Joseph’s Way of Fatherhood

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Last meeting we discussed the idea of obedience as a “proof of our faith.” The father who is obedient in small matters proves,
by his actions, that he trusts the Lord and His commands and therefore the Lord grants him greater responsibilities. This week we will turn to Abraham and Joseph and discover a profound typological connection between the two in regards to obedience and how we can learn from their example. To begin, there are three ways these two fathers are connected:

1) In Matthew 1:2 the begats begin with Abraham, that first father, who is known as our “father in faith” and ends with the last father in this lineage, St. Joseph, a father “most faithful” (see litany of St. Joseph). Abraham’s fatherhood foreshadows Joseph’s fatherhood, and Joseph’s obedience is the fulfillment of Abraham. By beginning this list of fathers with Abraham and ending with Joseph, God is calling attention to these two men and the profound lessons we can learn from them.

2) “Abraham went as the Lord told him”(Gen 12:4) and the Lord said, “Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him” (Gen 26:5). Joseph “did as the Lord commanded him.” (See Matt 1:24) Both were obedient fathers.

3) Abraham and Joseph received commands, messages and authority directly from God alone. This is the paradigm for all fatherhood. As mentioned at our last FOSJ meeting, the human father is under no earthly authority regarding the governance of his home. This has huge implications. We fathers must pray, enter into silence and listen to God in order to understand how to use this authority. This authority is a loaded weapon which can either be used to “put food on the table” or cause severe damage to those around us. We should never underestimate the power of our divinely instituted fatherly authority.

“By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to go to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance and he went out ‘not knowing where to go.’ By faith, he lived as a stranger and pilgrim in the Promised Land. By faith, Sarah was given to
conceive of the promise. And by faith Abraham offered his only son in sacrifice.” (CC145)

Within this brief summary of Abraham’s faith we discover four ways in which he obeyed the Lord’s direction, thus proving his faith in God: 1) Abraham went out not knowing where to go 2) Abraham lived as a stranger in a foreign land 3) Abraham trusted that his wife would conceive and God would grant him a son 4) Abraham offered his son in sacrifice.

Abraham’s four faith-filled acts of obedience are a foreshadowing of St. Joseph’s obedience: 1) Joseph was directed by the Lord to go to Egypt, to a land he did not know 2) He lived as a stranger in a foreign land 3) He trusted that Mary had conceived and that he was called to father the Son of God 4) By means of preparation and loving self-sacrifice, he prepared Jesus to offer Himself as the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of sinners.

These four acts of obedience, demonstrating the faith of Abraham and Joseph, constitute a four-fold proof of faith for all fathers. In other words, these are areas in which most of us will be tested, and these tests demand obedience, which proves our faith in God.

Abraham and Joseph, by means of their listening hearts, were receptive to God’s direction. This divine guidance did not fully reveal the destination of either of their journeys—Abraham was directed to go to Canaan and Joseph to Egypt—only that they should journey in that direction, even if they did not “know where to go.” We fathers have been called by God to embark upon the journey of fatherhood without knowing the ultimate outcome, without knowing how our story will end. Nevertheless, we must set out to become true fathers, even if we do not know the way to become true fathers. Even if we have been fathers for years, and yet realize that we have not truly fathered our children, it is never too late to set out on this journey of true fatherhood. Like Abraham who was called to the Promised Land, or Joseph called to depart for Egypt, we know that we are ultimately to image the Fatherhood of God—yet, we do not know the way.

I know one thing for certain: I know that I don’t know. St. Augustine said that the moment that someone thinks that they really understand God, they demonstrate that they really don’t understand God. The moment that we think that we have fatherhood “down,” this fatherhood will take us down. Indeed, if at the onset of his vocational mission, God showed a father all that would be demanded and how it would end, many fathers, if not most, would not undertake the challenge for fear of failure or from an unwillingness to sacrifice themselves for their children. It is better that we don’t know the way. However, this demands great humility. If we believe that we truly don’t know the way to father, we must place ourselves in a position of learning, we must look to others to learn the way of fatherhood. Indeed, we ought to learn “Joseph’s Way.”

This is the point of the FOSJ: to learn Joseph’s Way—to look to him and learn from his example as to what it means to be a great father. What is Joseph’s Way? It can be summed up as this: Jesus lived what Joseph taught and Jesus taught what Joseph lived. Joseph’s Way is the example from which Jesus, Who is The Way, learned. This Way can be summed up in four principles found in Philippians 2:5-11: 1) Empty yourself. We fathers must empty ourselves of our glory, our pride, our ego —we must lower ourselves to the level of those we serve 2) Become the servant. We lead by serving. Good leaders are first good followers. How can we expect our children and wives to learn to serve if we are not the lead servant? 3) Humble yourself. Humility is not a one-time occurrence but rather is an ongoing, continual act of surrender to God’s authority and direction. Joseph and Abraham were continually in a state of humility, following God’s direction. Humility is the key to everything. It is the golden virtue, the foundation of all virtues, and the basis of a life of greatness. If you want to become great—become humble. 4) Die to yourself. Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies it brings forth much fruit.” (John 12:24) If we don’t give ourselves away for the sake of others, we remain alone. If we give ourselves away—dying to our selfish motivations—we will be surrounded by the fruits of our gift of self.