Boys and girls need engaged, loving fathers, together with mothers, in their homes. In our day and age, this is a truth that’s all too easily ignored. Too many children are missing strong father figures in their lives, even if they have a father at home. The father’s role, or at least the way it is fulfilled, needs some real work in many cases.
Unique and Irreplaceable Importance of the Father’s Role
Pope St. John Paul II tells us, in Familiaris Consortio 25, that ,
“…Above all where social and cultural conditions so easily encourage a father to be less concerned with his family or at any rate less involved in the work of education, efforts must be made to restore socially the conviction that the place and task of the father in and for the family is of unique and irreplaceable importance…”
Unique and irreplaceable indeed. Fathers interact differently with their children than their mothers do, and children need this fatherly interaction. Through that interaction, fathers serve as role models, guides and protectors of their families.
A Father’s Role as Protector and Guide
James Stenson, writer, consultant and educator, discussed the role of the father as protector in an interview with Zenit. The father’s role includes protecting his children from “…unjust aggressors of all types and potential disasters arising from their inexperience and impulsive mistakes…But most of all—and this is crucially important—a father protects his children by strengthening their judgment and will so they can later protect themselves…he asserts loving leadership toward responsible, competent adulthood. It is a father’s mission—the challenge that brings out the best in him—to form in his children the powers and attitudes they will need to succeed in life, to strengthen them so they in turn can later protect themselves and their own loved ones. So, in his children’s eyes a great father is a lifelong leader and teacher.”
In other words, in addition to protecting children from physical harm, fathers guide their children in their development, protecting them even from themselves as they grow up. This includes the father’s guiding his children toward learning and making the right choices in life, including spiritual choices.
Father as Spiritual Role Model
Perhaps being a spiritual role model is a function or subpart of the father’s role as protector. After all, what is more important than protecting his family’s eternal souls from the evil one? In his book, Lord Prepare My Hands for Battle, Jesse Romero cites studies showing evidence for the following among those who attend church regularly:
- Teens who attend church are four times less likely to commit suicide
- Religious involvement correlates with lower sexual promiscuity
- Fathers who attend church spend more time with their children
He also cites a study showing two-thirds to three-fourths of children whose fathers regularly attend church become regular churchgoers. If the father doesn’t attend church, no matter how serious the mother’s devotion, only about 2% of the children will attend church regularly. The That Man Is You men’s program cites other, similar statistics along these lines. Never underestimate the influence of a father as role model.
St. Joseph as a Role Model for Fathers
Children need role models. And so do fathers. In his book, The Father of the Family, Clayton Barbeau notes that,
“…The conscious sense of responsibility for the physical and spiritual well-being of others is the mark of a true father. It was in this sense that Joseph was the father of Jesus. Finding the boy Jesus in the temple, Mary says: ‘Your father and I have been looking for You with great anxiety.’ Thus, Joseph is a model for all who are true fathers, including those whose ‘children’ they did not help to conceive biologically: those who exert their energies, devote their time and efforts, and even endure ‘great anxiety’ in guiding and caring for the young around them…”
Look at what St. Joseph did in his humble, quiet way as the foster father of Jesus. He took care of Our Lady, protecting her and loving her in an absolutely chaste way. Upon the birth of Our Lord, he took care of the Holy Family, protecting them and moving them to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath. Later, he moved back to Nazareth and set up shop as a carpenter, teaching the trade to Jesus. St. Joseph worked in quiet anonymity and humility, with obedience to God, while providing for their needs the best that he could.
St. Joseph, Patron Saint of Fathers
Think of the tremendous responsibility that St. Joseph took on as Mary’s husband and Jesus’ foster father. His vocation was to protect and provide for the Son of God and his mother! We know that God gives us the graces we need for the missions He assigns us, and that was true for St. Joseph. Nevertheless, his was an immensely important role in the economy of salvation, and he carried it out in exemplary fashion.
Consider the role St. Joseph played in Jesus’ formative years. Who do you think Jesus learned the Psalms and other Scripture passages from? Imagine the Holy Family in their humble little home after a meal, singing and praying in praise of God. Just imagine the mutual love among the three of them in both the good times and the more difficult times as they eked out a meager existence in that small village.
Some commentators also have mentioned how difficult it must have been for St. Joseph, knowing the prophecy of Simeon, and being unable to do anything about the suffering Jesus and Mary would face. Yet, all the while, St. Joseph, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, lived in total humility and surrender to Divine Providence. We men would do well to consider prayerfully how St. Joseph carried out his fatherly role in the Holy Family, and to pray for the grace to be more like him.
It’s Never Too Late to Change and Become Better Fathers
Many of us fathers may look upon our past with some regrets about the manner in which we fulfilled our role as a father. We may feel guilty over not having done the kind of job to which our vocation called us. We’d like to have a “do over.” Maybe we weren’t as present for our kids as we should have been. Perhaps we didn’t model appropriate behaviors, spiritual or otherwise, for them. With God’s grace, we can change. It’s never too late. Our God is a God of second chances. Let’s pray to Him for the grace to be better fathers and grandfathers, uncles, guides, or father figures—to do a better job at getting it “right” this time around.
Short Novena Prayer to St. Joseph
We might want to pray the following novena, requesting the grace to be the fathers and father figures that God intends us to be. This prayer to St. Joseph is believed to have originated about 50 A.D. The explanation accompanying it states that it has never been known to fail, so we ought to be sure that we really want whatever we’re asking for. (What man wouldn’t want to be the father figure that God intends us to be?)
O Saint Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.
O Saint Joseph, assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.
O Saint Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me, and ask Him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. Amen
O Saint Joseph, hear my prayers and obtain my petitions. O Saint Joseph, pray for me. (Mention your intention.)
Saint Joseph, Pillar of families, pray for us.