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.