As someone who has always looked forward to the next challenge or opportunity both personally and professionally, I haven’t been very skilled at pausing and reflecting on the past. Writing this passage challenged me to settle myself enough to reflect on my journey as a Catholic father, and for that I am thankful as it contains many opportunities for me to continue to grow as both a Catholic and a father.
My journey as a Catholic father is closely intertwined with my Catholic faith. My mother was a practicing Catholic and was always engaged in parish life. She also was a Catholic school teacher for many years. As a result, my sister and I were raised Catholic. In my case, this included attending Catholic school during my primary years and attending a Catholic university. I, like many other young Catholics, made my way to becoming an adult in the Catholic Church through Confirmation. While residing at home led by my mother, my sister and I were actively involved in our local parish.
My first set of real-life religious decisions came when I went away to college at the University of Notre Dame. At this point, my religion did not feel like it was my own. It felt like it was my mother’s religion and my connection to it was not as clear. During my years at Notre Dame, a campus with over 150 venues in which to pray or attend Mass, somehow I managed to not regularly attend Mass. During my college years, I met my wife of now 32 years. She, like my mother, was an active Catholic who felt sure of her connection to her faith. During our early years of marriage, while she strongly modeled the Catholic faith with regular Mass attendance and engagement in parish life, I once again managed to get by with a part-time Catholic mentality while still searching for how Catholicism would be “my faith” rather than my mother’s or my spouse’s. But my wife and my mother were role models who kept me close to the Catholic Church during this period of uncertainty and questioning.
After being married for just over 3 years, my wife and I conceived our first child. After she was born, we immediately began preparations for our daughter’s first step into the Catholic faith with the sacrament of Baptism. During this process, I had a real awakening: many of the questions I had been asking regarding my faith suddenly seemed selfish and self-serving. Although I felt I was prepared to be a father, I felt helpless in many ways to control the events that would impact my daughter throughout her life. It became clear to me that our daughter, and a few years later our son, would certainly need the love and support of their parents. However, they would also need something more—something that would sustain and anchor them throughout their lives regardless of the circumstance or challenge. This was faith, the Catholic faith. Not only would our children need this faith, but so would I. The blessing of fatherhood for me came with many gifts. My Catholic faith had become planted in some very good soil and, as a result of my fatherhood, began to grow.
As our children grew up and became adults, my journeying with them as a father, husband, Catholic, and business leader has had its challenges. There was always an endless stream of competing day to day priorities. It was disappointing when, despite all our best efforts to keep all the balls in the air, inevitably some would drop. Reflecting back, it was being present at those moments that gave my fatherhood and faith deeper meaning—when our children wanted to reach out for support, advice, a kind ear, or just to talk about their journey through both life and faith. In some cases, my children might not see the connection between their life journey and their faith journey, as I certainly didn’t a number of years ago. This provides a great opportunity as a father to create these connections for my children as they become full participants in our society and ultimately leaders in their communities, parishes, and professional lives. Having grown in my faith throughout my vocation as a father, I hope that I can be for my children the same role model of a loving, thriving Catholic faith that my mother presented to me.
On December 8th, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Joseph as patron of the universal church, Pope Francis proclaimed the Year of St. Joseph. To celebrate this historic moment in the universal Church, the Catholic Apostolate Center has launched a series exploring the depth and richness of fatherhood. We will feature one post a month from fathers at different stages of fatherhood, godfathers, spiritual fathers, priests, and grandfathers throughout the year.
We invite you to join us this year in learning more about masculinity, fatherhood, the dignity of labor, and the importance of faithfulness to the will of God. As we continue in our life of faith, we invite St. Joseph to be a father to each one of us, guiding us ever closer to his adopted son, Jesus. May he teach us how to be faithful disciples constantly adoring the face of Christ.
To kick off our fatherhood series, I’d like to share some powerful quotes from Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter, Patris Corde, that will help us more deeply come to know the quiet carpenter who helped raise the Son of God.
1. “Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.”
Throughout salvation history, God has repeatedly chosen the least likely of candidates to accomplish his will. Moses was slow of speech. Peter was a fisherman. Paul was a persecutor of the Church. Joseph was a carpenter. What matters not to the Lord is our status in life, our accolades, our prestige, or our mightiness, but simply that we do His will. St. Joseph modeled that in every moment of his life—from accepting Mary into his home, to naming his Son Jesus, from fleeing to Egypt, to returning to Nazareth. St. Joseph, teach us obedience and humility.
2. “The greatness of Saint Joseph is that he was the spouse of Mary and the father of Jesus. In this way, he placed himself, in the words of Saint John Chrysostom, 'at the service of the entire plan of salvation.'”
Joseph was a father in every sense of the word. He guided and protected his family, provided for them, and loved them with tender affection. Everything he did was for the well-being of Mary and Jesus. He is a strong servant leader—one that all men can learn from. To be a father is a great blessing and gift. St. Joseph, help us to be servant leaders.
3. "Saint Paul VI pointed out that Joseph concretely expressed his fatherhood 'by making his life a sacrificial service to the mystery of the incarnation and its redemptive purpose. He employed his legal authority over the Holy Family to devote himself completely to them in his life and work. He turned his human vocation to domestic love into a superhuman oblation of himself, his heart and all his abilities, a love placed at the service of the Messiah who was growing to maturity in his home.'"
Just as faith without works is dead, so too is love devoid of service. St. Joseph did not love solely with his words, but by his actions—which is likely why Scripture does not recount any of his speech—with St. Joseph, there was no need. His entire life was a song of love for the Holy Family and for God. St. Joseph, teach us to love as you loved.
4. "Joseph saw Jesus grow daily 'in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favour' (Lk 2:52). As the Lord had done with Israel, so Joseph did with Jesus: he taught him to walk, taking him by the hand; he was for him like a father who raises an infant to his cheeks, bending down to him and feeding him (cf. Hos 11:3-4)."
So often, we confuse holiness with otherworldliness. Perhaps we imagine celestial music, bright light, and the presence of angels accompanying the saints wherever they went. But to be holy is to be most fully human—at St. Iraneus said, “The glory of God is man most fully alive.” True holiness means living out our vocations fully, and that includes family life. St. Joseph would have fed Christ and eaten with him, he would have helped him get dressed or tied his sandals, he would have played games with him, sang with him, and worked with him. To be holy is not to be out of touch with reality. St. Joseph was not above the normal duties of fatherhood. St. Joseph, teach us to live out our vocations fully by taking Christ by the hand.
5. "Even through Joseph’s fears, God’s will, his history and his plan were at work. Joseph, then, teaches us that faith in God includes believing that he can work even through our fears, our frailties and our weaknesses. He also teaches us that amid the tempests of life, we must never be afraid to let the Lord steer our course. At times, we want to be in complete control, yet God always sees the bigger picture."
A life of holiness does not mean one devoid of fear or suffering. This was true even for Joseph and Mary. What makes Joseph such a model for us is not that he was fearless, but that he trusted in God. He did many things that were difficult and probably not what he had intended for his life, but he trusted and obeyed. He hears the will of God and acts. Later on, Christ himself does not promise a life without the cross, but that He will always remain with us as we carry our crosses. It is when we give God our fears, frailties, and weaknesses that He can transfigure us for His glory. St. Joseph, teach us to trust God.
6. "During the hidden years in Nazareth, Jesus learned at the school of Joseph to do the will of the Father. That will was to be his daily food (cf. Jn 4:34)."
The home of the Holy Family was a domestic church in which virtue flourished and sanctity was cultivated. As the head of the family, Joseph served as a priestly figure and an earthly shadow of God the Father. Joseph would have been a man of Scripture who obeyed God’s commandments and lived a life of authenticity and virtue. How beautiful it is to think that Jesus “learned at the school of Joseph.” St. Joseph, teach us to do the will of the Father.
