Saturday, March 19, 2011

Authentic Fatherhood:
The Fruitfulness of the Love of Joseph in His Virginal Marriage to Mary

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

In his catechesis below, Pope John Paul II has a remarkable insight regarding St. Joseph -- that by the fullness of his love for God and Mary, a transcendent love that is both unitive and truly fruitful, in the spirit even if not in the flesh, he was a true "father" to Jesus, not merely in the legal sense. He was not merely a bystander or an after-the-fact custodian, but contributed to the fruit of Mary's womb by the love that he had for her and God in his heart, and the love that she had for them in hers. When Jesus was made present in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, Joseph was already present in her heart. This is, of course, consistent with the Theology of the Body, that it is the fullness of love which is procreative, and not biology only, that the fullness of love is, by its very nature, both spousal and parental, unitive and fruitful/creative.

Fr. Scalia also has some outstanding thoughts on St. Joseph and fatherhood, but he presents the more traditional view, referring to Joseph as a father under the Law, without taking the extra step regarding that fatherhood that Pope John Paul does.

The Virginal Fatherhood of Joseph
Venerable Pope John Paul II
General Audience of August 21, 1996
The angel of the Lord appeared in a dream and said to him: "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 1:20). Thus he received confirmation that he was called to live his marriage in a completely special way. Through virginal communion with the woman chosen to give birth to Jesus, God calls him to co-operate in carrying out his plan of salvation.

The type of marriage to which the Holy Spirit led Mary and Joseph can only be understood in the context of the saving plan and of a lofty spirituality. . . .

Precisely in view of their contribution to the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, Joseph and Mary received the grace of living both the charism of virginity and the gift of marriage. Mary and Joseph's communion of virginal love, although a special case linked with the concrete realization of the mystery of the Incarnation, was nevertheless a true marriage (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos, n. 7).

The difficulty of accepting the sublime mystery of their spousal communion has led some, since the second century, to think of Joseph as advanced in age and to consider him Mary's guardian more than her husband. However, one should instead suppose that he was not an elderly man at the time, but that his interior perfection, the fruit of grace, led him to live his spousal relationship with Mary with virginal affection.

While excluding physical generation, Joseph's fatherhood was something real not apparent. Distinguishing between father and the one who begets, an ancient monograph on Mary's virginity the De Margarita (fourth century) states that
"the commitments assumed by the Virgin and by Joseph as husband and wife made it possible for him to be called by this name (father); a father, however, who did not beget."
Joseph thus carried out the role of Jesus' father, exercising an authority to which the Redeemer was freely "obedient" (Lk 2:51), contributing to his upbringing and teaching him the carpenter's trade.

True Fatherhood
Fr. Paul Scalia
Arlington Catholic Herald, December 25, 2003
Poor St. Joseph. If religious art is any indication, his role in the Holy Family was almost useless. Most of the time he is shown as an old man, sitting in the shadows, trailing behind Jesus and Mary, sleeping on the flight into Egypt. Not exactly an inspiring example of leadership.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, however, has no doubts about Joseph’s role. "Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety," she says to the child Jesus in the Temple. (Lk 3:48) "Your father." She, who knew more than anyone else about our Lord’s heavenly Father, does not qualify Joseph’s fatherhood at all.

Joseph was not our Lord’s pretend or "make believe" father. By way of his marriage to the Blessed Virgin, Jewish law afforded him true paternal responsibility and authority over her child. To be sure, Christ’s divine nature comes from God the Father alone and His human nature from Mary alone. Yet God entrusted to Joseph the headship of the Holy Family. For that reason Mary gives Joseph the title "Father" of Christ. He, who was neither the eternal nor the biological father of our Lord, nevertheless demonstrates true fatherhood.

To understand the importance of St. Joseph’s example, we must take seriously the crisis of fatherhood today. Our culture has little use for fathers, except perhaps as the butt of jokes on sitcoms and commercials. (Can you name one respected father in popular culture?) In fact, there exists a deep hatred for fatherhood, as demonstrated by irresponsible men who abandon their families, and radical feminists who proclaim that fathers are unnecessary. We see the father’s legitimate headship betrayed by both extremes: on one hand, a father abuses his authority by using it for his own desires; on the other hand, a father neglects his authority and leaves his family without a leader.

Therefore, we look to St. Joseph, the "foster-father" of our Lord, for the example of a true father. His paradoxical situation calls attention to the truth about fatherhood. First, because he stood as father to a boy who was his son only in the legal sense, he was keenly aware, as every father should be, that he served as the representative of God the Father. Second, because he was the least of the three members of the Holy Family in personal dignity, he exercised his authority with the greatest humility, as every father should.

St. Joseph understood that he, a mere man conceived and born in sin, had been entrusted with the headship of the Holy Family. He was to rule over the Incarnate Word and the Immaculate Conception. He neither neglected this authority, nor used it for selfish gain. Rather, he exercised his headship in perfect humility, in the service of his family. Joseph protected and provided for Jesus and Mary. He named Jesus, taught him how to pray, how to work, how to be a man. This "foster-father" reveals that fatherhood is more than a mere fact of biological generation. A man is a father most when he invests himself in the spiritual and moral formation of his children.

Several years ago, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger remarked that, "the crisis of fatherhood we are living today is an element, perhaps the most important, threatening man in his humanity." To recover the true teaching on fatherhood, this most important element of humanity, let us take St. Joseph as our unfailing example on earth and our powerful intercessor in heaven.

See also - St. Joseph and the Fullness of Love in the Theology of the Body

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