"Big Four" Highlights


Four Steps to St. Joseph

Like every good dad, he showed up, stepped up

By Bill Dodds

It’s a good thing actions speak louder than words, because the Gospels don’t give St. Joseph a single line of dialogue.

But look at what he did. And what he continues to do as Patron of the Universal Church and of Fathers! As we mark the feast day of St. Joseph (March 19), let us reflect on what he means for us today, as husbands and fathers.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear that “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife” (Mt 1:24).

As Pope Francis said at the beginning of his pontificate: "These words already point to the mission which God entrusts to Joseph. He is to be the custos, the protector. How does Joseph exercise his role? Discreetly, humbly, and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand or to carry out what God is asking of him."

We may think that what he did then doesn’t apply to 21st-century dads, but he is still our model. He showed up. He stepped up. He was there. He took action. He did these things for his wife, for his foster son, for his Holy Family. That type of man is needed in every generation, in every era, no matter how “modern.”

As you may know, only Matthew and Luke write about St. Joseph.

Matthew speaks of Joseph as “a righteous man” who is visited by an angel in three dreams. He’s told to stay with Mary despite her troubling pregnancy (1:16, 18-25). He’s warned of Herod’s plan to kill their little boy and to flee with his family to Egypt (2:13-15). An angel gives him the news that Herod has died and it’s safe for them to return to Nazareth (2:19-23).

Luke writes about his choosing to stay with Mary (1:16-25); his taking Mary to Bethlehem and Jesus’ birth there (2:1-19); and 12-year-old Jesus remaining in the temple (2:41-51).

We’re so familiar with those episodes that we can forget their significance. What if Joseph hadn’t been there? What if he had chosen not to become or remain part of the Holy Family? He had free will. As with all of us, Joseph didn’t know how his story would end. Yet like a good dad, like a supportive husband, he took each twist and turn, each challenge and hardship, as it came.

Each time he showed up and stepped up.

Fathers, let’s face it. Most often others don’t know all you do to support your precious family. To keep them safe, sheltered, fed, clothed. To help them be happy, healthy, and holy.

Yet in our own time, unfortunately, it’s not unusual for a father to “disappear.” Sometimes his absence is literal. In some cases, a divorce can mean he lives apart and seldom sees his children.

Other times, even with all members living under the same roof, he’s emotionally absent. His wife and children take a back seat to what he wants and when he wants it. He considers his family not a blessing but a burden. He and his wife become strangers. He’s unknown to his children though they see him regularly. Legally, he’s a husband. Biologically, he’s a father. But something more important is missing. He’s there, but he’s distant.

Let us as dads not fall into either category of absence or distance. St. Joseph can be our model, our inspiration, and our intercessor, even (or especially) in the most difficult situations we may face in our life as a father.

We can call these four principles our St. Joseph Show Up and Step Up Plan:

1. Set an example, day by day, of being a dad who is there and does what the vocation of fatherhood calls him to do. Others are watching, especially your children. So, too, are future dads, new dads, and dads who are struggling with their role as a father.

2. Let the joy of fatherhood show! Yes, at times it’s hard, even brutal to be a father in today’s culture. But what a gift from God it is to have a child in your arms or under your roof! It takes patience, hard work, persistence, creativity, and a solid sense of humor. Who doesn’t want more of all those virtues? And how do we grow in each? By practicing them, by acting in behalf of the ones who depend on us, day by day.

3. Share a bit of your fatherhood beyond your own children, with kids who don’t have that presence in their own lives. Welcome your children’s friends for a family meal or outing. Be a coach, a mentor, a youth group volunteer, or just simply being a nice guy—the good dad, a model of true fatherhood—on the block or in the parish.

4. Remember that as he did with St. Joseph, God is calling you and me to be a father of “unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand.”

Bill Dodds and his late wife, Monica, founded the Friends of St. John the Caregiver, an international Catholic organization that promotes care for family caregivers. His novels include Mildred Nudge: A Widower’s Tale and, for children, My Great-grandfather Turns 12 Today.

Editor’s Note:
(The Holy Family image on this page shows an etching by Giovanni Balestra (d. 1842), based on a painting by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato (d. 1685). The original etching is housed at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome, and is the selected image for the Knights of Columbus Holy Family Prayer Program being conducted by councils throughout the world, 2015-16.)