7. "Just as God told Joseph: 'Son of David, do not be afraid!' (Mt 1:20), so he seems to tell us: 'Do not be afraid!' We need to set aside all anger and disappointment, and to embrace the way things are, even when they do not turn out as we wish. Not with mere resignation but with hope and courage. In this way, we become open to a deeper meaning. Our lives can be miraculously reborn if we find the courage to live them in accordance with the Gospel. It does not matter if everything seems to have gone wrong or some things can no longer be fixed. God can make flowers spring up from stony ground. Even if our heart condemns us, 'God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything'(1 Jn 3:20)."
The words of God to Joseph echo once more for us today: do not be afraid! Fear, stress, and confusion are all normal to the human condition. God is not asking us to erase these feelings from our lives, but to give them over to Him. He is calling us to abandon ourselves to His loving providence and not become imprisoned by these emotions. St. Joseph may have feared for his family’s safety and well-being, but he was not consumed by fear or paralyzed by doubt. Pope Francis calls him, “creatively courageous.” “In the face of difficulty,” he writes, “we can either give up and walk away, or somehow engage with it.” Joseph engaged. St. Joseph, teach us to abandon ourselves to God.
8. "Work is a means of participating in the work of salvation, an opportunity to hasten the coming of the Kingdom, to develop our talents and abilities, and to put them at the service of society and fraternal communion. It becomes an opportunity for the fulfilment not only of oneself, but also of that primary cell of society which is the family."
Work is a part of God’s plan for humanity. What was not part of God’s plan was toil or fruitless labor that does not uphold mankind’s dignity. Prior to the Fall, Adam was called to till and cultivate the land. Christ has redeemed work once again by enabling us to offer all that we do and unite it to His sacrifice on the Cross. Our work can now have immeasurable meaning and be a means of sanctification. Joseph is also known as St. Joseph the Worker. He worked as a carpenter throughout his life and in this way provided for his family. When we work for others, when we work well and faithfully, our work can be a means of building up the Body of Christ and loving or serving one another. St. Joseph, teach us the dignity of human labor.
9. "Fathers are not born, but made. A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility to care for that child. Whenever a man accepts responsibility for the life of another, in some way he becomes a father to that person."
Fatherhood is so much more than physical procreation. It involves the cultivation of family and of the human person. It means providing for the spiritual or physical well-being of others. For this reason, priests are also called “Father.” They represent our Heavenly Father and make manifest His graces poured out in the sacraments. They accompany us on our spiritual journeys and act as shepherds guiding us towards holiness. Godfathers, too, play an important role in society by serving as models of holiness for their godchildren and praying and interceding on their behalf. St. Joseph, teach men true masculinity and authentic fatherhood.
10. "The Church too needs fathers."
Not only do families need fathers and stable father figures, the Church and world do as well. Authentic fatherhood is an essential part of God’s plan for humanity and is a part of God’s very identity. Society cannot exist and thrive without healthy and holy fathers. God chose to enter the world through a family and was obedient to his foster father Joseph while under his care. Scripture tells us that he "was obedient to them (Joseph and Mary).” St. Joseph, help raise up strong and loving fathers and father figures in our Church and society.
As we journey together in the Year of St. Joseph, let us pray to this powerful intercessor using the prayer of Pope Francis,
Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.
Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage,
and defend us from every evil. Amen.
The USCCB designates each October as Respect Life Month: “a time to focus on God’s precious gift of human life and our responsibility to care for, protect, and defend the lives of our brothers and sisters.” The duty to bear Christian witness to the dignity of every human life extends, of course, throughout the year. The annual March for Life in DC and similar marches in other cities highlight the efforts of advocates for the unborn, but being pro-life includes many activities that receive less fanfare but that are no less important. By appreciating the inherent dignity and worth of each life as created by God, we recognize the sanctity of creation and our need to defend it.
The existence of an abortion clinic near my home exemplifies disregard for the dignity of human life, as well as the reality that many clients feel as if there is no better option for themselves or the nascent life inside the womb. To attempt to provide clients with an alternative to abortion and offer support, a number of advocates on the sidewalk offer counseling while others protest the clinic’s operation, pray for the souls affected, and pray in reparation for the sins committed there. Drivers and pedestrians passing by often passionately criticize our presence; many others choose ignorance or don’t want to become involved in such a contentious issue. It’s not a comfortable situation to be in, but we know we have a chance to intervene on behalf of the unborn and the parent(s) who don’t know where else to turn for assistance. Our position is not one of judgment but of love; we cannot turn a blind eye to this silent suffering.
Being a father, I vividly recall the excitement and joy of seeing my child develop in the womb of my spouse and then be delivered into this world as an infant. These life events made my pro-life convictions more tangible for me. Even under less-than-ideal circumstances of conception, the personhood of the unborn is not diminished and therefore merits protection. Fatherhood continues to teach me about myself and my role leading a family towards holiness. I have learned I must recognize the graces God bestows on us to build our domestic church and be witnesses to the sanctity of life: the person, the family, and our Faith.
I am encouraged by the many who engage with the culture and lawmakers to challenge preconceptions or misconceptions about the value of human life. The immigrant, refugee, criminal, and marginalized are endowed with the same worth as each of us! Threats to the sanctity of life endure in our society and also include sterilizations, physician-assisted suicides, human trafficking, mistreatment and neglect of seniors and the disabled, and other forms of abuse. While others may ignore these sad realities, the pro-life movement knows we have our work cut out for us. In every way in which we engage, educate, and work to convert hearts and minds to be more aware of the value of the life which we have been gifted, we must always act with love, compassion, and hope for the protection and celebration of all forms of human life, from conception through natural death. Life is precious, life is sacred, and life is worth protecting. If we do not take a stand to defend the most vulnerable, who will?
As a child, I was perplexed by the three in one nature of the Trinity. It was a mystery that was hard to fathom, but so much about my day to day Catholic faith was steeped in the Trinity that I simply believed and accepted it without question. Everything, from grace before meals, the beginning and ending of our prayers and devotions, the opening of the liturgy of the Mass, and the reception of the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation, began “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In my mind as a child, I considered the Trinity the divine family who created and loved me unconditionally. I felt a strong sense of security under the umbrella of the love and protection of the Almighty, the Savior, and the Helper – as I learned to refer to them.
Now in adulthood, I have a deeper perspective on the Holy Trinity – my ‘divine family’ –as being the basis for Christian living. I have been fortunate to grow up in a loving family with a father who lived his life reflecting the divine love of the Holy Trinity. Being nurtured in a very tangible way through the example of my dad’s faith helped me understand and appreciate the gift of family. As a young teen, I remember my father’s admonition from Exodus: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land your God is giving you.” It wasn’t a suggestion; it was a command that came with a promise. My dad had a quiet countenance, but when he spoke, I listened! He appealed to my sense of what was right and encouraged me to be good. Just as God the Father instructed His people and led them on the right path, even amidst great suffering, my dad led our family with a confidence that being good and doing what is right would bring us to eternity with our divine family.
Throughout several millennia, God has watched over His creation with providential love. Through the ministry, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, He has shown us mercy very personally. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in each of us guides us on the daily path of truth. What is so magnificent is how God ordered the human family to live out His wise and benevolent plan. In the Holy Trinity we are given the totality of all we need to live a holy Christian life. I join St. Paul in praying:
“This then is what I pray, kneeling before the Father, from whom every fatherhood in heaven or on earth, takes its name. In the abundance of his glory may he, through his Spirit, enable you to grow firm in power with regard to your inner self so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love, with all God’s holy people you will have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth, so that knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond knowledge, you may be filled with the utter fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)
In Familiaris Consortio, John Paul II shares how earthly fathers “reveal and relive on earth the very Fatherhood of God.” Through my dad’s prayerful and faithful commitment to his role as husband and father, he led us to walk with God. His daily choices to pray and seek wisdom, to act charitably, and to put the welfare of my mom and his kids foremost taught me what the love of the Trinity looks like. By embracing his vocation as protector, provider, and teacher, my father made God’s love manifest in our domestic family. The older I get, the more I treasure this rich heritage I’ve been nourished in!
