our co-workers and friends, if a priest, our parishioners, know that we as fathers are trying our best to discern God’s will and to be obedient to God’s direction for us and our loved ones? Or would they think that we are basically just doing what we want to do, based upon our own thinking, our own likes and dislikes?
We’re all familiar with the passage in Ephesians 5 about wives being submissive to their husbands. Well, when it comes down to discerning God’s will, the husband must do this with his wife. It’s not that the husband alone hears God’s voice. This has to be worked out in prayer with our spouses.
But what I want to emphasize here is a similar passage from 1st Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 6:3, St. Paul writes: “But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ.”
So I ask again, is Jesus our head, our Lord and Master? Are we guided by and submissive to him in all that we do? And do those who are entrusted to us know this?
A non-Catholic single mom who worked in a parish I once belonged to had a teen-age daughter, about 15 years old. One day the girl told her mother she wanted to become Catholic. The mother, taken by surprise, said to her daughter, “I don’t understand. Do you want to become Catholic just because I work at a Catholic church.” The young girl replied, “No, Mom. Any church that can get a man on his knees is for me.”
Think about that. The image of an adult man kneeling in church set a powerful example for this young girl. Kneeling sends a message that we believe that God is far more powerful than we are and that we acknowledge and submit to God’s power in our lives.
There’s so much more that can be said about all this. For now, we’ll close with a quote from Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” This raises the question: as fathers, what is our vision for those entrusted to us? And, just as importantly, where does this vision come from, from us or from God?
Please reflect on the beautiful reflection of Pope Francis which I used to open this blog. Reflect on the example of St. Joseph. Then reflect on the questions I have asked in the narrative portion of this blog. These are the issues which will get us started on this blog, the podcast and the entire mission of twoedgealk.com.
May you have a blessed Fathers’ Day, and my we all rise to the challenges of being Christian fathers at a time when the vocation of fatherhood requires so much courage.