Christian gentlemen and Father’s Day

"Saint Joseph and the Child Jesus," National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe, Orlando, Florida.

As we celebrate Father’s Day, let us remember the Father who is in Heaven from whom all fatherhood takes its name. Let us remember that God the Father is rich in mercy, as St. John Paul II explained in his famous encyclical, and that St. Joseph, model of earthly fatherhood, is most remembered for his silence, not his dominance; for his wife and Son, whom he tended with such effective love and dedication, not for his earthly power.

By Chris Sparks

Love endures everything, love is stronger than death, love fears nothing... (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 46).

What makes a man a truly manly man?

There are many answers to that question.

These days, many people online get very excited over what they call the “alpha male,” the leader of the pack who asserts himself through strength, dominance, and appetite; others point to the “sigma male,” the strong silent type, the Ayn Randian ideal of the individual man so dominant he doesn’t need to assert his dominance; so strong that if he ever displayed even a fraction of his strength, whoever has dared to trouble him is immediately and completely overcome.

Ages past
These are worldly images, descendants of worldly images from ages past. They are related to those images from the first-century Middle East where the prophesied Son of Man, the new king of the line of David, the Messiah looked for by the Jewish people was anticipated to be a worldly warrior, a man of earthly appetites and visible strength. A mere man among mere men, in other words, one who would replace the dominance and oppression of the Roman Empire with his own dominance, though more justly carried out. 

The Old Testament does not offer us a particularly flattering portrait of earthly kingship, after all, and so even the best of earthly rulers is expected to be, to some degree, oppressive to his people, or at least demand of them the sorts of tributes, valuables, and service that previously Israel had given only to God. Listen to the warning of the prophet Samuel:

The governance of the king who will rule you will be as follows: He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot. He will appoint from among them his commanders of thousands and of hundreds. He will make them do his plowing and harvesting and produce his weapons of war and chariotry. He will use your daughters as perfumers, cooks, and bakers. He will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will tithe your crops and grape harvests to give to his officials and his servants. He will take your male and female slaves, as well as your best oxen and donkeys, and use them to do his work. He will also tithe your flocks. As for you, you will become his slaves. On that day you will cry out because of the king whom you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you on that day (1 Sam 8:11-18).

But that sort of earthly king, that alpha male, that sigma male, is not who came to them.

Instead of the mere man among mere men, there came to Israel a man whom Israel paid absolutely no attention to during his lifetime, a man who had a royal lineage but an ordinary profession, a tekton, a builder, some part construction worker, some part carpenter. There came among the people of Israel Joseph, of the House of David.

A righteous man
Joseph, we are told, was a “just” or “righteous” man. You might even call him just a man. He was not prone to the faults of his fathers, of David and Solomon who mistook the favor of the Lord for the license to let appetite rule; of Adam, who took the forbidden fruit from his wife’s hand; of all the prophets, patriarchs, and forebears of the people of Israel, with all their relapses into idolatry, all their failures to keep up their end of the covenant, all detailed in the Old Testament. 

No, Joseph was different from his forebears. He was a saint through and through, fully converted in a way, we are told, that very few members of the human race have ever been. Heck, even his sleep was holy, for he received prophetic dreams. 

There is no record that he was ever even troubled by them in the way his wife, the greatest of all human beings, was by her visit from Gabriel at the Annunciation. Joseph was troubled by a mysterious pregnancy, but when an angel came from God to him in dreams, he merely woke up and set to work in obedience to them. 

Joseph, being a righteous man, was greater than all of us unrighteous sinners. His humility was greater than our pride. His obedience was greater than our attempts to assert dominance. His strength served his wife and child, and it is not recorded that he annihilated any enemy at all, save the tempter, who apparently never succeeded with Joseph.

We have no recorded words of his in Scripture, but rather of several occasions where Joseph was silent as Our Lady spoke. Father Donald Calloway, MIC, in his famous book Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father, said:

Saint Joseph’s silence and humility are the foundation of his greatness. Of all the men God could have chosen to be the earthly father of Jesus Christ, God selected St. Joseph, the most silent of all men. … Saint Joseph never wanted to be in the forefront of the drama of salvation. He preferred to remain hidden. His desire is for all the attention to be given to Jesus and Mary.

That extraordinary, silent man, that mere man — that was the man who became the earthly father to God Almighty.

Alpha and Omega
And the Son he raised, the Son who was someday described as Alpha (but also Omega, both beginning and end), the Son whose strength sustains the stars — that Son, for all His public preaching, exorcisms, and power, conquered the world by meekness, by humility. Jesus wept, after all. He ate with tax collectors and sinners, and seems to have enjoyed their company rather more than the company of the scribes and the Pharisees, the scrupulously religious and traditional folks of His own day. He did not bring physical armies to wage a worldly war, nor did He annihilate those who crucified Him.

Rather, He came to save the world. He brought life, not death, and renewal, not destruction. The Just Judge came first as the Merciful Savior; the strength that sustains the stars poured itself out to welcome the dead back to life, the sinners to become saints, the creation that struck at the Creator welcomed into the life of God.

Saint Paul puts it best:

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross (Phil 2:5-8).

Why is this the face that God turns to the world?

Simply, because the ultimate reality at the heart of the Trinity is generous love between father and son, not wrestling for dominance. Everything else is less real than that generosity, that love, that family. The reality that sustains the stars, the power that made all other powers — the best image of that power isn’t David or Solomon atop their throne, but rather the Son of David on His Cross.

And here we see the lie of the sigma male, the Ayn Randian ideal of the rugged individual genius.

Ultimate reality
This world, even before the fall, wasn’t made for us to face on our own. Human beings were always made to be in communion with God, one another, and the world around us. But then the fall happened, and our dependence increased. We became wounded, and the world was wounded. This world wasn’t intended to be fallen and broken, something we forget far too easily. 

We think we are being realistic or tough when we say to our kids, “Just wait till you’re out in the real world,” forgetting that the love and safety of a healthy, holy family is far closer to the ultimate reality of the Blessed Trinity than the suffering, struggle, and hardships that we talk about under the false name the “real” world.

It is merciful love that is the Power from which all other powers take strength, not a divine dominator.

It is the silent, righteous, humble St. Joseph who served as the icon of God the Father to God the Son, not the Roman emperor or some other prince of this world.

It is Christian gentlemen who are the closest to the ideal man, not the stoic alpha or sigma males.

Rich in mercy
As we celebrate Father’s Day, let us remember the Father who is in Heaven from whom all fatherhood takes its name. Let us remember that God the Father is rich in mercy, as St. John Paul II explained in his famous encyclical, and that St. Joseph, model of earthly fatherhood, is most remembered for his silence, not his dominance; for his wife and Son, whom he tended with such effective love and dedication, not for his earthly power. 

Let us ask St. Joseph’s intercession for the fathers in our lives this Father’s Day, both physical and spiritual. And let us replace worldly images of manhood with holy images of fatherhood, aiming to practice virtue like the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit — like St. Joseph.
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FCSJ

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