St. Joseph, the father

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In the first of three guest blog posts about St. Joseph, we read about an often overlooked image of Joseph: as a father.

By guest blogger Kevin Considine

Irish poet Seamus Heaney has a famous poem in which he discusses his feeling of inadequacy toward his father. This is because his father (and grandfather) was a man of the land, a strong man with hard hands who dug and cut peat. Seamus, however, is a monkish poet and writer with soft hands. Heaney likens himself to the 7th century Irish monk St. Kevin. His father is quite the opposite. In his famous poem “Digging,” he concludes: “But I've no spade to follow men like them/Between my finger and my thumb/The squat pen rests/I'll dig with it.” He reconciles to follow his father, but in his own way.

The relationship, good and bad, between fathers and sons is a mystery. It is a powerful and formative relationship, for better and for worse. The absence of a father leaves a gaping hole in a son, one that is often never mended.

Within the communion of saints—that is, those men and women who the church professes have been brought into communion with God and who are great ancestors in our faith—fathers are few and far between. That’s why St. Joseph, the “foster-father” of Jesus, is an important figure. There are very few people who the Church professes as saints who are married. Among these, there are very few who have children. And there are few examples of a father-son relationship.

I realize that most often we honor him as St. Joseph the Worker or as part of the Holy Family. Rarely do we approach St. Joseph, on his own, as a father and even more rarely as a father with an adopted son. It is no secret to anyone that Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus. Yet, for various reasons, he remains with Mary and becomes a foster-father to Jesus. We assume that he raised Jesus as his own son, within the Jewish faith, and picture him teaching Jesus the trade of carpentry. He is providing a father-figure for a boy without a father, so to speak.

Joseph disappears from the Gospels by the time that Jesus begins his ministry. Tradition assumes that he passed away sometime during Jesus’ childhood. This would not have been uncommon in the context of the time. In a manner of speaking, Jesus becomes a child without a father and Mary a single mother.

If we are to take Jesus’ divinity and humanity seriously, the decency, love, and strength of Joseph would be reflected in the man that Jesus became. Jesus the healer, the prophet, the carpenter, the teacher, the Messiah, had a heavenly father and an earthly father. This earthly father, as foster-father, laid a foundation for the man who this strange boy Jesus became. Maybe, like Heaney, Jesus had no spade to follow a man like Joseph. But he started “digging” with what he had been given and in light of his divine identity.

For at least some of that, we have St. Joseph to thank. He provided a father to a father-less boy. And his memory and sainthood is a powerful example of a positive relationship between fathers and sons. On the Feast of All Saints, let us remember St. Joseph: a father.


Kevin Considine is a Ph.D. candidate in theology at Loyola University in Chicago.

For the month of November we're celebrating all the church's saints--both official and unofficial--with blog submissions from readers and contributors on their favorite saints. Send in your own 500-600 word submission to onlineeditor@uscatholic.org.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.