In realizing his plan of salvation for mankind, God did not need Joseph’s help in “making” the baby Jesus. Nevertheless, God decided that Joseph’s help was needed in “raising” the Christ Child. On Sunday’s feast of the Holy Family, we do well to remind ourselves that children are – as it were – “hardwired” to be best raised by a father and a mother. Joseph, the most chaste spouse of the Virgin Mary, played an indispensable role in the life of Jesus as his foster father. He was not an absent or an indifferent parent. Indeed to him was entrusted the safety and well-being of both Mary and Jesus. We see this in the episode of the flight into Egypt. We sense this in the account of the boy Jesus lost and then found teaching in the temple precincts of Jerusalem. That Joseph played a crucial role in the life of Jesus before his public ministry can be inferred from the fact that to his countrymen Jesus was understood to be “the carpenter’s son”.
Today, many have tried to “redefine” the family – and in doing so they downplay the importance of the male figure in the home or pretend that the respective roles of husband and wife, father and mother are somehow interchangeable. Whether in an attempt to justify same sex couples or to promote the raising of children without the benefit of the committed relationship called marriage, many in our contemporary society promote a flawed anthropology – an incomplete understanding of the human person – that ignores the ways in which the presence of a father and a mother enhance the well-being of children.
As research conducted by Patrick Fagan of the Heritage Foundation has conclusively proved, “children born out of wedlock or whose parents divorce are much more likely to experience poverty, abuse, and behavioral and emotional problems, have lower academic achievement and use drugs more often. Single mothers are much more likely to be victims of domestic violence…” For children whose parents remain married however the benefits are real: they do better in school, they are healthier and less depressed with less developmental problems.
While in our society the importance of a mother’s love has been widely accepted, the positive influence of a father’s love is often underplayed. Yet, many resent studies in the field of family life indicate that the father’s influence is as great as and sometimes greater in a child’s development than the mother’s.
Today our families have been weakened by a contraceptive mentality and the acceptance of easy divorce. Ideological understandings of the role of men and women in society have undermined the solidarity that should enable collaboration between husbands and wives and protect the dignity of both. In the face of these threats, the Holy Family of Nazareth stands as an icon of what the family should be, and what the family can be when filled with grace.
In Joseph and Mary and the child Jesus, we see reflected what God’s plan for family looks like when unmarred by sin. May the prayers and the example of Jesus’ parents strengthen parents today as they seek to raise their children according to God’s will. God wanted the best for his Son so he provided that Mary be married to Joseph, for marriage alone secures the commitment of parents to one another and to their children. It was true then, it is true today: every child needs a father; every child deserves a father – or a foster father like Joseph.