Joseph: an unsung superhero

By  Frank Florio, Catholic Register Special
  • June 8, 2007
{mosimage}What qualities constitute a real man in the early 21st century? What model could a modern dad look to for inspiration and guidance to get him through challenging times? These are meaningful questions in Canada 2007, amid the ongoing attacks on the traditional family, and we need to look no further for our model than St. Joseph, foster father to Our Lord.
He’s given deserved attention in many places every March 19 on his feast day and is certainly held in high esteem by many. But, to this Catholic man, St. Joseph still does not get the kind of recognition he truly deserves. Relegated to near historical footnote status, he’s actually an outstanding example of a husband and father who navigated a harrowing series of events in his own life, and that of his family, and should be seen as an historical and spiritual superhero.

Far from being a comparatively minor member of the Holy Family, he stood tall at the most pivotal time in history. Here’s a man who, after much anguish and discernment, decides to marry a woman who has become mysteriously pregnant, fails to find a decent place for her to give birth, then flees to a foreign country from people trying to kill his newborn son, the Messiah awaited for thousands of years. After a while, Joseph gets the word that it’s safe to return and he then settles in a small town, working as a carpenter to support his family.

Ah, we may protest, he received messages from God and, also, lived in a simpler time and place. But how much different was it from our time? In his time, King Herod ordered every baby boy under the age of two slaughtered. Today’s holy innocents are usually killed in the womb. As for receiving divine messages, this raises an interesting question. Has God stopped talking to us? Or have we stopped listening?

As for having to become a refugee, talk to our brothers and sisters from Africa, Central America and other places and try to tell them that fleeing terror is ancient history. St. Joseph would be every talk show host’s instant expert on all of these issues if he were around today. In fact, he was the patron saint selected for both Vatican Councils and was made patron of the universal church by Pope Pius IX.

Fortunately, we can look to many of our contemporaries who mirror the qualities of St. Joseph. Jean Vanier and his L’Arche communities around the world show us how to love. So do single and married parents who sacrifice so much for their children, and those who work and volunteer for organizations to help the poor. The new archbishop in Toronto, Thomas Collins, is clearly a man who understands fatherhood at its most fundamental depth — that of leading, teaching, defending, reaching out to the so-called “ordinary” people and understanding that no child of God can possibly be “ordinary.”

Someone remarked to me recently that it was amazing how young people responded to the late Pope John Paul II. The young, and many others, instinctively connected with the fact that the Holy Father really was a holy father. In an age of tragically broken families, where fathers in traditional families sometimes struggle, John Paul II showed us all a real father. As Jesus said, “When you see Me, you see the Father.” When earthly fathers are at their best, we also get at least a glimpse of our heavenly Father and we are wired to respond to it.

Whether it’s the Feast of St. Joseph, Father’s Day, Christmas or any other day of the year, St. Joseph deserves to be seen as a daily model for all of us. Far from being the benign, understated third member of the Holy Family, he was at least the equal of David when he slew Goliath.

St. Joseph is also the patron saint of Canada and with our courts and legislatures’ current indifference to Judeo-Christian values, it’s hard to think of another time when the intercession of such a great saint was more desperately needed.

(Florio is a retired Catholic school system communications officer in Stoney Creek, Ont.)

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