Pope Saint John Paul II also wrote that
“a man is called upon to ensure the harmonious and united development of all the members of the family… by exercising generous responsibility for the life conceived under the heart of the mother, by a more solicitous commitment to education, by work which is never a cause of division in the family but promotes its unity and stability, and by means of the witness he gives of an adult Christian life which effectively introduces the children into the living experience of Christ and the church.”
This type of earthly fatherhood is the embodiment of the divine being of God the Father in the most Holy Trinity.
As the national day to celebrate fathers follows shortly after the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, it seems fitting to reflect with gratitude on the gift of our divine Father and our human fathers—as well as the rich heritage we may possess through them. My dad lived a full ninety-four years and made it his mission to evangelize us to his last breath. He never ceased to serve his children and was a witness to the importance of a personal relationship with the Trinity. He shared with us his prayers to his ‘daddy’ in heaven and to his favorite saints. He encouraged his grandchildren and great grandchildren to talk to God throughout the day and beg Him for help. He exhibited an abiding hope in gaining something good from every experience, good or terrible. His favorite expression to everyone he encountered was “everything is beautiful!” His peaceful, positive countenance is what everyone remembers of him. This countenance comes from his life lived closely under the protection of God our Father, his devotion to the Sacred heart of Jesus, and his willing surrender to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. My earthly father was a gift who made the love of God real for me; I will be forever grateful.
My wife and I welcomed our first daughter into the world on February 24th, and we brought her home a few days later on Ash Wednesday. As is the typical newborn parent experience, we’ve endured frustrating, sleepless nights and reveled in joy-filled, playful mornings. Because of stay-at-home, work-from-home orders in Texas, my parental leave has been longer than I anticipated, but I believe this is a blessing. Each moment I’ve had with my daughter has been precious, and as I sit on this (squeaky!) rocking chair holding her in my arms, balancing my laptop on my knee, the recent advice of expert parents runs through my mind and evokes in my heart a fresh understanding of God’s divine fatherhood and my pursuit of sainthood.
In the weeks leading up to our daughter’s birth, one mother of 6 said something to me to the effect of: “The nights are long and the days are short, but the years are the fastest of all.” In these first few weeks of parenthood, I’ve found that my wife is more easily roused during the night. When it’s my turn (opportunity, really) to get up mid-REM cycle, the nights really do feel long. Honestly, they drag. But it’s struck me more than once that getting up in the middle of the night is a very practical way that I can pursue holiness in my vocation. To sacrifice sleep to offer comfort to my child and rest for my wife is not in the same league as answering a burning question for the Summa or calling out a witty line while being burned at the stake, but it is a constant formation in the virtues of humility and charity. I’m led to consider St. Therese’s “little way,” which makes more and more sense each day. Those long nights always do turn into days and, I’m sure, the years will speed by soon.
Many people, including our pediatrician, have said, “Always hold your baby in the first few weeks, even when she’s sleeping. You’re not spoiling her, and you won’t get to do that forever.” As a general rule, I’ve always believed babies are cute and, therefore, worthy of spoiling. But no one warned me that when it comes to one’s own child, evolutionary biology and divine motivation combine to make one certain that one’s own baby is the most perfect, most adorable being on all the earth and, therefore, is automatically deserving of every good thing. When I’m holding my daughter in my arms, and I gaze upon her (perfect) little face with its self-inflicted scratches and baby acne, I’m blown away at how much love I have for her. Then, I’m briefly terrified at the thought that something bad could happen to her.
And isn’t that how it is for our relationship with God our Father? He gazes upon us, loving us with all our imperfections, slightly terrified and sorrowful at the thought that sin and death and temporal pursuits could lead us to ruin. As I adjust this baby in my arms right now, I’m wondering whether God pulls us closer to His bosom in those moments of near separation, gazing upon us all the while, reminding us how beloved we are with, as Nouwen says in Life of the Beloved, “all the tenderness and force that love can hold.”
There are many more pieces of advice that have yielded great spiritual reflections for me these last few weeks. Now, I know that I’m not offering any groundbreaking reflections, but maybe the point of this post is not to offer a new thought, but instead to acknowledge that God has spoken these familiar realities of His love and affection for me in a deeper way through the experience of my vocation. I’m encouraged to remind you in these times of distress: God is a loving Father whose sacrificial love turns against all else, even His own justice (Deus Caritas Est, 10) to gaze upon you with all the force that love can hold. Perhaps this is a notion all mothers and fathers before me—spiritual, adoptive, and biological—have come to understand already, but it’s consoling to know that in a time of uncertainty, God still speaks to and affirms His people through personal encounters. Even through a sleeping baby and a squeaky rocking chair.
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St. Joseph was a man for the ages. I like to think of Joseph as a man that walked the walk and only talked if it was necessary. I imagine that he went about his life quietly and out of the spotlight, worked hard in his carpentry, and spent time with his family in Nazareth. Imagining Joseph living today, I have similar imagery: he works for his father’s woodworking business, devotes time in his day for quality family time, and volunteers on weekends. I can picture the same figure then and now. Can you?
St. Joseph’s March 19th Solemnity celebrates faith, fatherhood, and fortitude in a way that brings people together. St. Joseph is the patron saint of the Universal Church, fathers, families, expectant mothers, travelers, immigrants, craftsmen, and many more! People all around the world look to Joseph as a model for their lives because of his deep faith, warm fatherhood, and fortitude.
His deep faith evidenced in his “Yes” to marry the Virgin Mother. As we read in the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 1:18-19), Joseph was a kindhearted man who loved Mary so much that he was willing to risk his reputation. He was ready to stick by her through the betrothal and pregnancy and figure it out later, as we might say today. Matthew’s phrase is “divorce her quietly.” Scripture also tells us that God sent his angel in a dream to straighten things out with Joseph: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Certainly, only a man of true faith would hear these words and trust in God’s plan.
His protection of the Holy Family and warmth while raising Jesus as his own. Although there is little written about Jesus’ life as a boy before his ministry, we can be sure that Joseph took great care of the Son entrusted to his care. Even when Jesus was a baby, Joseph protected him from death (Mt 2:19-23), presented Jesus at the Temple as was customary (Luke 2:22), and taught him his carpentry trade. This real-life example of fatherhood is one that lends its patronage to all fathers today.
In my experience, my dad modeled the fatherhood of St. Joseph when he taught me that working hard in the service of others is one of our greatest duties on Earth. My dad also taught me perseverance. And finally, my dad taught me about optimism—an outlook on life that is forever reaching toward hope and success. Fathers have a model to emulate in St. Joseph’s quiet support and care for his family.
His fortitude to face the world in times of adversity. At important times in Joseph’s life, he was challenged by God. In those moments, he rose to the challenge by making a selfless choice. In our lives as Catholics, we are often challenged at times of weakness or when life seems hard. Negativity can seem endless, problems pile on top of other problems, media stories show no hope, and family life is full of brokenness. When we are faced with these challenges, it is important to remember our forefathers in faith. We, like St. Joseph, must put our trust in God and entrust to him our lives and those of our loved-ones as well.
