St. Joseph – Spiritual Head of the Household

St. Joseph – Spiritual Head of the Household

By Bishop Paul S. Loverde

Joseph is sometimes overlooked in the annual telling of the Christmas story, but without this man’s deep faith, the lives of Mary and Jesus would have been very different. Joseph not only reveals to us the reality of faith, but the essence of fatherhood. As we reflect on the mystery of Christ’s birth, it is important to recall the essential role that Joseph played in the life of our Savior.

Imagine if Joseph had not believed God that Mary had conceived a child through the power of the Holy Spirit! If he had not believed God, he would have divorced the Blessed Mother and left her to raise Jesus as a single mother; Jesus would not have had a home with two loving parents, and Mary would have been shamed in society. The faith of Joseph not only prevented many traumatic events such as these from occurring in the lives of Mary and Jesus, but he also thwarted attacks upon their very lives. Recall that it was Joseph to whom the angel appeared, warning that Herod wanted to kill Jesus. Joseph immediately got up and took Mary and Jesus and fled to Egypt to protect their lives. Joseph was a vital part of the coming of our Savior, and is a role model for all men, especially fathers.

The role of the father in modern society has become lost or confused. A cursory glance at current day television shows and movies gives us an inside look into what contemporary culture believes fatherhood to be. Many television shows portray fathers as bumbling or inept, someone who needs his wife or children to take care of him. If not bumbling, then fathers are often portrayed as abusive or neglectful. In fact, there are very few television shows or movies that portray fatherhood as it is in the plan of God the Father. The understanding of fatherhood, in particular, has become confused with the emergence of the women’s rights movement. This is in large part due to the mistaken contemporary notion that to fully assert women, masculinity must be subverted as if the two were not complimentary but adversarial. One of the sad results of this mistaken notion can be seen in the fact that technology has made it possible that men are hardly even necessary for procreation.

But, is a father dispensable to the family? Was the role of Joseph in Bethlehem easily substituted by a family member or friend? Was the role of Joseph in the life of Jesus limited to financial support for Mary and Jesus, or was there something infinitely more important in the role of Joseph in the lives of Mary and Jesus?

To see how important Joseph’s role was, let us consider three basic elements of fatherhood. Drawing from the fatherhood of God, we learn that fathers are creators, protectors, and providers. First, fathers are co-creators with God. Through the mutual self-donation in the Sacrament of Matrimony found in the marital act, husbands fertilize the egg of their wives and create another human life. This act mirrors the creative act of God in the Garden of Eden where He creates all things out of nothing. Secondly, fathers are protectors. Fathers protect their families from the world that is sometimes dangerous. The bible recounts for us God’s protection of His people from creation through revelation. Adam was charged with protecting Eve in the garden; Joseph was charged with protecting Mary and Jesus, and all fathers share in this function of God’s paternal protection. A third expression of fatherhood is in providing for the material and spiritual needs of their families. Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, but he fulfilled the role of his earthly father by providing materially for the needs of Mary and Jesus, and by being the spiritual head of the household, guiding, along with Mary, the formation of the young Jesus.

Saint Joseph is held up for us today as a father who provided, protected and guided the Holy Family in the ways of God. Joseph’s life was most likely dramatically different than he had anticipated it to be, but because he was a man of faith and prayer, and open to God’s will, he played a significant role in God’s plan of salvation.

As we continue to contemplate the birth of our Savior, let us give thanks for the example of fatherhood reflected in Saint Joseph. Let us pray that our earthly fathers will be given the graces they need to imitate the fatherhood of God as seen throughout the scriptures and in the life of Saint Joseph, so that this tremendous gift may again find its rightful place in our society. Yes, let us see in this “righteous man,” in Saint Joseph, a disposition of humility and faith that we can all imitate.

By Bishop Paul S. Loverde. The original article appeared in the Arlington Catholic Herald