Seeing Things Differently
Have you ever had the experience of being suddenly enlightened by or discovering an obvious truth that you could not understand or was previously hidden from you? Have you ever looked at something, perhaps many times, only to one day view it in a completely new way that permanently changed your perception of it? Have you ever seen one of those Jesus Wooden Plaque Hidden Word Puzzles? The first time I saw one of these, I was perplexed by not seeing what others saw in it. Then, in a moment, everything changed. I could see the name of Jesus in the negative space on the plaque and since that time whenever I encounter one of these puzzles, I immediately see his name. Imagine living in the Middle Ages and having the firm conviction that the sun revolves around the earth then being confronted with heliocentrism—the discovery that the earth revolves around the sun. From that moment forward, humans perceived the solar system differently—as it really is. At the age of twenty-four I experienced a radical conversion in which I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. Up to that point I had embraced a licentious, hedonistic, selfish lifestyle, constantly experiencing the roller-coaster effect of self-indulgent heights and self-imploding lows. After experiencing the transformational love of Christ, I decided to give myself to him in return by becoming involved in ministry. It was during this period of my life that my wife gave birth to our third daughter, Anna Marie, at only twenty-eight weeks. After an emergency caesarian section and a monthlong stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, Anna Marie was discharged as a normal, healthy baby. Buts within five days she contracted RSV, a cold that attacks the lungs of premature infants and can often result in the death of the infant. My wife and I readmitted Anna Marie to the hospital, and because of the admitted neglect of the nursing staff, our little girl suffered a hypoxic event that caused her to have seizures and three clinical death experiences, and ultimately to be put on life support and eventually suffer permanent brain injury. During this time, I had a full-time job and was also involved in part-time church ministry. My wife, who was suffering from a substantial amount of stress and anxiety, asked me to “come home and be a dad,” to quit ministry and truly focus on being a dedicated husband and committed father.
Go Home and Be Joseph
To be honest, I didn’t want to “come home.” I enjoyed ministry, and felt as though fatherhood was a biological reality rather than a spiritual undertaking or a divine mission. I understood fatherhood as a second-rate vocation, incapable of truly fulfilling the great commission given by Jesus to go and preach to nations and baptize all men (see Matt. 28:18-20). It was during this time that a friend invited me to travel with him on a pilgrimage to Europe. During the trip I underwent an internal battle, attempting to reconcile my desire to be involved in Christ’s great commission to saving souls with the “unattractive,” “unexciting,” “common,” and perhaps even “boring” call to be a dedicated dad. While on that pilgrimage I discussed my incessant, burning desire to serve our Lord with two spiritual leaders. The first, a Dominican priest, guided me with the words, “You will become a saint by means of your vocation—not outside of it.” The second, a female leader,of our pilgrimage, asked me if I was married. (Not because she wanted to marry me—but because she thought that I could potentially become a priest.) I responded by explaining that I was married and had three children. To which she answered, “Go home and be Joseph.” Those words were not inspiring at first, but rather very painful. I thought, “Are you serious? Go home and be Joseph? Are you referring to the guy who is depicted in most paintings and stained-glass windows as being about 150 years old, balding, and appearing more like the Virgin Mary’s great-great-great-grandfather than her husband? Are you referring to the man who is constantly carrying white lilies, appearing more like a florist than a carpenter?” I went on that pilgrimage hoping to receive a call more akin to that of St. Paul, but rather was told to go home and be like Joseph. Joseph: a man of whom the Sacred Scripture says so little; and not a single word he spoke is recorded.
