Most Christians hardly ever give thought to Jesus as a young boy. We have so much to digest from his ministry years it would seem there is less need to focus on the years that came before. But is that truly wise of us not to consider the family in which Christ Jesus grew? Doesn’t our family upbringing influence our lives and how we become who we become?
While it is true that at some point in every adult’s life, we are called to break away from our parents and assume responsibility for our own choices in life, it is still quite considerable to assess how far one has had to rise.
Jesus was no different. He not only obeyed his mother and father but he honored them as the Ten Commandments command.
A look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church provides a deeper understanding:
“The divine fatherhood is the source of human fatherhood; this is the foundation of the honor owed to parents. The respect of children, whether minors or adults, for their father and mother is nourished by the natural affection born of the bond uniting them. It is required by God’s commandment.
Respect for parents (filial piety) derives from gratitude toward those who, by the gift of life, their love and their work, have brought their children into the world and enabled them to grow in stature, wisdom, and grace. “With all your heart honor your father, and do not forget the birth pangs of your mother. Remember that through your parents you were born; what can you give back to them that equals their gift to you?” (Sirach 7:27-28)
Filial respect is shown by true docility and obedience.
“My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. . . . When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you.” (Proverbs 6:20-22) “A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.” (Proverbs 13:1)
As long as a child lives at home with his parents, the child should obey his parents in all that they ask of him when it is for his good or that of the family. “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” (Colossians 3:20; Eph. 6:1) Children should also obey the reasonable directions of their teachers and all to whom their parents have entrusted them. But if a child is convinced in conscience that it would be morally wrong to obey a particular order, he must not do so.
As they grow up, children should continue to respect their parents. They should anticipate their wishes, willingly seek their advice, and accept their just admonitions. Obedience toward parents ceases with the emancipation of the children; not so respect, which is always owed to them. This respect has its roots in the fear of God, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The fourth (*or fifth, depending on your translation) commandment reminds grown children of their responsibilities toward their parents. As much as they can, they must give them material and moral support in old age and in times of illness, loneliness, or distress. Jesus recalls this duty of gratitude in Mark 7:10-12:
For the Lord honored the father above the children, and he confirmed the right of the mother over her sons. Whoever honors his father atones for sins, and whoever glorifies his mother is like one who lays up treasure. Whoever honors his father will be gladdened by his own children, and when he prays he will be heard. Whoever glorifies his father will have long life, and whoever obeys the Lord will refresh his mother. (Sirach 3:26)
O son, help your father in his old age, and do not grieve him as long as he lives; even if he is lacking in understanding, show forbearance; in all your strength do not despise him. . . . Whoever forsakes his father is like a blasphemer, and whoever angers his mother is cursed by the Lord. (Sirach 3:12-13,16)
Filial respect promotes harmony in all of family life; it also concerns relationships between brothers and sisters. Respect toward parents fills the home with light and warmth. “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged.” (Prov. 17:6) “With all humility and meekness, with patience, [support] one another in charity.” (Eph. 4:2)”
As a Jewish son of a Jewish Mother and under the care of a Jewish Father, Jesus would have held closely to the teachings of the Torah. There is no question that Jesus not only obeyed his father and mother, as Luke tells us in 2:51, but he did, and continues this day, to honor them with the respect they are rightly due.
Christians have been celebrating the earthly Father of Jesus in the same gesture of respect since as early as 800 AD, at least so far as is recorded. They aptly recognize him has “Protector of God” for it was through Joseph’s Fiat, his obedience of faith, that he took the angel in his dream at his word and married the Virgin Mary, thus becoming her protector and Guardian of the Son of God. He not only exercised his gift of faith once but twice as recorded in the Bible when another angel in a dream told him to flee to Egypt with the Holy Family. How many more numerous times his gift of faith would be exercised is not recorded, but anyone who has experienced fatherhood can attest these two were certainly not the last.
Though he was a man of few words, zero to be exact as none are recorded in the Scriptures, it is clear how Joseph’s gift of faith was and is a necessary component of fatherhood. This perhaps is just one of the reasons the church has recognized “the divine fatherhood as the source of all human fatherhood.” What is the gift of faith except a reflection of our Heavenly Father’s trustworthiness?
Joseph reminds us the call of fatherhood is rooted in deep faith. It is from this measure of faith that a man surrenders to dreams and visions from the Lord and trusts in the divine order of all things. Only a man of deep faith can follow the direction of angels and do all that is necessary to care for both the physical and spiritual needs of his family.
Joseph was called to fatherhood in the same way all men are called, by faith.
As Protector of the Virgin and the Son of God, it’s no wonder many in the church have called him the “Protector of Christ’s Body,” recognizing him as the “Protector of the Universal Church.”
Besides trusting in Joseph’s sure protection, the Church also trusts in his noble example, which transcends all individual states of life and serves as a model for the entire Christian community, whatever the condition and duties of each of its members may be. – Pope John Paul II
Joseph by his faithful obedience becomes the Terror of Demons. Having seen to the flight of the Holy Family from the threat of Herod’s hords, he becomes also the model of fatherhood to the church. Fatherhood is thereby not only provisional but supernatural. It reflects the invisible nature of our Heavenly Father as Protector and Provider and makes visible in the human condition the role of a man as Guardian and Protector.
When we reflect on the fatherhood of Saint Joseph, we begin to see how Fatherhood becomes a type of sacrament whereby the invisible is made visible, not by seed or by blood but by act of faith.
March 19 is the day many in the Roman and Orthodox churches recognize as St. Joseph’s Day. May we take this day as an opportunity to reflect on his fatherhood and allow the Holy Spirit to illumine this Great Man of Faith. Having said so little, he is a perfect example of faith. For faith comes by hearing… (Romans 10:17).