Loving “with a Father’s heart” like St. Joseph

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-3 for the Soul
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II 
Friday, Advent Week III, 18 December 2020
Genesis 49:2, 8-10     >><)))*> + >><)))*> + >><)))*>     Matthew 1:1-17
Photo from Vatican News, St. Joseph and the Child Jesus, 14 December 2020.

Today we continue the second part of Matthew’s genealogy that ended yesterday with a marked shift in its structure of begetting: “Eleazar became the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ” (Mt.1:15-16).

Matthew now fortifies this fact and conviction that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the promise to the Patriarchs, the Son of God who became human like us. See his solemn pronouncement about the coming of Jesus Christ:

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ cam about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Jospeh, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.

Matthew 1:18-19

It is so timely that on this rare occasion when we reflect on Joseph’s role in the coming of Jesus Christ that Pope Francis recently declared December 8, 2020 to December 8, 2021 as the “Year of Saint Joseph” in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the declaration of the beloved saint as Patron of the Universal Church with his Apostolic Letter “Patris Corde” (With a Father’s Heart).

A known devotee of Saint Joseph who popularized in 2015 during his visit to the country the image of the “Sleeping Saint Joseph”, Pope Francis said in writing Patris Corde how the COVID-19 pandemic has helped us see more clearly the importance of “ordinary” people who, though far from the limelight, exercise patience and offer hope every day.

The Holy Father explained that the “ordinary” people like those who kept our lives going especially during the lockdowns resemble Saint Joseph, “the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence,” who nonetheless played “an incomparable role in the history of salvation” (Vatican News, 12 December 2020).

Let us reflect on two beautiful traits of St. Joseph that made him love Jesus and Mary with a father’s heart according to Pope Francis: creatively courageous and being in the shadows.

Photo from Vatican News, 12 December 2020.

Saint Joseph as a creatively courageous father

In describing Joseph as a “creatively courageous father”, Pope Francis showed us his deep devotion to this great saint described by Matthew as a “righteous man” or holy man who obeys the Laws of God.

Having courage is more than being able to do death-defying acts that is more on physical strength; courage is a spiritual virtue, a spiritual strength when we do extraordinary things because of higher ideals and values like love and gaining eternal life in Jesus Christ.

According to Pope Francis, “creative courage emerges especially in the way we deal with difficulties. In the face of difficulty, we can either give up and walk away, or somehow engage with it. At times, difficulties bring out resources we did not even think we had” (Patris Corde, 5).

The word courage is from the Latin “cor” for heart which is the seat of our being. To have courage according to the late Fr. Henri Nouwen means “to speak from the heart, to listen to our heart, and to act from our heart” when we dare to lose ourselves because of love.

A creative person is always someone who is deeply in love with another person or with one’s craft, art, career or whatever passion. See how people so in love become so creative that they can write songs and poems, do wonderful works, and accomplish so many wonderful things.

A “creatively courageous” person like Saint Joseph is someone so deeply in love with Mary and with God: after learning the circumstances surrounding Mary’s pregnancy, Matthew tells us “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Mt.1:24).

Photo by author, Gaudete Sunday 2020.

Matthew tells us how Saint Joseph from the very start has always been creatively courageous when he decided to quietly divorce Mary after learning of her pregnancy: here we find Saint Joseph not only very courageous to face the bitter truth about Mary having a baby not his but also very creative in the sense that because of his great love for her, he did not want her exposed to extreme shame and public humiliation in breaking the seal of their betrothal.

His love for Mary found ways to spare her all the pains and hurts that may result if found with a baby not his; but after learning the truth, the more we find him creatively courageous when Joseph found so many ways to save Mother and Child from all harm and even death.

See that when Joseph accepted Mary, Jesus came forth to us while at the same time, when Joseph accepted God through the angel as expression of his deep faith and love, he took Mary as wife.

And this is what Pope Francis further explains in Patris Corde that at the end of every account in which Saint Joseph plays a role, the Gospel tells us that he gets up and takes Jesus and Mary who are the most precious treasure of our faith.

Taking Jesus and Mary like Saint Joseph as creatively courageous calls us Christians to always love the Church and the sacraments and charity, and most of all in loving the Church, we also love the poor for whom Jesus came and Mary identified herself with in her Magnificat.

In this time of the pandemic, we are called to creatively courageous in finding Jesus among those people too familiar with us and those so different from us because too often, they are the people we always take for granted, those too close to us and the strangers.