The tumultuous world we live in will never have hope if we as Catholics are not the first ones to share God’s love. St Joseph is the perfect model of faith, fatherhood, and fortitude that we need in today’s world. Here is a short prayer to St. Joseph for his intercession. Pray this and feel God lift away your fears and despair.
Oh St. Joseph whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. Oh St. Joseph do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your divine son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, our Lord; so that having engaged here below your heavenly power I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of fathers. Oh St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while he reposes near your heart. Press him in my name and kiss his fine head for me, and ask him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for us.
Editor’s note: The following transcription is from an interview we conducted with Julia Dezelski, the Assistant Director of Marriage, Family Life, and Laity at the USCCB. Julia is attending the World Meeting of Families as a panelist. You can listen to the podcast here. This transcription has been lightly edited for clarity.
Lindsay Myers: Welcome to the Catholic Apostolate Center podcast. This is Lindsay Myers. I'm the Editing Associate at the Catholic Apostolate Center and today we're talking with Julia Dezelski, the Assistant Director of Marriage, Family Life and Laity at the USCCB. We're going to hear a little bit about her role in attending and participating in this year's World Meeting of Families. Welcome Julia.
Julia Dezelski: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Lindsay Myers: Julia, tell us a little bit about what you do at the USCCB, how you came to your position and then we'll talk about the World Meeting of Families.
Julia Dezelski: Sure. So I'm Assistant Director for Marriage, Family Life and Laity, the secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the USCCB. And this secretariat basically oversees the largest portion of the church because it's the laity who we basically deal with on a day to day basis. And it's a big mandate. What we do is assist the committee of USCCB bishops who in turn represent the priorities of the conference in respect to promoting the evangelization and faith formation of the laity. So, basically, whatever issues the laity are facing, we face together as a church and we try to address those challenges faced by the laity, by couples, by families, and all of those challenges we face together.
So I came to USCCB last October and as a theologian, my particular focus of study and research has been on vocation and states of life. And my own life journey actually brought me to discern different vocations, which led me eventually to the vocation of a married woman and mother. So I'm the proud mother of a six month old currently. I see my role at USCCB as part of my vocation at this time, especially given the essential importance of the family and the renewed recognition of its centrality at a time in which it's being seriously undermined and attacked.
Lindsay Myers: Now how were you selected to attend the World Meeting of Families. Are you representing the USCCB there or…?
Julia Dezelski: Well, I was asked primarily given my role as Assistant Director in the secretariat and I'm not officially representing USCCB.
Although I will be speaking in so far as I am the Assistant Director at USCCB and I will be attending along with a few other colleagues from the secretariat, as well as a few bishops who will be joining us from the U.S. So I was asked basically just to speak on a panel, which is included in a three day pastoral congress taking place at the beginning of the World Meeting. And each of the three days covers a topic from Amoris Laetitia. And so on Thursday when I will be speaking, the topic is the family and love and it's taken from chapters four to six. So my particular panel on which I'll be speaking is Love Made Fruitful, Amoris Laetitia on cherishing the gift of new life. And I'll be speaking together with a barrister, otherwise known as an attorney from Northern Ireland and an academic from the Bioethics Center in Oxford. And so each of us will be speaking for about 10 minutes on this panel, which will be moderated by Bishop Ayman Martin. And so it should be a really interesting, celebration and experience. It will be the first time actually that I will be attending a World Meeting of Families myself, even though the last one was just in our backyard in Philadelphia.
Lindsay Myers: Right. Now what is the perspective that you're going to provide on that panel? Is it your perspective as a wife and mother? So someone ... a member of the laity who's living this family life from the feminine perspective or … ?
Julia Dezelski: Yes, precisely. I believe that's another reason why I was asked because I will be approaching this subject from the perspective of a young wife, mother, as well as professionally from the standpoint of theology and as Assistant Director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. But I do speak ... My notes are primarily based on my experience as a young mother and from my role as ... in the home as a mother and a wife. So I speak primarily on Love Made Fruitful, I look at the chapter, specifically on the gift of life and then drawing out a couple of key elements that consist of life as being brought into the sphere of a man and woman who are married, who have given - who make that gift of oneself to the other. And then from which that fruit, a new life comes forth. So I'll be speaking on those issues and it will touch a little bit upon the unfortunate referendum which took place in May.
Lindsay Myers: Right. Of course.
Julia Dezelski: Which has really overturned Irish legislation. I believe from here on out abortion will now be legalized. So it's an unfortunate turn of events right now in Ireland, but maybe it's also providential that the World Meeting of Families is taking place right there on their soil.
Because the family is being undermined once more and this might be a beacon of hope for the Irish people.
Lindsay Myers: Are you bringing your family with you?
Julia Dezelski: I am.
Lindsay Myers: Oh, that's exciting.
Julia Dezelski: Yes. I had to bring my little one, so my husband's coming along too.
Lindsay Myers: Sure. Very nice. You won't have the baby at the panel, I assume?
Julia Dezelski: No, she'll probably be in the audience.
Lindsay Myers: A little visual witness.
Julia Dezelski: Yes.
Lindsay Myers: Great. Okay. So let's talk about the World Meeting of Families in general. Do you know why the first one was called or a little bit about the history of the World Meeting Families and could you share that with us?
Julia Dezelski: Sure. So it was originally started in 1994 when Pope Saint John Paul II asked the Pontifical Council for the family, which is now the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, to establish an international event of prayer, catechesis and celebration. And this draws participants, families from around the globe, and it's also meant to help strengthen the bonds between families, as well as bear witness to the crucial importance of marriage and the family to all of society. So the World Meeting of Families has since been held every three years and it's been held in Europe, South America and most recently in Philadelphia, and now it will be in Ireland. And like I just said, this is I believe an important event for the Irish people given this recent referendum and -
Lindsay Myers: Of course.
Julia Dezelski: And the Irish ... Thinking back to somewhat my own Irish roots, I have a maternal grandmother who's Irish. The family is a major element in the Irish culture and so I believe that they are going to welcome this event with open arms and it will be a beacon of hope for them. And this is also the first World Meeting of Families to be held since the release of Amoris Laetitia since that was released in 2016.
Lindsay Myers: Yes.
Julia Dezelski: So the World Meeting this year is really going to be based on that apostolic exhortation. Its theme and inspiration is based on Amoris Laetitia.
Lindsay Myers: So would you say that part of the World Meeting of Families, part of the goal is to discuss perhaps how families can begin to live the principles of Amoris Laetitia in their daily lives?
Julia Dezelski: I'm sure that's an element of it and that's exactly what the congress, those three days of Catechesis are going to be exploring, those elements of Amoris Laetitia that can be applied to family life. And there is a lot there in the apostolic exhortation to ... which exhorts and also encourages families to live out what they're called to be, a domestic church.
Lindsay Myers: And why do you think an event like this is so important for the church right now? You spoke a little bit about the referendum in Ireland, but just more generally for the church in the entire world?
Julia Dezelski: I think this event is important particularly because not only in the U.S., but also across the world, there's this real emphasis on the centrality of families. And since the family in one way or another is being undermined in so many different countries across the world, it's an important reminder to us of what the family is, what its role is in the church and its foundational importance in society, because families are really at the foundation of society. So if you have strong families, you ultimately have a strong society and a stronger church. So if you look at recent events in the U.S., especially regarding allegations against clergy and hierarchy, I think that this World Meeting of Families can really serve as a reminder of how much the laity and specifically the family looks up to its leaders in the church. But also it's a reminder that the family is really the cradle of all these vocations.
