Saint Joseph and the Gospel of the Family

Saint Joseph and the Christ Child

Saint Joseph and the Christ Child, 1670-75, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Leading up to the ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family this October, which takes up the work begun at the Synod of October 2014, Pope Francis has dedicated a series of his general audience talks to marriage and the family. These magisterial teachings and the work of the Synod are greatly needed in our world today, where marriage and family are under tremendous pressure, if not to say assault.

In one talk given in January, our Holy Father discussed a distressing challenge which has had serious repercussions for the persons involved as well as society as a whole – the absent father.

A father plays a singularly important role in the life of a child and of the whole family. Children need a father not only in the biological origin of their lives, but throughout. There was a time when this was taken for granted. But today, it is commonplace for children to grow up without a father, either because he simply is not present in the home, or he is so caught up in work and other things that he has little time to spend with his children.

Pope Francis observes that “the absent father figure in the life of little ones and young people causes gaps and wounds that may even be very serious. And, in effect, delinquency among children and adolescents can be largely attributed to this lack, to the shortage of examples and authoritative guidance in their everyday life, a shortage of closeness, a shortage of love from the father.” These wounds are then perpetuated because, without fathers – or father figures –  in their lives, young men may never learn how to be fathers themselves.

With all of the problems and troubles which contribute to the breakdown of marriage and family life, the constant challenge is not to allow ourselves to become overwhelmed by it all. “Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope,” urges our Holy Father (Evangelii Gaudium, 86).

One shining example of our hope, one radiant exemplar of fatherhood which is much needed in our day, is that of Saint Joseph, the spouse of Blessed Virgin Mary. Today we celebrate his solemnity, as well as the second anniversary of Pope Francis’ Mass of Inauguration.

What strikes us when we look at the figure of Joseph is his great faith. When Joseph was growing up, he no doubt had a vision for his life, a good plan, “but God was reserving another plan for him, a greater mission,” Pope Francis reminds us. After this is revealed to him, what God asks of him Joseph does not hesitate to do. He does God’s will unflinchingly and without complaint.

We see in Sacred Scripture and Tradition a picture of Joseph enveloped in love – love of God, love of his wife Mary, love of the child Jesus committed to his care. “By accepting himself according to God’s design, Joseph fully finds himself, beyond himself,” our Holy Father explains. It is not through the pursuit of the individualistic lifestyle, as is promoted today, that one finds fulfillment and happiness, but through the gift of self in love.

As men, young and old, take up the challenge of being a father, especially in our present cultural climate, Saint Joseph offers the good news we need to hear. He proclaims to us the Gospel of the Family. And “like Saint Joseph, once we have heard God’s voice, we must rise from our slumber; we must get up and act,” Pope Francis tells us. “Families will always have their trials, but may you never add to them! Instead, be living examples of love, forgiveness and care.”