When looking at the problems facing both the world and the Church today, it’s tempting to try to reduce those problems to one and only one cause. Whether it be the sexual revolution, Vatican II, or certain political ideologies, we are attracted to simple answers to complex problems. That being said, there are certain causes that have had a profoundly destructive influence on the world and the Church. I would argue that a primary cause of modern destruction is the loss of an understanding of true fatherhood. This loss impacts both biological fathers and spiritual fathers.
The Modern Understanding of Fatherhood
The defective view of fatherhood today is related to the defective view we have of masculinity in general. Men have been under attack for decades now, in ways large and small. Men aren’t allowed to act like gentlemen, holding doors for women, offering a coat in the cold, or even saying “ma’am.” Such behavior is a sign of “toxic masculinity,” we are told. Likewise, boys aren’t allowed to be rambunctious and boisterous. They are to sit still for hours at a time and always, always keep their hands to themselves.
But this full-scale war on men includes sniper attacks at fatherhood specifically. Fathers are not allowed to exert any type of leadership in a family. They are not to be distinguished from a mother in any real way. Essentially, children must have “Parent 1” and “Parent 2,” utterly indistinguishable and interchangeable. In response, many fathers never mature into manhood, stuck playing video games and engaging in other diversions instead of the hard work of leading their families.
These attacks reach priests and bishops — our spiritual fathers — as well. The parish pastor has become the impotent head of a democracy; if he exerts any type of real leadership, he is criticized for being “regressive” and “old-fashioned.” So everything from liturgical music to times for Confession must be run through a committee before being implemented. Bishops who show even the slightest backbone are quickly denounced by secular leaders and “woke” Catholic leaders. They learn to keep their mouths shut.
Fathers — both biological and spiritual — have been neutered.
The impact of this massive assault on manhood and fatherhood is far-reaching. Boys grow up not knowing what it means to be a man; girls grow up not knowing what to look for in a man. Catholics begging for guidance in an age of confusion have no one to lead them to salvation.
Epitome of Virtues
Enter St. Joseph. The saints are our models for how we are to live, and each saint models different virtues. In St. Joseph we have the epitome of the cardinal virtues, and the model for fatherhood that our world and the Church desperately need. By embracing St. Joseph, and asking for his intercession, we can go a long way in reversing the anti-fatherhood direction of our culture and our Church.
We need only look at St. Joseph’s practice of the cardinal virtues to see how he is a perfect model for us today.
Prudence. This virtue — called the “mother of virtues” — is often thought of as the least “manly” of virtues. Prudence seems to indicate an unwillingness to act when one should. Yet true prudence is the exact opposite: it tells us when to act and when not to act. St. Joseph exercised great prudence on multiple occasions. When he found that his betrothed was pregnant, he could have quickly denounced her and divorced her publicly. Instead, he decided to divorce her quietly, which likely would have maintained Mary’s honor. Joseph put Mary’s well-being over his own wounded pride. When the Holy Family were in danger of their lives by mad King Herod, Joseph could have unwisely decided to fight to protect his wife and newborn son. He wisely decided instead to flee.
A good father knows when it’s time to fight to protect his family, but he also knows when avoiding conflict is the best protection.
Justice. Scripture calls St. Joseph a “just man” (Mt. 1:19). Although today such a compliment might not mean much, in the context of Scripture, there can be no higher praise. Justice is giving others their due, and St. Joseph did this in his life. He first gave God His due by being a faithful Jew. He gave his wife and son their due by caring for them and protecting them. Although St. Joseph was the least holy member of the Holy Family, it was his duty to lead the family in their religious and secular responsibilities. He had to make sure his son was properly raised in the Jewish faith, and he was charged with providing materially for his wife and son.
Justice at times goes beyond just fulfilling the obligations of our state in life. Sometimes it means protecting the innocent and the oppressed. Fathers today, with St. Joseph as their intercessor, must be vigorous for justice both within and outside their families. Spiritual fathers in particular must work for justice within the Church, to combat the deep corruption that currently runs rampant within her.
Fortitude. Imagine for a moment being the head of the Holy Family. Is there any family that would be attacked more by Satan and his demons than this family? And what is the weak link in this chain? St. Joseph. Although he was filled with grace and was a just man, he was not immaculately conceived like Mary or a divine person like Jesus. So he would likely be the point of attack for satanic forces. Yet he remained faithful and resolute in fulfilling his obligations as husband and father. Further, he did not allow his unique situation to divert him from his ordinary life; he remained a carpenter, supporting his family and teaching his son his trade.
The battles we face today aren’t easy ones. Sometimes they seem overwhelming and the attacks come from all sides. These battles can be both small and large: to remain pure, to fulfill our obligations at home and at work, and to fight against corruption in both the Church and the world are just some examples. Fathers must have the fortitude of St. Joseph to continue to fight at every front.
Temperance. Along with prudence, temperance also gets a bad rap as an “unmanly” virtue. Yet temperance is vital to a virtuous life, for it controls our passions and directs them to service of God. For St. Joseph, temperance was a daily necessity. Although some authors and artists depict St. Joseph as an old man, that’s highly doubtful. He was likely under 25 when he married Mary and had all the desires and temptations of all young men. Yet he not only maintained his own purity in his unique marital situation, but zealously guarded Mary’s purity. Unlike so many men today who look for ways to violate the purity of women, St. Joseph regarded the purity of his wife as something to protect.
Our Lady of Fatima said, “More souls go to Hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason.” Fathers must live a life of temperance and purity, as well as instilling the virtue in their children. Further, spiritual fathers must preach purity, and be ready to offer reconciliation for those who fall into impurity.
St. Joseph is the patron of both the Universal Church and of fathers. His intercession and his model are desperately needed for both today. Fathers, both biological and spiritual, need to imitate St. Joseph in staying close to Mary and Jesus, being faithful fathers, and practicing the virtues. If they do so, this great Saint can help lead us out of our current malaise.
Saint Joseph, Guardian of virgins and Father,
to whose faithful care Christ Jesus, Innocence itself,
and Mary, virgin of virgins, were entrusted,
I ask and beg of thee,
through these two dearest pledges, Jesus and Mary,
preserve me from all defilement,
and make it always possible for me
unsullied in mind, pure in heart, and chaste in body
to give Jesus and Mary my holiest service.
Eric Sammons is the Executive Director of Crisis Publications. He is the author of eight books, including Deadly Indifference: How the Church Lost Her Mission and How We Can Reclaim It.