Father’s Day 2018

Father’s Day is a wonderful opportunity for those blessed with good fathers (living or dead) to celebrate all that is usually left unsaid with cards, gifts, and shared memories of the past. Those whose experience of fatherhood has been less positive often shy away from the day and ignore it as best they can, while others concentrate on spiritual fatherhood and those who have exercised something of a father’s role in their lives. But what of fathers themselves? How do you see this day?

I can’t answer that question, for obvious reasons, but it seems to me worth pausing over because it invites reflection on what fatherhood is and how it functions at different times of our lives. Fatherhood is so important and yet very often misprized or treated as a mere biological fact. What a disservice that is to us all! My own father became my friend as I grew older and were he alive today I’m sure he would give a typically inarticulate-old-fashioned-English-gentleman response to my question. To him, fatherhood was just something one got on with, but it was a role and a duty that never ended. A father was a father always, and I suspect most of my male readers would echo that.

Today, as we give thanks for all fathers, let us also pray for those who feel they have failed or are excluded from their children’s lives, and for the children who live with the knowledge that their father rejected them or was in some way deficient in fulfilling his role.

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St Joseph 2015

St Joseph, painted terracotta, ca. 1475-1500
St Joseph, painted terracotta, ca. 1475-1500

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In previous years I have written about St Joseph in very personal terms — see here, for example, here or here, or do a search in the sidebar — but I have never found an image that seemed to reflect his strength and perhaps his weariness. This terracotta image from Tuscany, now in the Walters Art Museum, was probably part of a nativity scene in which Joseph sat a little apart from the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, to emphasize that he was not the biological father. I think it captures the essence of Joseph and his role and hints at what the fulfilment of that role cost him. Let us pray today for all fathers, that they too may be ready to fulfil their demanding role.

Bro Duncan PBGV
He had a relapse yesterday so spent another night in the animal hospital. He was finally allowed home in the evening, looking a little the worse for wear but still very much himself.

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Dying to Self and Unassuming Holiness

Most of us will have heard, at some time or other, uplifting little talks about the importance of dying to self in order to follow Christ. Today the Church celebrates someone who did just that, and so completely that he remains a somewhat shadowy figure: St Joseph, husband of Mary, adoptive father of Jesus, patron of the dying and pattern of unassuming holiness. In the Middle Ages he was often treated as a figure of fun, but from the seventeenth century onwards his greatness has been more generally recognized. Like his Old Testament namesake, Joseph was a man of dreams and singular purity of life whose mission was to hear and obey the word of God and to protect the family entrusted to his care. His kind of holiness is one we can all aspire to. It is the holiness of everyday life, of family and work, and lets us see being a ‘background person’ for what it truly is: a way of allowing Christ to take centre stage so that he may be all in all.

I think there is a close connection between Joseph’s role as a father and his role as patron of the dying. Fatherhood isn’t easy, nor is dying. Joseph had to lay aside all his own dreams of happiness when he accepted the role God had marked out for him. He taught Jesus how to be a man; how to conduct himself in the company of others; how to be tender towards women and children; how to stand up for what was right in the face of opposition; and ultimately, how to die. When Jesus hung upon the Cross and turned to his heavenly Father, it was with the honesty and trust he had learned from Joseph. He did not hide his pain, nor did he seek a way out. He surrendered his life as, many years earlier, Joseph had surrendered his, that the Father’s will might be done. We have much to thank Joseph for, and much to learn from him, too.

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A Feast of Fatherhood

Celebrating the Solemnity of St Joseph the day after Mothering Sunday, as we do this year, seems very apt. Like his Old Testament prototype, Joseph is sea-green incorruptible, the wise steward who provides for his family, the father-figure who quietly and effectively ensures that Jesus and Mary are kept safe. He, too, is a  man of dreams, but his dreams echo the voice of God and conscience, in obedience to which he is prepared to risk all his own hopes of happiness. There is something very great about this humble Jewish man, as there is something great about fatherhood.

Today, let us pray for all fathers, especially those who feel they don’t know how to be good fathers or who are scared of their responsibility. I suspect there were times when Joseph felt completely unequal to the task he had taken on, yet he was the man, above all others, from whom, consciously or unconsciously, Jesus took his own idea of what a man should be. Joseph’s greatness is the greatness of fatherhood lived generously. There is something we can all ponder in that.

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Solemnity of the Holy Trinity 2011

The Holy Trinity from Yates Thompson 13, a Book of Hours from the second quarter of the 14th century
The Holy Trinity: illustration from a Sarum Book of Hours, second quarter of the fourteenth century, now in the British Library.

It would be presumptuous to try to add anything new to the thousands of words, good and bad, written about the Most Holy Trinity. For me, Augustine’s De Trinitate is one of the most satisfying treatments of a profoundly difficult subject, but that is a conclusion I came to only after a nodding acquaintance with modern physics made sense of some of his more mystifying passages.

For some, it is more important that today is Father’s Day. Somehow the two celebrations come together; and if I cannot speak about the Trinity, perhaps I may say something about human beings.

If you think about it, the primary relationship of all of us is that of child — son or daughter, as the case may be. We may not have siblings, we may never be parents ourselves, but we are all the child of someone, or rather, of two persons. The human family reflects the divine, being at least a trinity of persons; but there the analogy ends, for in relation to God, we are, all of us, eternally filial. If we have had inadequate or bad parents or have never known our own parents, this filial relationship with God does not usually come easily. We have to learn an unfamiliar language and it can be painful.

Father’s Day may be another example of soulless commercialisation, but make the connection with today’s feast, and it becomes more than a sentimental commemoration of dear old Dad: it is a reminder of the importance of fatherhood, both human and divine.

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