Light of Patriarchs
I did “go home” and asked Our Lady, to whom I had consecrated my life, to introduce me to her earthly spouse—to reveal his identity in order that I may truly “go home and be Joseph” to my family. It was during this time that I founded a writers’ group (though I am not a writer), for the purpose of assisting my brother (who is a talented writer) in completing a couple of his works. The group members shared their reflections on a weekly rotation and when it was my turn, I shared very short reflections on St. Joseph or fatherhood. On one of these occasions, after I spoke, my friend, aptly named Joe, said, “I know what you are supposed to do. You are supposed to write on fatherhood through the lens of St. Joseph.” The idea resounded in my soul. That very weekend I attended a four-day silent retreat, and by the time I returned home God had provided the outline of what would eventually constitute the four volumes of Joseph’s Way: The Call to Fatherly Greatness—a chronological, biblical vision of fatherhood as through the life and lens of St. Joseph, in which I compared him typologically to the patriarchs of the Old Testament. Within Joseph, the Light of Patriarchs, is hidden the wealth and riches of the vocations of marriage and fatherhood.
Receiving the Child: Receiving the Call to Greatness
Remember heliocentrism? Recall the Jesus Plaque? Our Lady and her Son, Jesus, introduced me to this humble yet great man, St. Joseph, and from that encounter with the man who became the father of the Son of God, I began to view my role as a husband, my fatherhood, and my masculinity in a new and profound light. Everything changed: My vocation was much different than I previously understood it. Fatherhood was no longer considered a second-rate vocation, but rather an incredible adventure and a divine call to greatness. Like many of you, up to that point in my life I had heard or read dozens of times the Gospel account wherein Our Lord explains to the disciples that they need to become like little children to inherit the kingdom. But suddenly, in a moment, I understood the words differently and discovered in them an incredible truth that was both a profound calling and a demanding call to greatness:
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Amen I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever, therefore, humbles himself as this little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such little child for My sake, receives Me” (Matt. 18:3–5). And again in the Gospel of Mark, “If any man wishes to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all. Whoever receives one such child for my sake, receives Me, and whoever receives Me, receives not Me, but Him Who sent Me” (Mark 9:34, 36). By reading these scriptural passages with new eyes I began to understand that the “vocation of fatherhood is properly disposed to the call to greatness. A father becomes like a little child by recognizing his own dependence upon the Father, precisely in his desire to provide for the child he has received. A father who humbles himself can, through Christ the Son, become a son of God, by means of receiving a little child and becoming a father for the sake of Christ. Indeed, the rewards of the vocation of fatherhood which Christ promises are among the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such little child for my sake, receives Me” (Joseph’s Way, 21).
What is the point of all this? “By receiving a child you, my brother, will become a father, while also becoming a child by becoming dependent upon the Father. By becoming a father, small and humble, you will be among the greatest in the kingdom, inheriting Christ himself!” (Joseph’s Way, 21). Indeed, by moving beyond the biological reality of fatherhood and spiritually adopting our children, we fathers become dependent upon the Father—granting us the potential to become the greatest in the kingdom. By spiritually adopting our children we become great fathers who not only receive the child, but also divine communion with God. Fatherhood is indeed a call to glory—to greatness.
A Little Yet Mighty Work
After years of sharing reflections on Joseph’s Way with the writers’ group, my friend Joe said that these truths, this spirituality of fatherhood, must be shared with a wider audience, and so we founded the Fathers of St. Joseph. These truths are the bedrock and foundation of the Fathers of St. Joseph. Over the last three years our heavenly Father has blessed the local Quad City FOSJ chapter—whose aim is the revitalization, restoration, and redemption of fatherhood—with growth both in spirit and numbers. Eventually Dan Teets, your fellow brother in Christ, began attending our meetings—which was no small sacrifice—and decided with your aid and collaboration to launch an FOSJ chapter here in Iowa City. In addition to this, other chapters in Nashville, Tennessee, and Toronto, Canada, are being formed. The Holy Spirit is doing a little yet mighty work among us by enlightening us with St. Joseph’s timeless spirituality.