Being creatively courageous in this time of the pandemic means also being more sensitive with others especially in our words and actions that many times lack any sympathy or empathy with those living at the margins like the poor and the sick, those living alone, and those forgotten by families and by society.

Saint Joseph, a father in the shadows

I love the way Pope Francis started his Apostolic Letter about Saint Joseph because it is something very much alike with Matthew’s unique style in beginning his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus: the Holy Father began by citing how Joseph loved Jesus according to the gospels “WITH A FATHER’S HEART” written in all caps!

Pope Francis must be stressing to us these days of the need to have a father’s heart which is also rarely heard because most often, the heart is more associated with the mother. But that is what the world precisely needs now, a father’s heart like that of God our Father.

In every exercise of our fatherhood, we should always keep in mind that it has nothing to do with possession, but is rather a “sign” pointing to a greater fatherhood. In a way, we are all like Joseph: a shadow of the heavenly Father, who “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt 5:45). And a shadow that follows his Son.

Pope Francis, Patris Corde, 7
Photo is painting on acrylic (48×96) by Bulakenyo artist Aris Bagtas called “Luklukan ng Karunungan” (Seat of Wisdom) displayed at the second floor of the Library of the Immaculate Conception Major Seminary at Guiguinto, Bulacan.  A lively and beautiful rendition by Aris of Mary teaching her Son Jesus Christ while at the background is Joseph looking at them.  Used with permission.

To be with a heart of the father like God’s is to be “most chaste” like Saint Joseph which the Holy Father said is more than a sign of affection but the summation of an attitude that is the opposite of possessiveness.

Chastity is freedom from possessiveness in every sphere of one’s life. Only when love is chaste, is it truly love. A possessive love ultimately becomes dangerous: it imprisons, constricts and makes for misery. God himself loved humanity with a chaste love; he left us free even to go astray and set ourselves against him. The logic of love is always the logic of freedom, and Joseph knew how to love with extraordinary freedom. He never made himself the centre of things. He did not think of himself, but focused instead on the lives of Mary and Jesus.

Pope Francis, Patris Corde

I am so glad that Pope Francis mentioned the need to be “most chaste” as opposite of possessiveness because there is an ongoing crisis in fatherhood among us these days. Not just to biological fathers but also to fathers in the other institutions especially the Church.

Are we not priests in deep trouble with chastity these days not only with the scourge of sexual scandals and misconduct this century but also in how we have been lording it over in our parishes that we have remained an institution seen more in terms of power and control that we have never evolved to Avery Dulles’ other models of the Church like a community of disciples?

Are we not also guilty in the Church like fathers in the family and other institutions who “possessed” those below them, totally forgetting it is the Lord’s vineyard, that we are His stewards tasked to lead our flock to growth and maturity when all we think of is our own prestige and popularity that Jesus Christ is forgotten and put to the sidelights because we feel so good, so great?

In this time of pandemic amid the many temptations of social media, we priests must pause before doing all those online projects to keep in mind that we are shadows of the fatherhood of God, that like Saint Joseph, it is best for us to work in silence and as much as possible be at the background because we remain the shadows of the Son.

Fatherhood in the real and Christian sense is being a shadow not only of God the Father but also of his Son, Jesus Christ. Like John the Baptist, fathers must learn to decrease so that Jesus may increase.

Photo by author of the Chapel of St. Joseph in Nazareth (2017); below is the ancient site of his carpentry shop where Jesus grew up as a child.

Lately I have been dreaming of my late father due to so many problems coming my way. When people ask me about my vocation story, asking how it all started, I have always considered it all began with my dad. He never asked me to become a priest nor even taught me how to pray but I grew up seeing him pray daily before our altar before leaving for work and upon coming home. How I love waking up to the scent burning candles wafting through our home as he always lit candles at the altar and our grotto outside. It was from him that I learned that lesson I taught my students to have a rosary in the pocket so we may pray anywhere, any time.

The only other thing my dad taught me by personally telling me was to study hard so that we could be of service to the people and never a burden to the society.

I think that is the best thing any father can do — to form their children into another shadow of the Lord, not necessarily be like them.

A blessed day specially to all Fathers and dads!

One thought on “Loving “with a Father’s heart” like St. Joseph

  1. Pingback: Our birth from God

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s