The latest issue of the “Bulletin on the Social Doctrine of the Church”, devoted to St. Joseph, fatherhood, chastity and work in the year dedicated to the reputed father of Jesus and protector of the universal Church, contains, in addition to numerous outstanding works, an excellent article by Prof. José Noriega, former professor at the John Paul II Institute, and editor of The Dictionary on Sex, Love and Fecundity (1,102 pages) published by Cantagalli in 1919. Prof. Noriega’s article is entitled “The father, memories of the goodness of the origin”.
Whether for Freud, Dostoevsky or the 1968 movement, the twentieth century was the century of patricide. For José Noriega, the ailing relationship between father and son provides an opportunity to talk about Saint Joseph and his sanctified fatherhood in order to compare illness and cure. If not quite dead, the 20th century father has nonetheless “become liquid, adaptable, even evanescent, gaseous, to the point of evaporation,” Noriega writes. And along with the father, also goes the son, who remains irresponsible, adolescent, capricious and incapable of building his own life and the life of others. The son will also become a father, but children often ‘delete’ the figure of the father and find themselves unprepared when they grow up and form a family.
“No one is born a father” – argues Noriega – but “becomes one with time”, because without guidance it is impossible to assume “the essential actions and practices of fatherhood”, which are “to generate, to name, to protect, to educate”. On the surface, there is nothing to learn about generating or naming someone. Perhaps it is a little more difficult to educate and protect. But the actions of fatherhood are not as simple or just as challenging as they seem, because God is involved. The father is not asked to just generate: he is asked to contribute to creation, along with God.
Saint Joseph, therefore, is a model of paternity because of his peculiar experience as a parent of Christ, and since it is necessary to add the action of grace to the commitment and good will of man. As with any true theophany, immediately emerging in St. Joseph is the “fear” of the sacred. Joseph, in fact, feared taking Mary as his wife, as we read in the Gospel (Mt 1, 20-21). Noriega explains this fear as an expression of his feeling inadequate for fatherhood. There is also the classical exegesis, according to which Joseph was afraid Mary could be ridiculed or stoned, but sufficient for a discourse on paternity is the argument of personal inadequacy.
It is not really so strange that the twentieth century, the century of mass atheism, has witnessed the eclipse of the father and the family. Man is enlightened by grace. Through grace, the simple formal act of naming a child is transformed and becomes the welcoming of the unborn child into one’s own lineage – explains the author. The same is true for the protection of the son: through grace, a simple intention to preserve the existence of a living being, common even to beasts, becomes the defense of a destiny.
St. Joseph, therefore, had in mind something loftier than mere material custody or guardianship. Along this same line, he educated Jesus not just so he would learn a trade or become a good citizen. The Holy Spirit enlightened his mind and will in a more sublime way, and he went beyond the horizon of worldly mentality to a higher wisdom. Through mysterious ways, Joseph learned that educating is an “educere“, a “drawing out of the child something he has inside”, not something to be inculcated from outside – writes Noriega. By introducing Jesus into religious rites, prayer, and manual labor, Joseph drew the most precious things from the humanity of his son.
Fatherhood cannot be invented or improvised, and, even though very common, it is a special vocation. Many men are parents, but not educators. Many men generate, but only in the flesh, where, on the contrary, what is required is spiritual generation. Noriega senses that the man who generates should not only be concerned with the origin, the birth, but above all with the telos, the purpose for which a child is called into the world. The paternity of Saint Joseph is a model because it is complete, in the sense that it is not confined to procreation, but extends to the entire human story of the Son, as well as that of his wife Mary. It has something similar to a delicate mission, carried out in an excellent way because of the profound humility of this father and the many other gifts of virtue with which he was blessed by God.