And so I believe that when you have, and this is just my own opinion, but there may be problems among our priests and bishops because there might have been problems in the families of origin. And not to say that that's the fact, but it could be one of the symptoms that there were prior problems in the families from which these clergy come. Not always, but if our families from which our clergy are drawn are virtuous and witness and teach a sexual morality that is true and beautiful as desired by God, most likely their vocations will be holy and virtuous too. So I think it's just a reminder that the family is really the cradle of all vocations and it's also the place where we form young people, young minds and young hearts. And that domestic church is a microcosm of the entire church. So if there's virtue being instilled there in the heart of the home, then there will be virtue in the entire church, the entire mystical body of Christ.
Lindsay Myers: Right. So I'm an event like this is almost ... it's almost like a retreat or like a week of professional development or something. Something to gather families together and strengthen them to go back out in the world and to go out on mission and strengthen themselves the better to evangelize eventually.
Julia Dezelski: Yeah. I think that's important to remember because there can be a lot of conventions and congresses and conferences and sometimes they seem never ending. And I do wonder sometimes what are, where are we seeing the fruits of these efforts? Because there's a lot of money, time, energy that is spent in preparing for these big events and they're wonderful if they are lived well. Meaning if there's really a true spirit attached to them and if there's a real fruit that comes of it. And I do hope that the fruit of this World Meeting of Families is an increase in a sense of what family is meant to be and called to be by the church. So that it's not just a ... well it's a celebration.
Lindsay Myers: Right.
Julia Dezelski: But it's also a call to be who you are. So I hope that families are encouraged to be who they are, domestic churches, and see that witness from other families. So ... And I believe that's what Pope Saint John Paul II was trying to do.He had so much at heart about the family, that I think he wanted this to be really a place where families across the world could see: look how we mirror the church together - from all over the world. So we're all church and so gain that kind of strength and encouragement from one another.
Lindsay Myers: Now we're talking a lot about families and the beauty of families and I'm in a similar life stage as yourself, married with two young children. But of course when we talk about these things, I kind of have in the back of my head Catholics who are active participants in the church, but perhaps have not been called to family life. Maybe they're called to the single life or they just haven't begun a family yet. So in what ways are those Catholics also encouraged to participate in an event like this, or just how can those Catholics support families in a way that emphasizes the important role that they play as well in the church?
Julia Dezelski: Right. Yeah. It's really important to remember that couples who bear the cross of infertility do have a role in family life. I can relate to that in a way because my own sister has been married for five years and she and my brother-in-law have not been able to have children for one reason or another. It's just hasn't happened yet. So they fill another important role in our lives specifically when my daughter was born, I asked her and her husband to be godparents to Miriam. And they were happy to do so because this makes them spiritual parents of a child and the importance of godparents can't be forgotten and I think it's something that tends to be forgotten because ... I don't know really the reason why, but it shouldn't be because it is an important role to play and it's essential really in the forming of the Christian character and formation of a child.
Lindsay Myers: Right. You're outsourcing some of that development.
Julia Dezelski: Exactly.
Lindsay Myers: To someone that you can theoretically trust-
Julia Dezelski: That's right.
Lindsay Myers: And know that they hopefully aren't going to lead your child into error or sin.
Julia Dezelski: Right. Right. Right. It's really a grave responsibility to be a godparent. I am a godparent to a number of people, to three children, and sometimes I do have to remind myself, "That's my responsibility. What am I doing to reach out to them?”, because there's ... I have one godchild in Canada for example. It's really hard to see him on a regular basis. But opening up channels of communication and just staying in touch and making sure that they are being brought up in a Christian household and that they're learning the prayers. Based on their age, what kind of issues they are facing, how can maybe I help reach out and talk about those issues with them if there's something that maybe the parents themselves don't even know how to educate on.
So it is a major responsibility and I think that's just one of the ways that couples dealing with infertility can recognize their role with families. And of course there are other things ... other forms of fruitfulness, adoption, foster care, volunteer work, acts of charity, even just to maybe a family that's experiencing financial crisis - or even just by babysitting. Just being that example of another father, mother in a spiritual sense that can help out.
Lindsay Myers: Right. And I wonder what you think about kind of the idea that we have our immediate families, our biological families, but there's also a call within our church to build community. You can think of a parish community where, in some sense. that becomes your family. And so there's a place for all of the different family units and the single people and couples struggling with infertility or intergenerational members of that parish community to come together and serve one another and celebrate with one another and grieve, whatever. Just to behave as a family would just on a larger kind of community scale.
Julia Dezelski: Yes, that's right. And it's important to remember that each of those people in the church has a place and a role. And actually one thing that we're doing at USCCB at the moment is preparing a pastoral plan to implement Amoris Laetitia that could be used primarily for ministers and family life and marriage on the diocesan level or the parish level. And one of the aspects of that is how to integrate also people in the single life into the Church, into our domestic churches, but also the greater parish community. Recognizing that they have a role there too. And that proximity that we have with so many different states of life.
Lindsay Myers: Great. Now for those of us who can't make it to Ireland, how can we participate from afar in this event? Is there anything happening or would you just recommend keeping tabs on the website or … ?
Julia Dezelski: Right. Actually, I was just looking at their website and that is really full of ideas actually. They've got this really cool downloadable pray-a-thon to help families prepare for the event. They also have a Let's Talk Family podcast. They also have a prayer space at home initiative. It's almost like a competition or contest that invites families to share photos of the spaces where they pray in their homes and you're invited to upload them to their website. There's also an official prayer of course, that can be recited by families and one idea might even be ... And this is just an idea that I had, some families can even gather together maybe in their own living room and hold their own mini event and watch maybe the papal mass. Maybe not live if there's a six hour difference, but it kind of depends I guess on what time it would be. But I'm sure that at least the papal mass or the festival of families would be live ... recorded on EWTN or maybe online. And so just preparing your own little mini event maybe among families might be fun because I know they do that for the World Youth Day. They have like a World Youth Day on your home base.
Lindsay Myers: Great. Well thank you. Those are excellent ideas. Well, is there anything else you'd like to share about the event, your participation, or the importance of family life in the church? Something to leave our listeners with as a wrap up?
Julia Dezelski: Sure. Well I'll just comment on what Amoris Laetitia says to families and I think this is in summary, what it’s saying. It's saying: become who you are. Remember that you are a domestic church and it might sound daunting maybe, but it's really as simple as just living out the call to holiness one day at a time. So the stronger our families are, the stronger our church will be in the United States and across the world.
Lindsay Myers: Well, thank you, Julia. Let's actually end with the official family prayer for the World Meeting of Families so we can give our listeners a taste of what it is and then they can hopefully find it for themselves and their families on the website.
Julia Dezelski: Sure.
Lindsay Myers: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Julia Dezelski: Amen.
Lindsay Myers: God, our father,
Lindsay & Julia: We are brothers and sisters in Jesus, your son, one family in the spirit of your love. Bless us with the joy of love. Make us patient and kind, gentle, and generous, welcoming to those in need. Help us to live your forgiveness and peace. Protect all families with your loving care, especially those for whom we now pray. Increase our faith, strengthen our hope. Keep us safe and your love. Make us always grateful for the gift of life that we share this we ask you through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lindsay Myers: Thanks Julia.
Julia Dezelski: Thank you, Lindsay.
Julia Dezelski is the Assistant Director of Marriage, Family Life, and Laity at the USCCB.
This weekend is the feast of St. Patrick—one of the most popular saints in the Archdiocese of Washington where I grew up and arguably in the entire United States. But two days later on March 19, coming much more quietly and with far less fanfare in American culture, slips in the Solemnity of St. Joseph.
It is easy to lose the Solemnity of St. Joseph in the rigors of Lenten observances or because it comes on the heels of the day-long party that seems to happen every year on St. Patrick’s Day. Perhaps we often overlook this feast because we know so little about who St. Joseph was and what his life was like. Nevertheless, St. Joseph remains an incredibly important figure, especially for parents.
