This Sunday, June 18, we honor the men who are fathers in our lives, and especially our own fathers.
Both parents fulfill specific, essential roles within the family, which we see demonstrated foremost by the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph within the Holy Family. Nevertheless, research has shown that the specific presence of the father in the home is incredibly important for a child’s development. Children with absent fathers are at greater risk for a number of risk factors, including poverty, behavioral problems, substance abuse, and crime. Even more significantly, fathers are the primary determinant of their children’s commitment to religion. This Father’s Day brings with it the opportunity to recognize the invaluable influence our fathers have on our lives, as well as to thank them for all of the sacrifices they make daily on our behalf.
Although it didn’t become a federal holiday until 1972, our nation’s first Father's Day was celebrated around 1910. After Mother’s Day began to be celebrated in 1908, it was conceded that fathers deserved a day of their own as well. Today, Father’s Day is celebrated on the third Sunday of June here in the United States, but in Europe and Latin America it is celebrated on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Because St. Joseph was chosen to be the foster-father and guardian of Jesus, it makes sense to turn to him on Father’s Day (and every day), inasmuch as he is the patron of fathers.
Not much is known about St. Joseph, but he is honored for being a just man. In his apostolic exhortation Redemptoris custos (Guardian of the Redeemer), St. John Paul II praises St. Joseph for supporting and protecting the Son and the Mother of God, whose care was entrusted to him. Without questioning, St. Joseph humbly obeyed God’s commands, in what St. John Paul II characterizes as “Joseph’s Way.”
When Mary was found to be with child after the Annunciation, while she was still betrothed to Joseph, he was placed in the difficult situation of deciding how to respond. Rather than expose her to shame, he resolved to quietly send her away. However, when an angel appeared to St. Joseph in a dream, instructing him to take Mary as his wife and to name her Son Jesus because He would redeem the world, St. Joseph set aside his hesitation and obeyed. After Jesus's birth, St. Joseph fulfilled his obligations as Jesus’s earthly father by taking him to the temple to be circumcised and named.
Warned in another dream that King Herod was searching for the Child to kill Him, St. Joseph immediately fled with Mary and Jesus to Egypt. He provided for them there until another angel appeared to him after the death of Herod, telling him it was safe to return with his family to Israel. St. Joseph is not mentioned in Scripture after Jesus is found in the temple at the age of twelve, and thus it is generally conceded that he died, with Jesus and Mary close to him, before Jesus began His adult ministry. For this reason, St. Joseph is also the patron of a good death.
A century before St. John Paul II, Pope Leo XIII strongly encouraged devotion to St. Joseph in his encyclical Quamquam pluries. Regardless of our various states in life, we can each find a model in St. Joseph’s humility, fidelity, and commitment to his family. The devotion to St. Joseph is one of the most powerful devotions, particularly for fathers, because he is not only their patron but also the protector of families—after all, one of his titles is “Terror of Demons,” making him an important intercessor, along with St. Michael, for anyone seeking protection from the devil for himself or his loved ones. However, St. Joseph’s intercession is also important for women, inasmuch as he was the guardian of the Virgin Mary and is known as the Guardian of Virgins. He is also the patron of the Universal Church, unborn children, workers, travelers, and many countries. In addition to his principal feast on March 19, St. Joseph is also celebrated by the Church on May 1, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
If the Holy Family is the perfect example for all families, then St. Joseph is likewise the ideal example for all fathers, inasmuch as he fully obeyed God’s will for his family and himself. Today let us commend our fathers to St. Joseph, that they too may imitate “Joseph’s Way” and be strong in their faith and virtuous in their example, as he was.