St. Joseph and the Experience of Fatherhood

20 March 2006: Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary
Matthew 1, 16. 18-21. 24

One of my most vivid experiences of St. Joseph is not only in the meditation of the Infancy narratives in the Spiritual Exercises, but most especially in the hidden life of Christ. What do we know about Joseph? We know his selfless acceptance to be the foster father of Jesus and taking Mary as his wife. We know that he loved Jesus as his Son. We know that he taught him his trade. Other than that, Joseph’s presence has always been at the background. However, in my meditation of Jesus’ hidden life, it was Joseph’s presence that came to the fore. I guess I was operating in the saying, “like father, like son.” The adult Jesus, his health, his stamina, his courage, his strength of purpose, his likeability factor, his charisma that attracted people to him, his experience of God, His Father, can be traced to his experience with Joseph. I can vividly see how Joseph was as a foster father, perhaps, an excellent parent to Jesus.

The experience of Joseph in the life of Jesus is a very intimate portrait of the role of my personal father to me. Who I am now --- the values and principles that I hold on to, and the joyful optimism that I found characteristic of me and especially the music that keeps me sane and young-at-heart --- can be attributed to how my father has brought me up as a child. And it was his words to my mother before he died that continue to reverberate in my growing up years in the Society. You see, there was a time he was against my vocation, but later he told my mother that I should follow my heart. And each time I encounter a difficulty or a crisis within my vocation, I dream of him. His presence has always been a source of strength.

The experience of fatherhood both in my personal life and in prayer has become the image of what I want to be as a priest and how I want to be a priest to people. I have always enjoyed being with the young: taking care of them, helping in the formation of their personalities and values, deepening their faith and love for God, sharing some precious quality time with them. Being present in their development --- which meant going out with them, watching movies together, becoming counselor, friend, parent, music instructor, whatever --- is my understanding of father. One thing is clear to me: I want to share to them that being a Christian is a happy vocation.

In the spirit of Lent, this is perhaps what we can reflect on in the feast of St. Joseph: our being father to the people entrusted to our care.

There are two ways to approach it, I suppose. First, to take the path of the son: the experience of being taken cared of by God our Father. And second, to take the path of the father. There is a story of a father whose son went away. He sent his messenger and begged his son to return. His son replied, “I cannot return any longer, Father. I am too far away from you.” Then, the Father replied, “Return as near as you can, and I will meet you the rest of the way.” How far have we tried to meet those of have lost hope? Or, those whom we do not like or we have a grudge on? In St. Ignatius’ words, how far have we cared for souls?

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