Joseph is mentioned only a few times in the New Testament. We know from the Gospels that Joseph was a law-abiding and righteous man, and that he obeyed God’s will—especially when it was revealed to him directly by an angel. After these few mentions in the infancy narratives of Jesus, St. Joseph gently fades into the background and then disappears altogether from the Gospels. But the Church in her wisdom has made St. Joseph’s importance clear for those who are paying attention: he is mentioned in all four Eucharistic Prayers at Mass, as well as in the Divine Praises during Benediction at the end of Eucharistic adoration.
But what makes St. Joseph so special? From what we can glean from the Gospels, St. Joseph was an ordinary man of deep faith who was called to become the foster-father of Christ. He became the earthly guardian of the Messiah, responsible for his upbringing and tasked with protecting him in his early life. St. Joseph’s commitment to his vocation as the husband of Mary and the foster father of Christ was so strong that upon being warned about the murderous intentions of King Herod, he fled immediately—in the middle of the night!—to Egypt. He did whatever it took, even leaving his entire life behind him, in order to keep his family safe. The little we see of him in the New Testament shows us a devout man who always trusted in God and took care of his family.
St. Joseph, as the third member of the Holy Family, is the member who is the most like us—especially those of us who are parents. He was not born sinless, nor was he divine. He was a carpenter, a man of humble station who probably felt as though he had a monumentally important task thrust upon him. I think St. Joseph’s role in Christ’s life beautifully displays the role of a Christian parent in their child’s life. Parents are ordinary people who are tasked with the care and raising of new life. Like Joseph, we do not own our children or have sole claim over them; they are their own people, entrusted to our care and guidance until they grow old enough to do God’s will without our assistance. It is a difficult task, and at times overwhelming to ponder. And yet there is St. Joseph, who was tasked with raising the very Son of God. Joseph shows us that we do not need to be perfect in our roles, only willing to be guided by God as we place our trust in Him.
Just as I strive to be like Mary in my vocation as a wife and mother, I pray that my husband will be like Joseph. St. Joseph is the ultimate husband and father, a faithful man of quiet strength, protector of Mary’s virginity, and guide of Christ’s earthly childhood. Above all, St. Joseph shows us the beauty of a life lived in obedience to God’s will.
Questions for Reflection: How can you grow closer to St. Joseph throughout this Lenten season? What can you learn from St. Joseph’s example of obedience and trust?
When was the last time you thought about St. Joseph? For many, he is a shadowy figure. And yet, he is recognized as the "protector" of the Church. His feast day is March 19th.
What's your image of Joseph? Is he young or old? Is he working or sleeping? Is he rich or poor? Is he strong or weak? We invite you to clear away all those images in order to see him for the first time. Let's meet Joseph as he is presented to us in the Gospel of Matthew at the birth of Jesus.
Of course, the best thing to do is to pray with Matthew 1:18-25. Here’s the abbreviated version: Mary and Joseph are engaged. She is expecting. He intends to divorce her quietly but learns, in a dream, that she is carrying a son who will "save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Joseph is told to accept Mary as his wife and name the child Jesus.
In this passage, we see four qualities in Joseph—compassion, righteousness, fidelity, and decisiveness—that make him a saintly man and a role model for us today.
Imagine how Joseph felt about Mary's pregnancy. The marriage customs of his day were much different than ours. Were they "in love" or was the engagement arranged? Perhaps Joseph felt more hurt than angry—or perhaps disappointed, given Mary's natural innocence. In any case, he responded with compassion;
He did, however, want to do what is right. While he never says a word in the Gospel narrative, Joseph's actions continually say "yes" to God's will. He takes Mary into his home as his wife. He honors Mary's special relationship with God by not having "relations with her until she bore a son" (Matthew 1:25). He claims Jesus as his son by naming him.
Joseph lived a quiet fidelity expressed in action rather than words. A kind-hearted man who accepted the mystery of salvation entrusted to him, Joseph adopted Jesus and raised him as his own. He protected him, taught him, and loved him. In the Gospels, Jesus is known as "the carpenter's son."
Joseph's love for Mary and Jesus sharpened his awareness of the forces around them. When Herod threatened the life of Jesus, Joseph leapt into action, leaving that night for Egypt. When the threat was gone, he brings Jesus back to his people. When he realized some threat remained, he settled in Nazareth, thus fulfilling a prophecy. His actions were always for the good of Jesus and Mary, and ultimately a part of God's plan for salvation.
As we get closer to Joseph, we meet a kind-hearted man, walking humbly with his God, as he accepts, protects, and raises Jesus so that Jesus can "save his people from their sins." St. Joseph can shed considerable light on what it means to be a missionary disciple in an increasingly secular age—with implications for the economy, family, and mission. He plays a quiet, but essential, role in salvation history.
Perhaps we, too, have a quiet role to play in salvation history. Perhaps Jesus is relying on us just as he relied on Joseph. Compassion, righteousness, fidelity, and decisiveness can help us live out our role just as they served Joseph.
What does the word adoption mean to you?
Joseph's vocation began with a dream—a message from God. He is commanded to "rise, take the child" as his own. When we engage the world, do we possess it or does the world possess us? Do we adopt friends, jobs, things—even children, seeing them through the eyes of God?
Adoption is a way of being in the world. We are adopted children of the Father in Christ Jesus. We are claimed by God and so we, too, can claim others and make them our own - being possessed in the best sense of the word.
Joseph adopted—Jesus, Mary, and his life as a carpenter in fidelity to God who, with and through Jesus, was saving the world.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
When was the last time you thought about St. Joseph? For many, he is a shadowy figure. And yet, he is recognized as the "protector" of the Church. His feast day is March 19th. However, we celebrate it this year on the 20th because the 19th lands on a Sunday.
What's your image of Joseph? Is he young or old? Is he alone or with someone? Is he working or sleeping? Is he rich or poor? Is he strong or weak? We invite you now to clear away all those images in order to see him for the first time. Let's meet Joseph anew, as he is presented to us in the Gospel of Matthew at the birth of Jesus.
Of course, the best thing to do is to pray with Matthew 1: 18-25. Here’s the cliff note version: Mary and Joseph are engaged. She is expecting. He intends to divorce her quietly but learns, in a dream, that she is carrying a son who will "save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Joseph is told to accept Mary as his wife and name the child Jesus.
In this passage, we see four qualities in Joseph - compassion, righteousness, fidelity, and decisiveness - that make him a saintly man and a role model for us today.
Imagine how Joseph felt about Mary's pregnancy. The marriage customs of his day were much different than ours. Were they "in love" or was the engagement arranged? Perhaps Joseph felt more hurt than angry; or disappointed given Mary's natural innocence. In any case, he responded with compassion; he did not want to see her hurt.
He did, however, want to do what is right. While he never says a word, Joseph's actions continually said "yes" to God's will. He takes Mary into his home as his wife. He honors Mary's special relationship with God by not having "relations with her until she bore a son" (Matthew 1:25). He claims Jesus as his son by naming him.
Joseph lived a quiet fidelity - expressed in action rather than words. A kind-hearted man, accepting the mystery of salvation entrusted to him as his God-given purpose, his vocation, Joseph adopts Jesus and raises him as his own. He protects him, teaches him, and loves him.
Joseph's love for Mary and Jesus sharpened his awareness of the forces around them. When Herod threatens the life of Jesus, Joseph leaps into action leaving that night for Egypt. When the threat is gone, he brings Jesus back to his people. When he realizes some threat remains, he settles in Nazareth thus fulfilling a prophecy. His decisive action was always for the good of Jesus and Mary.
