This appears in the June 20 print edition.
On Father’s Day, who better to look to for some pointers and major virtues to imitate than the model of fathers: St. Joseph? Even though Joseph came from a royal line, Joseph faced the same difficult trials we all experience. It’s his response that makes him such a great example, says Rick Sarkisian, Ph.D., author of Not Your Average Joe (LifeWork Press, 2004).
“The first lesson St. Joseph teaches us is Obedience,” notes Sarkisian. “For Joseph, absolutely nothing was more important than doing God’s will. He was constantly listening to hear God’s voice and do what God wanted him to in the way God wanted it done.”
“Obedience is such an important quality for husband and fathers,” says Father Francis Peffley, pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Gainesville, Va., pointing out Joseph’s swift response to the angel’s message to take Mary into his home as his wife and to escape Herod when the time came. When he was told to go to Egypt in the middle of the night, Joseph didn’t question God or “sleep on it.” He responded immediately with complete trust and surrender.
One way fathers can be obedient to God’s will is by being obedient to the teachings of the Church and the magisterium, notes Father Peffley, who has written about St. Joseph. “Where parents are obedient to God’s will and the Church, the more children have that spirit of profound obedience towards their parents.”
Father Peffley couples obedience to another major virtue: Humility. The word comes from humus (soil or earth). “It’s the soil through which all the virtues grow,” he says. “Humility is truth in knowing who we are before God.”
Joseph knew he had a great mission to raise the Son of God and protect Our Lady, but he remained humble in that God-given role. Sarkisian points out that Joseph is the least noticeable in the Holy Family: “He’s the guy having Wheaties with the Son of God every morning, and he never called attention to himself.”
What are some ways men can practice humility today? For one, be at the service of your family, suggests Sarkisian, who produced Joseph: The Man Closest to Christ (Ignatius DVD, 2005). “That’s not being a weakling and giving in. You’re there to love and serve your family as opposed to having them serve you.” Consciously love your family, he adds. “That’s part of the whole servant/humility perspective Joseph had in his daily life with the Holy Family.”
Father Peffley underlines that fathers are called to be humble leaders of their families.
“If there’s one quality men need today, it’s true humility of heart,” he notes. He sees men get into trouble because of pride and arrogance.
“Humble people,” he explains, “are willing to take advice, accept constructive criticism, make necessary changes, get good spiritual direction or marriage counseling if needed. Humble people go to confession; proud people stay away from confession.”
Parishioner Greg Witherow at Father Peffley’s church recognizes this connection and makes confession a monthly practice.
“I encourage my kids to go to confession often,” he says of his and wife Kathy’s seven sons. (They also have a 4-year-old daughter.) “My 18-year-old goes every week.”
“Humility is strength,” says Father Peffley. St. Joseph showed this as Our Lord and the Blessed Mother’s provider and protector. “He would be tender and gentle. A true man is not abrasive, especially with his wife and children.”
That’s crucial, notes Sarkisian: “We fathers are the first image of God the Father to our children. When I’m angry, frustrated and out of control with emotions, then I subtract from the fatherly image of God. Instead, I give a distorted view of God’s paternity. When I’m kind and charitable, merciful and forgiving, then I help to promote who God the Father truly is.”
Single men aren’t off the hook, though. Sarkisian explains how a single man can also reflect God’s fatherly image to others because all men, single or married, are called to a spiritual paternity.
That includes Kindness, another of Joseph’s virtues. Be kind to someone who tries your patience, counsels Sarkisian. Show kindness indirectly, too, through prayer and charitable contributions.
Respect the dignity of other people. If husbands and fathers did acts of kindness every day for their wives and children, says Father Peffley, it would bring a great deal of peace and harmony into the home.
Simplicity is another of St. Joseph’s virtues. He models an “uncluttered” life that let him focus on what was truly meaningful, points out Sarkisian. Joseph loved Jesus and Mary, worked to support his family, read Scripture, and associated with other believers.
The simple, ordinary life presents constant occasions for holiness in daily tasks. John Paul II affirmed this in Redemptoris Custos (On the Person and Mission of St. Joseph in the Life of Christ and of the Church): “St. Joseph … is the proof that in order to be a good and genuine follower of Christ … it is enough to have the common, simple and human virtues, but they need to be true and authentic.”
Simplicity can call for sacrifice. The Witherows are big believers in tithing from their evangelical Protestant background. “I tell my boys I could be driving a Mercedes,” Greg Witherow says, “but we sacrifice quite a bit. I’m always looking forward to giving.”
Sarkisian says start simplifying by eliminating clutter and distractions. Donate or sell unnecessary possessions. Reduce excessive entertainment, recreation and hobbies. That opens another door.
“Joseph was a man of silence,” reminds Father Peffley. “That’s a prerequisite for prayer.” Which reveals Joseph’s Prayerfulness.
“Husbands and fathers need to be men of prayer, and kids need to see them praying,” says Father Peffley. “To see dads kneel down and say prayers in the church or home makes a tremendous, profound impact on them.”
By following Joseph’s example, men will also gain a profound devotion to Mary and to Jesus. Joseph talked with both daily, after all.
Witherow calls himself a big fan of Eucharistic adoration and the daily Rosary. Those prayers have been important to him since he and his family came into the Church seven years ago.
“When people ask what changed in my personal spiritual life,” he answers, “My prayer life had the biggest impact. I have these great prayers I now can meditate with.”
That includes spending lots of time praying for his family to Mary and St. Joseph: “As you protected your family, so protect mine. And when it’s time to run, tell me, and I’ll flee to Egypt!”
Which not only comes full circle to obedience, but also taps into Joseph’s titles of Protector of the Universal Church, Pillar of Family Life and Terror of Demons.
Since the family is considered a “domestic church,” men can ask Joseph to guard and defend — and help them guard and defend — the family from spiritual attack and physical harm, says Sarkisian.
And society’s epidemic plague of immorality, notes Father Peffley, can be countered by Joseph’s Purity and Modesty of body, mind and soul.
Joseph’s example “is also for women to understand and embrace,” concludes Sarkisian. He tries to show his only daughter “what real manhood is all about in the event she’s called to the vocation of marriage.”
In every regard, St. Joseph’s example makes sure men can make every day a happy Father’s Day.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.