August 15, 2021 - Pastor Message10/20/2021
THE YEAR OF ST. JOSEPH PRIESTHOOD (cont.)
“I am writing you this not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Therefore, I urge you, be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:14-16).
We continue our reflection on St. Joseph as a model for priests today by reflecting on the meaning of spiritual fatherhood. As mentioned last week, though Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father, he was father to Jesus in every other way. Above all, he was Jesus’ spiritual father, welcoming him into the community of the People of God and raising him in the faith. Jesus’ understanding of God as Father no doubt came from his image of fatherhood as provided by Joseph. It may be scandalous to some to think that Jesus had to learn to call God his Father, but our faith teaches us that Jesus was like us in all ways but sin, which includes having to learn things, as we read in Luke 2:52 in reference to the boy Jesus: “And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.” Like any good Jewish father, Joseph would have taught Jesus the faith, and, even more than other fathers, witnessed to it by his self-sacrificing love for Jesus and Mary.
It is that image of fatherhood that is, or at least should be, reflected in the spiritual fatherhood of ordained priests. Priests exercise their spiritual fatherhood through teaching, leading, and sanctifying the people whom they are called to serve. Like Joseph, priests teach their spiritual children, whether parishioners, students, members of groups for which they are chaplains, or whomever, the faith. Through preaching, religious education, RCIA, adult faith formation initiatives, retreats, and many other ways, priests teach their people what a saving relationship with God through Christ looks like and encourage them, by word and example, to live it.
Priests also lead their people closer to Christ through their administrative efforts. Like Joseph of old, God made St. Joseph “lord of his household and ruler of all he possessed” (Psalm 105:21), caring for the needs of the Holy Family. God also calls priests to care for the needs of their spiritual families by managing the resources entrusted to them. This is not a leadership of domination, but one of self-giving service:
“Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave” (Matthew 20:26-27). Priests are not the masters of their communities but their servants, and that servant leadership is exactly what they can learn from Joseph.
Finally, priests sanctify God’s people, just like Joseph did with Jesus, making sure the Holy Family observed the prescribed religious rites, offering the necessary sacrifices and pilgrimages, participating in synagogue services, and praying. Priests follow his example by leading the people in prayer and worship, ensuring they celebrate the prescribed rites, offering the sacrifice of the Eucharist, and teaching them to pray in their personal lives.
By teaching, leading, and sanctifying their spiritual family, priests walk in the footsteps of St. Joseph, who taught, led, and sanctified the Holy Family. May his example inspire and instruct our priests in their fatherhood, and may his prayers empower them with the grace they need to faithfully carry out the service they are called to for all God’s children.
Fr. Marc Stockton