Monday, March 14, 2016
Br. Jay RIVERA FFV - Franciscans of Life
On March 19, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Joseph, foster father of the Redeemer and the patron of “voiceless fathers.” Yet most Christians know very little about this remarkable man. Our tendency is to pay attention to the vocal characters in a story and push the non-verbal ones to the background.
However, when we reflect on St. Joseph, we look at the scriptures from another perspective, through another window. Suddenly, St. Joseph comes to life as the model and friend of today’s voiceless father.
In today’s culture of death, fathers are relegated to the sidelines. They do not factor into the picture until the mother decides to keep her preborn child. Up to that moment, men are not considered fathers. Our legal system and our cultural traditions often render them mute. Here is where St. Joseph enters the picture. By reflecting on a few details in the life of Jesus and Mary, we can learn how an apparently voiceless father can rise to the occasion without saying a word.
Our first encounter with Joseph is after the Annunciation. He is thinking of divorcing Mary, but the scriptures tell us that he was a just man and did not want to do her harm. He wanted to do this quietly, without scandal. This is a man in a crisis pregnancy. Despite his apprehensions and probably a great sense of disappointment that his beloved is pregnant, he does not want to simply walk away. He wants to find the civil, charitable and just way for Mary’s benefit, not for his own.
We see him again when the angel announces to him that the child is the Son of the Most High and that he should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Once again, this silent man never says a word, not even as the angel speaks to him in a dream. Yet, he gets up, takes his betrothed into his home as his wife, and assumes the role of father of their preborn child. He builds a bond with this child, a bond that is based on faith. Joseph is the model of a father whose relationship with his children is fortified by his faith in God.
When the time comes for Mary to give birth, they are in Bethlehem for the census. It was the Jewish custom for women to give birth in separate quarters from those of the family, because doing otherwise violated the rules for cleanliness. Once again, Joseph speaks to our fathers, this time about responsibility. He goes out to find a place where Mary can deliver her baby. The best that he can find is a cave, but to Mary and Jesus, it was a palace, because it was an effort of love on Joseph’s part.
After the visit of the Magi, the angel again appears to Joseph in a dream to warn him that Herod wants the child dead. Joseph is again the voiceless father who does not say a word. Yet he speaks to fathers of every generation of their duty to protect their children from a culture of death. And so Joseph takes the child and his mother across the border into Egypt.
The last time we see Joseph is in Jerusalem when Jesus is 12 years old. He and Mary had lost sight of the boy for three days. Upon discovering that he is missing, they must travel three days back to Jerusalem to find him. Mary’s words are very telling. She said to Jesus, “Your father and I have been anxiously looking for you” (Lk 2:48). Joseph is the father who rescues his son. He is also the father who partners with the mother in raising their son. This is very clear. It is the mother who scolds the son.
Looking back on the life of St. Joseph, we find in him a voiceless father who speaks loudly to all fathers, especially those who have been made voiceless by the culture of death. He is a father with deep faith, who is just and honest. He is responsible and a protector. He drops everything to rescue his son, while collaborating with the boy’s mother. The silent man in the Gospels speaks most loudly on the meaning of fatherhood.
The result of this discernment has been the birth of Project Joseph. Project Joseph is a joint venture between the Franciscans of Life and the Archdiocese of Miami's Respect Life Ministry. Together we help voiceless fathers in unexpected pregnancies rise to the occasion as did St. Joseph. The discussion groups are guided —and support provided — by volunteer mentors who are willing to share their experience of life with fatherhood, be it their own or their fathers’.
St. Joseph is the model that we hold up for fathers in crisis pregnancies. It is our hope that they will imitate this great and silent father.
For more information as to how you can help, contact Respect Life Ministry at 954-981-2922; write to [email protected]; or go to www.respectlifemiami.org/project-joseph.html.