At the Center of an Epic Battle
Have you ever had the thought that fatherhood and marriage doesn’t seem like a call to greatness, or that it feels like a prison or a punishment? All of us, at some level in our masculine souls, long for adventure, competition, challenge, and glory. Often after watching a movie like Braveheart, Gladiator, or Lord of the Rings, I momentarily become inspired with the ideal of becoming a William Wallace, who lives to die that his fellow countrymen may live; or becoming a Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, who heroically dies to obtain for a nation its freedom. Or Frodo Baggins, whose one, sole aim is to destroy the ring of power, the ring of Sauron the Dark Lord—the very power that is bent on destroying the free men of Middle-Earth. While these idealistic heroic notions are fresh in my mind, I return to a life of changing diapers, settling disputes over whose doll is whose, vacuuming the carpet, loading the dishwasher, avoiding conflicts with my wife, responding to the needs of my clients and the demands of a rather monotonous employment, and wonder: Is this all there is? Is this the adventure? Is this the call to greatness? It is then that I look at the plaque—the solar system—a bit differently. I alter my view and look at my situation from a divine perspective. A battle between good and evil, a battle between God, his angels, and the evil one and his demonic minions—a battle for souls is raging and you and I are at the center of it. Eighty-five percent of youths in prison come from fatherless homes. Children from fatherless homes are thirty-two times more likely to run away from home and six times more likely to commit suicide. Dads have twice as much influence as moms in helping their teens stave off premarital sex. Children who come from two-parent households and have a strained relationship with their father are 68 percent more likely to become addicted to drugs and alcohol. If a mother is the first to be converted to Christianity, there is a 17 percent probability that the family will follow, but if dad is the first to become a Christian, there is a 93 percent probability that the family will follow. These statistics testify to an incredible truth: the world, and the battle for souls, the battle for happiness and glory, goes by way of the human father. If the world is to be converted, the Church must be renewed, and if the Church—the macro family of God—is to be renewed, the domestic Church—the micro family—must be restored and revitalized. And if the micro church of the family is to be restored and revitalized, the man who is both husband and father must become like St. Joseph: a father on earth like the Father in heaven. If we fathers are wise, “we can make use of our vocational call, which is good, sacred, and issues from God, and thereby journey on the path of becoming an icon of the heavenly Father. In doing so, we even have the great potential of directing humanity to the Father” (Joseph Way, 18). When we consider that radical Islamists are bent on ruling the world, when we consider that atheism and agnosticism is on the rise; when we consider that Christianity is nearing extinction in Europe; when we consider that suicide rates are skyrocketing while birth rates are plummeting—we must ask ourselves the question: who can stop the black tide from destroying the Church, drowning the family and our children? You and I—with God’s power and St. Joseph’s timeless example—you and I.
Why We Are Here
Consider that the human family was created by God to be an icon of the Trinity. Husband and wife give themselves to one another and their self-giving love produces a third. God the Father and God the Son eternally love one another, and this love is so profound that it is eternally and essentially another Divine Person—the Holy Spirit. The Holy Family, the greatest human symbol of the Trinity, would not have become an icon of the Trinity if St. Joseph had not entered the battle, embraced the adventure of becoming the father of the Son of God and the husband of the Mother of God. The Fathers of St. Joseph teach and proclaim and live the spirituality of St. Joseph, which is to assume our spiritual location in the plan of salvation by becoming shields to our wives and children. Where Adam failed to be a shield to Eve and her offspring, St. Joseph succeeded and became a shield to Jesus and Mary. By following the timeless wisdom and ageless example of St. Joseph, we also can become fathers of strength and honor by living out the four pillars of St. Joseph’s spirituality: embracing silence; embracing woman; embracing the child; and embracing our charitable authority. The FOSJ is not focused on “going out” and rebuilding the Church from the outside in or from the top down, but rather from the inside out, from the bottom up, from the micro family of the domestic church to the macro family of the Church. Like seeing the name of Jesus in the Hidden Plaque, or understanding that the earth revolves around the sun, we too can begin to see the adventure, the battle, the call to glory in the vocation of fatherhood. If we do so, the family will be restored, the Church will be renewed, and the world will eventually be converted. That is whey we are here. This is why you are here and why this chapter has formed. May you succeed in this endeavor to become like St. Joseph—an icon of God the Father’s merciful love and a guardian of the dignity of all women, who assumes his identity as guardian and defender of his family in order to lead his family to their destiny.