The lack of toilet paper. Grocery stores’ empty shelves. Restaurants, schools, libraries, and churches on shutdown. People working from home. As COVID-19 extends its infectious tentacles to the four corners of the earth, infecting hundreds of thousands of people, the fear of death, sickness, lack of food, resources, and revenue becomes reality.
It’s a bit unsettling. I feel a bit numb as I attempt to process what is actually occurring. I’m a middle-class father of five daughters and have been married for nearly twenty-five years. Like other men, I have had moments of tremendous joy and personal success, while also enduring seasons of financial drought, joblessness, and concern as to whether I would be able to provide for my family.
As a father, my number one duty is to fulfill my 3 P’s: Protect, Provide, and be the Priest of my family. When pandemics such as COVID-19 gain potency, the false accretions of having more, being significant, leaving my mark, getting ahead financially, carving my physique, all become seen for what they really are–the worthless trinkets and meaningless achievements that world promises. The things that really matter quickly rise to the surface: Will I be able to obtain food for my wife and children? Will I be able to protect my family if people go mad? Can I maintain trust in God and lead my family in faith as the world around us crumbles?
Today is the great Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Church references a passage from the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Luke for the opening antiphon of his Solemnity Mass, “Behold, a faithful and prudent steward whom the Lord set over his household.” It may not sound like much, but this passage reveals a lot about St. Joseph, and men’s role and responsibility.
In this passage, our Lord uses a very unique Greek masculine noun, oikodespotes, which is translated: “ruler of the house” or “over the household.” The fact that in all of the Scriptures only our Lord uses this word is highly significant.
Our Lord Jesus uses “oikodespotes” on twelve occasions: ten of which he refers to himself, and two others where he refers to the father of the family. Through these references, Jesus indicates the seven characteristics of the “ruler of the house.”
First, that he has authority over his family as indicated by phrases “householder,” “set over his family.” Second, that his authority is given by another. This indicates that he is responsible to God who grants him the authority to be the “householder” and “steward” over his family, as demonstrated by the phrase, “And to whoever much is given, of him much will be required.” Third, he has been charged with the mission to protect his household, as indicated by the phrase, “He would surely watch and not allow his home to be broken open.” Fourth, he is given the duty to provide for his family, as indicated by the phrase, “To give them their measure of wheat in due season.” Fifth, he is to be the “priest” of his family, as indicated by the words, “Faithful and wise steward.” The father-priest transmits God’s teaching to his family and confirms these teachings by his self-donation and prudential example. Sixth, he is the servant of both the Master from Whom he derives his authority and also the servant of his subjects, as indicated by the phrase, “Blessed is that servant,” or “if that servant shall say in his heart,” and again, “the Lord of that servant.” Seventh, he is not to misuse or abuse his authority, as indicated by Christ’s reprimand of the neglectful householder who “begins to strike the menservants and maidservants, and to eat and drink and be drunk.”
The “oikodespotes” receives his authority from God and is responsible to God for being the protector, provider, and the priest of his family. By fulfilling this duty, he becomes a true servant of God and his family. Such a man glorifies God and thus is glorified by God.
St. Joseph faced devilish fears. His wife, Mary, was the Mother of the Son of God. Would he be capable of raising Him? Would he be capable of overcoming all forms of lust and keep his vow of virginity to Mary and to God? Herod was intent on murdering the Son of God. Would Joseph be capable of saving Him and His Mother? He was commanded to flee to a foreign land. Would he find work and obtain food? Joseph was constantly at war of with the devil… and he won. This is why he is called the “Terror of Demons.” St. Joseph was the “oikodespotes” of the Holy Family, and was also proclaimed “oikodespotes” of the Church in 1870.
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that, “Our holy patron, St. Joseph has the power to assist us in all causes, in every necessity, in every undertaking.” As you face the uncertainty of the future, the threats from the reigning worldly powers, “Go to Joseph,” and, as “Ruler of the House” of the Church, he will obtain for you the graces that you need to be a true “Ruler of your house.”