As we get close to Joseph, we meet a kind-hearted man, walking humbly with his God, as he accepts, protects, and raises Jesus so he can "save his people from their sins." He plays a quiet, but essential, role in salvation history.
Perhaps we, too, have a quiet role to play in salvation history. Perhaps Jesus is relying on us just as he relied on Joseph. Compassion, righteousness, fidelity, and decisiveness can help us live out our role just as they served Joseph.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
“Blessed be St. Joseph, her most chaste spouse” — these words, taken from the Divine Praises of our Church (a prayer that is often used at the end of Eucharistic Adoration), remind us of the important role that St. Joseph plays as the patron of the Universal Church.
St. Joseph is the foster father of Jesus, “most chaste spouse” of Mary, but he is also our guide. There are exactly zero words of St. Joseph recorded in all of scripture, yet the role that he plays is not to be underestimated. He teaches us how to live in obedience, persevere in holiness and chastity, and love well.
The obedience that this holy patron showed to the will of God is nothing short of extraordinary. He did this first by accepting the message of the angel to take Mary as his wife, then by protecting his family as he fled with them to Egypt, but most importantly, in those quiet, unlogged hours at home with Mary and Jesus in Nazareth. Although his life did not unfold as he would have anticipated, his obedience and docility to God’s will allowed him to play a crucial role in the life of Christ and ultimately in the story of our salvation.
St. Joseph’s perseverance in holiness and chastity sets a very clear example before us. His life is a compelling reminder for us that to do the will of God, we need only be obedient to the present moment and faithful to the higher calling that is ours by nature of our baptism. In a world that sees chastity as outdated and nearly impossible, he reminds us that pursuing it is not only important for our own lives of virtue, but salvific for others.
St. Joseph also teaches us how to love well. The gentle striving of St. Joseph, both as he led Mary and Jesus, and now as he leads our Church, can be summed up by these words of St. Josemaria Escriva, “God always asks more: His ways are not the ways of men. St. Joseph, more than anyone else before or since, learned from Jesus to be alert to recognize God’s wonders, to have his mind and heart awake.”
Several years ago, a spiritual director suggested that I start to pray every day to St. Joseph for my future husband. With the following prayer, I beg his intercession to not only allow me to persevere in obedience and chastity, but also with the sure knowledge that he will protect my future husband and family.
Guardian of virgins and father, St. Joseph, to whose faithful custody Innocents itself, Christ Jesus, and Mary, Virgin of virgins was committed; I pray and beseech thee by each of these dear pledges, Jesus and Mary, that, being preserved from all uncleanness, I may with spotless mind, pure heart, and a chaste body, ever serve Jesus and Mary most chastely all the days of my life. Amen.
May the intercession of St. Joseph allow us to persevere in obedience, chastity, and love!
*Ite ad Joseph is Latin for “Go to Joseph” and admonishes us to turn to St. Joseph’s intercession and guidance.
Question for Reflection: Following the example of St. Joseph, how might you grow in your ability to be obedient to the present moment?
I still remember as if it were yesterday. There I was—a junior in high school with my sights set on my then life’s goal of playing college soccer—listening to the doctor tell me the results of the recent X-ray: “You have a stress fracture in your left ankle.” My heart sank, and I immediately focused on the most apparent, inevitable consequence of that injury: I would have to sit out the whole season, meaning I would miss crucial recruiting opportunities. To say the least, I was discouraged as I stood before the rather large and ominous mountain that so suddenly impeded the pursuit of my goal. I instantly began feeling sorry for myself and let anger creep into my heart. Then, in what I now look back upon and gratefully remember as “the moment of mercy,” I heard God’s gentle voice speak to the depths of my heart and tell me, “Carolyn, there’s more to life than soccer.” With my heart pierced by that voice, my desire to play college soccer disappeared. I soon began making decisions that would lead me to the people and places that God had in mind for me to more deeply encounter His mercy and to discover the actual goal of my life.
During my first year of college, the Lord sent a spiritual director into my life who asked me a life-changing question: “Carolyn, what is the goal of your life?” At that time, I couldn’t honestly answer, since I couldn’t yet put into words what the Lord had begun stirring in my heart through the stress fracture event. Yet, over the next few years of college as I continued spiritual direction and developed a more habitual prayer and sacramental life, the Lord began to show me the answer to the question: Communion with God—holiness—is the goal of my life, because Love is the meaning of life.
In a special way during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Church is called to be “a living sign of the Father’s love in the world” (Misericordiae Vultus 4). At the heart of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we find the Person of God the Father, whose love is both the origin and goal of our life. The Year of Mercy is a special time of grace in the Church, and Jesus invites us to daily re-encounter our Heavenly Father, to be renewed by His love—which alone gives meaning to our life—and to joyfully share the gift of His love with those whom the Lord entrusts to us each day. At a General Audience on December 9, 2015 (the day after the opening of the Year of Mercy), Pope Francis emphasized the purpose of the Jubilee Year:
Turning our gaze to God, our merciful Father, and to our brothers and sisters in need of mercy, means focusing our attention on the essential contents of the Gospel: Jesus, Mercy made flesh, who renders the great mystery of the Trinitary Love of God visible to our eyes. Celebrating a Jubilee of Mercy is equivalent to placing once again the specific nature of the Christian faith, namely Jesus Christ, the merciful God, at the center of our personal life and that of our communities.
In other words, Pope Francis is saying that the invitation during this Jubilee Year of Mercy is to “return to the basics” of our faith: to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Holy Trinity, which is “the central mystery of Christian faith and life” (CCC 234). In fact, Pope Francis begins his letter for the Jubilee Year with words which aim to “sum up the mystery of the Christian faith”, namely, that “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus 1). Jesus’ whole earthly mission was to reveal the truth about God’s inner life of love and man’s vocation to that love that originates from the Father’s heart (John 17:3; CCC 514-518). This is why Jesus tells Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Everything Jesus says and does reveals the Father (CCC 516) and aims at “restoring fallen man to his original vocation” (CCC 518) of love.
Thus, the Jubilee Year of Mercy is a special moment of grace to daily re-orient the gaze of our hearts towards the merciful gaze of the Father that tenderly awaits us. This gentle and loving gaze of the Father reveals the love that alone is the origin, goal, and meaning of our life. As Pope Saint John Paul II says, “Man and man’s lofty calling are revealed in Christ through the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love” (Dives in misericordia 1). May we live this Jubilee Year by creating the space in our daily lives—particularly through prayer and frequent reception of the Sacraments—to encounter Jesus and to let our merciful Father love us. We ask Mary, Mother of Mercy, to help us open our hearts and be more receptive to the Father’s love. May we give her permission to use us as instruments of God’s mercy in the lives of others so that we can share the gift of His love with those whom God entrusts to us.
On Sunday, we celebrate fathers. When I was young, my three siblings and I would use this day to thank our dad by giving him a few things he loved. We would let him sleep-in, make a full breakfast (sometimes corn muffins with icing writing) with a new “#1 Dad” mug each year, give him the cards we had made, go to Church as a family, pray the Memorare prayer to St. Joseph, and then leave him to fall asleep watching the NASCAR race on the couch (and not even change the channel while he was sleeping). It was a great day to make my dad feel appreciated. Since I moved away from home, I still try to celebrate Father’s Day by sending a card or two, giving my dad a phone call, and keeping in touch. Most importantly, I have realized that my dad has taught me three important lessons about life: to always keep your head up, that family will always be there for you, and that a Catholic should live in service to the community and with faith in God. In thinking about my dad’s example, I can’t help but feel that his life also modeled that of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus.
