Meaning and Mission
At our last FOSJ meeting we discussed the five stages of a successful father: 1) trial/tests 2) discovery of mission 3) embracing sacrifice 4) modeling/being the example of virtue 5) leaving a legacy. During our last session we focused primarily on the first stage, the test or multiple tests, viewed through the lens of St. Joseph and his discovery of his wife’s pregnancy without his cooperation. Born from this incredible test of faith was Joseph’s understanding of his mission: to be the husband of the Mother of God, that is, to embrace and defend her dignity and feminine genius, while also spiritually adopting the Son of God within her. Every man has been divinely ordained with a mission that is specific to his life, and it is our responsibility as men to pray and wait on the Lord and listen for him to reveal the specifics of this mission, particularly during trials and tests; for that is where the discovery of the true man occurs. Though each man has a specific mission, that mission is based upon a general mission that applies to every man. God has endowed every man with this general mission, and it is by embracing this general mission that we discover our specific mission, and discovering our specific mission we discover our destiny.
Identity and Destiny
It is probably fair to say that we all want answers to life’s most difficult questions: “Why am I here?” “Why do I exist?” “What is the purpose of my life?” “What is my destiny?” Pope John Paul the Great, in his Theology of the Body, explains that our mission, our reason for existence, and our destiny is etched in our very flesh. God has created the human body to reveal something of the mystery of God and to be a sign of His eternal love. Adam and Eve, in their very naked, pure, glorious bodies revealed something of God’s mystery and plan. “Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion.” (JPII, General Audience, Nov. 14, 1979, TOB) This indicates that Adam’s body, and Eve’s body, by themselves, though capable of imaging God to some degree, make no sense by themselves, but rather, together, through the communion of persons, particularly in the one-flesh union, they are capable of imaging God. Why? God is invisible, simple, uncreated. God created us visible, material, with bodies. Yet, he wanted to communicate both His identity and our destiny to us. How do visible creatures understand the mystery of an invisible God? God has a difficult task in communicating this reality.
What is God’s identity and what is our destiny? “God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange.” (CCC 211) The Trinity is an eternal exchange of persons, an eternal exchange of self-giving love, and God desires that we partake eternally in that exchange of bliss, rapture and ecstasy that will never end. God desired to communicate His eternal plan to us by carving this message in our flesh. Consider this: in order for the human race to survive, men and women must give themselves away to one another. God ordained this for the purpose of reminding us of His identity and our destiny: that we are made in His image of self-giving love, and that we will be giving ourselves away in love and receiving Him in love for all eternity. Man and woman, husband and wife, image God particularly when the two become one flesh and create another – a third. It is a reminder of the God Who is Love, the Son Who is loved and the Love between them – the Holy Spirit. The body, and the union between the sexes in the one-flesh union has been divinely ordained to launch us into the heart of God. That’s why we love sex -God created us this way.
Mission in the man’s Body
The body reveals spiritual realities. A man’s body then, indicates something about his mission. We men are made differently than women, and it is precisely this physical difference that reveals the spiritual reality that we are created to be initiators, that is, to go forth from ourselves – to give ourselves away – to donate ourselves in the effort to give life. A large portion of the general mission of every husband is to initiate self-giving love in relationship to woman and his wife. By doing so, the man yokes himself, that is, he unites himself to his wife. The best gift that we can give our children is a united, harmonious, fully yoked marriage, because it is this sign of a husband and wife that transmits the love of the Trinity to our children. This is why the enemy hates marriage, authentic sexual union and families, because they speak of the very mystery of God. So what is Satan’s tactic? How does he attempt to destroy families, marriages and children? Society goes by way of the family, the family goes by way of the father. If you want to change the world, change the father. Though the world may consider fathers insignificant, unneeded, and useless, the enemy knows that we have the power to change the world. So he attacks us by means of distraction, temptation and intimidation.
Adam and the New Adam – Joseph
Throughout history, men have expressed either their undying strength and self mastery, or their weakness and inability to master themselves by means of their fidelity or infidelity to their wives. Recall that the fall of the human race into sin and error was the consequence of Adam’s infidelity to Eve. Adam denied his male essence, to initiate self-giving love and rather than defending Eve, and her interior garden, he exposed her to shame, lust and sin. This neglect led to the fall of all of her children. In the fullness of time, at the end of the heritage of unfaithful men, God called a man from among men to be singled out as the forerunner of fidelity to the vocation of husband and father. Joseph, upon discovering the Virgin pregnant initially withdrew, due to believing himself unworthy of the mystery within her, yet, unlike the first Adam, he heroically retraced his steps in obedience, triumphantly defending his virgin bride. Joseph returned to his post, his vocation, his bride, in order to defend Mary from the serpent, the evils of men, and their scrutiny. Standing beside her, Joseph became Mary’s shield, her staunch defender, a pure and chaste husband who refused to “expose her to shame.” (Mat 1:20)
The best Gift we can give – Ourselves
By being yoked to Mary, uniting his soul to hers, Joseph enabled the pure and spotless garden of Mary to bear the Fruit of Life, Jesus, for the salvation of mankind. If Joseph had not come to Mary’s aid, there is great probability that either Mary, or Jesus, or both would not have survived. Indeed, this fruit of Mary’s garden has brought forth life to all creation; for the fruit we eat is the “Bread of Life,” that is, “Christ’s flesh given for the life of the world.” (Jn 6:51) If we desire our children to become other Christs, spiritual bread for this starving world, it is imperative that we re-trace our steps and take up our post, again and again, as defenders and guardians of our wives. If our marriages transmit grace to our children, where do you think the evil one is going to attack? The evil one is constantly tempting us to tear down our wives, to expose them to our shame, either by criticism, insincerity, objectification, that is, using her or viewing her as an object, or simply not attending to her needs. There is one path to the garden, and that path runs through you and me, the guardians of our gardens. We are initiators of self-giving love, of self-donation. This reality is etched in our flesh. This reality indicates that we are to find ways to build up, affirm, encourage, edify and love our wives. If we do so, our marriages become a harmonious united front that compellingly transmits God’s eternal exchange of love to our children. This is our mission, this is the path to authentic manhood – this is the path to our destiny. When we embrace this mission to love our wives as St. Joseph loved Mary, as Christ loves the Church, we break free from the burdens and chains of selfishness and experience the ‘freedom to love.” At our next FOSJ session we will continue this series by discussing Joseph’s sacrifice and how that applies to each of us.