A Real ‘Father’s Day’: the Feast of St Joseph

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

Just as the Fourth Sunday of Lent — Laetare or Mothering Sunday — has been assimilated to the more secular celebration of Mother’s Day, so I think we can make a case for considering today’s feast of St Joseph as Father’s Day.

Fatherhood often seems under siege nowadays, with a father’s role reduced to mere biological function which can be exercised impersonally. Those in favour of abortion never consider the rights of a father regarding his child, while the absence of fathers from the lives of their children has become so commonplace that few seem to think it unusual or troubling. St Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus, is a powerful reminder of what fatherhood really means and the importance of a father’s role. It was he who taught Jesus how to be a man; who defied convention in order to protect Mary; who trusted God and was in turn found infinitely trustworthy. There is something strangely attractive about this quiet, self-effacing man about whom we know so little and yet, paradoxically, so much. What the gospels do not explicitly tell us we learn from Jesus himself, for he cannot have been other than his father had helped him become: hard-working, humorous, tender-hearted. That final act of Jesus’ life, his death on the cross, is shot through with the love and trust he had learned from Joseph. We can safely say Joseph not only taught his son how to live but also how to die.

Today we celebrate St Joseph as a model of purity and loving-kindness, protector of the Church, patron of the dying, of immigrants, workers, pilgrims and travellers but, above all, as a father. Let us ask his prayers for all fathers, living and dead; for those who find fatherhood difficult or have walked away from it; those who have been rejected or excised from the lives of their children; those whose fatherliness is expressed through love and care for others unrelated to them by ties of blood. Let us pray also for those whose experience of fatherhood has been negative. For the fact is, fatherhood, rather than being unimportant or inconsequential as many would like it to be, is of immense significance in the life of every one of us, no matter how young or old we may be.

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