I’m pretty optimistic, and I get it from my dad. He has a thing about quoting movies. Some of his favorite lines are Dory’s “Just keep swimming, Just keep swimming” from Finding Nemo and The Lion King’s “Hakuna Matata.” During challenging times in my family, silly reminders like these helped teach my siblings and me about perseverance and keeping a smile on our faces. Even now, I use these phrases as mottos and words to live by, and have been able to pass along a similar optimism to the students I teach and my own friends.
My dad also taught me about love and support with family. He was the one to encourage my siblings and me to be nice to each other, reminding us, “You’re going to want to keep in touch with each other, because one day you might actually be able to stand one another.” Turns out, he was right. Three of the four of us live in Washington, D.C. and appreciate each others’ company more than ever. St. Joseph also modeled a steadfast commitment to family, even in the midst of hardship. He remained loyal to Mary in their betrothal after finding out she was with child; he guided the expectant Mary into Bethlehem and took care of her despite not finding room at an inn; and Joseph led the Holy Family into Egypt for safety as a result of the persecution implemented by King Herod.
The final lesson to consider is my dad’s faith and devotion to the Gospel. When I was young, he would start the day by praying with the family through a passage in either the New Testament or the Psalms and say an “Our Father” together before leaving to teach for the day. My dad has always been big on service and helping others, too. He was the one to initiate the Kirby’s into parish hospitality and we began to run a monthly “coffee hour” where we would serve coffee and doughnuts to our fellow parishioners. Around this same time, he also became a city councilor to further help the community.
Through his faith and commitment to service, my dad reminds me of St. Joseph. My dad’s continued positivity, the prioritization of our family in his life, and his life of faith and service model the life of the foster father of Jesus. The Memorare of St Joseph was prayed on Father’s Day in my house growing up:
“Remember, O most pure spouse of the Virgin Mary, my beloved Patron, that never it has been heard that anyone invoked your patronage and sought our aid without being comforted. Inspired by this confidence I come to you and fervently commend myself to you. Despise not my petition, O dearest foster father of our redeemer, but accept it graciously. Amen.”
St. Joseph, patron of fathers and workers, was a humble man who said “yes” to God. After finding out that his betrothed was pregnant with God’s son, St. Joseph continued to protect and care for his family, knowing that there would be hardships and danger in the future. Although not much is written about St. Joseph besides what is in the Gospels, he is remembered for his commitment to Mary and Jesus and his simply-humble nature. As we celebrate Father’s Day this Sunday, we can remember St. Joseph in prayer and thank him for his respectful obedience in service to God’s plan in our lives though faith, service, and focus on the family.
"In light of Father’s Day, I have been reflecting on how the Father cares for his children, and how we can understand God’s fatherhood."
“… You, oh Lord, are our Father…” (Is 63:16)
During an especially difficult time of transition in my life, I became very bratty with God. As in, I whined to God the Father, and was very spiritually dramatic. “Abba! Daddy!,” I screamed, “What are You doing with my life? What is going on?” The short answer: taking care of me. The long answer: taking care of me in ways I haven’t even begun to realize.
In light of Father’s Day, I have been reflecting on how the Father cares for his children, and how we can understand God’s fatherhood. We live in an age characterized by fatherlessness. Personally, I don’t have the best relationship with my earthly father, and neither do many of my peers. This can sometimes damage our view of God the Father. Does the Father really love me? Does He like me? These and other questions can plague our spiritual lives as we seek to understand our roles and vocations in life. Someone somewhere along the way told me the Father loves me, and I believed them. But I have also wondered what that means. What does it mean to be taken care of by a good father? What does a good father look like? What role does spiritual fatherhood play in this age? To get some answers, I grabbed a few books. I also bribed my pastor with brunch one Saturday and asked him.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 2223, states that parents are responsible for “creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery - the preconditions of all true freedom.” The Catechism says parents, not just the mother or the father, but both create the home. How often in sit-coms, movies, or advertising do we see dads being labeled as irresponsible buffoons who can’t take care of their children or run a household without impending disaster? How often do we hear, jokingly of course, that a woman’s husband is her biggest kid, implying that she has to take care of him as if he can’t care for himself and others?
In my conversation with my pastor, Fr. Michael, he pointed out the similarities and differences of biological and spiritual fatherhood. A spiritual father can never replace and cannot be as close as a biological father because the community a priest serves is diverse and varied. Human fatherhood, both biological and spiritual, is for the sake of directing children to depend upon God the Father. In other words, they are to train their children to not need them anymore. Fatherhood is meant to be a pilgrimage of surrender, directing the lives of their children to see that God has been working in their lives and caring for them all along. While a father will always be there for his children, praying for and supporting them, his mission is to train them to see God the Father for who he is and to be receptive to the Father’s love and his will for their lives. Fr. Michael said fatherhood should be approached with awe and gratitude and humility because God the Father is allowing a fallen human man to participate in his mission of loving his people, and this man might get it wrong. People fail. It happens. Even the best of fathers and priests and popes make mistakes. There was a reason Pope St. John Paul II went to confession every week. (What was he confessing? We don’t know. But clearly it helped him love us better.)
The parable of the prodigal son could also be called the parable of the patient father. He longs for our hearts to be united to his heart, whether we are the faithful older son or the rebellious younger son. There is a place for each of us in our father’s house. No matter how petulant, rude, or down-right bratty we are with him, our Father loves us and cares for us. He will not fail us, even if we have no idea what his will is during a moment of turbulence.
Usually at this point during Lent I am looking forward to the Feast of St. Joseph as a brief respite from my Lenten sacrifices. However, this year his Feast Day is on Palm Sunday weekend. With this early timing, it is easy for us to forget about his Feast Day. While more than a week away, I wanted to take some time to reflect on Joseph and remind ourselves of the example he serves for us each and every day.
Today’s Gospel (Jn 5:1-16) describes one of Jesus’ miracles in which he commands a man to “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” Without question the man stands up, picks up his mat, and walks away telling others of the good news. This man had no reason to trust Jesus or even think that he could ever walk again, but he believed and he obeyed. This reminds me of St. Joseph who, without question, listened to God’s call. Without question, Joseph stood by Mary and Jesus as husband, father, and protector. God asks nothing less of us in our own lives and Lent is a perfect time to reflect on whether we are listening to God’s call to “believe and obey.”
We can start by going to confession. An examination of conscience can help us to see where we are not believing and obeying, while confession also gives us that clean slate that we so desperately need in order to hear God’s voice in our lives. Once we have prepared ourselves to receive God’s word, we are able to more fully align our hearts to Christ and follow in his footsteps. But this is not an easy thing to do. We will go to confession many times over the course of our lives so that we can once again learn to “believe and obey.” But this is not something that we have to do alone. Not only do we have Christ and the entire Catholic Church on our side, we also have the saints. In particular, St. Joseph is a beautiful example of living a life of faith and obedience to the will of God, as evidenced by his willingness to follow God’s plan even when he didn’t know the outcome. If we learn to live our lives as he did, then I guarantee we will continue to move closer to Christ.
As I mentioned before, the Feast of St. Joseph is two weekends from now. I encourage you to look to him for guidance and strength during your Lenten journey. His silent faith, his dedication to the Holy Family, and his role in forming and raising the Son of God gives us a wonderful example by which to form ourselves to Christ and to believe and obey without question. As we approach his Feast Day, I also invite you to join me in praying a novena to St. Joseph that we may learn to silence our hearts and listen to the Word of God during this Lenten season. This nine-day series of prayers helps us to focus our minds and hearts on specific intentions and invites St. Joseph in a special way to intercede for us.
Click here to join me in praying the novena to St. Joseph.
“Let us allow ourselves to be filled with St. Joseph’s silence!” -Pope Emeritus Benedict, Angelus, December 2005
Nicholas Shields is a Young Professional in Washington, D.C