With Father’s Day approaching, the commercial below seems very appropriate. God the Father is surely the origin of all fatherhood here on Earth.
And yet most of us struggle with the fact that God allows bad things to happen. Why does he not intervene more often to protect us from attacks of various sorts and from events that cause sadness, setbacks, or suffering?
While the answer is mysterious, the clearest response is that God allows suffering in order that some greater blessing may occur. To some degree I have found this to be so in my life. Some of my greatest blessings required that a door slam shut or that I endure some suffering. Had my college sweetheart not dumped me, it is not likely that I would be priest today. Had I gotten some of my preferred assignments during my early years as a priest, I would not have been enriched by the assignments I did have. Those assignments helped draw me out and grow me far more than the cozy, familiar places I had wanted. Had I not entered into the crucible of depression and anxiety in my 30s, I would not have learned to trust God as much as I do, and I would have missed learning important lessons about myself and about life.
So despite that fact that we (understandably) fear suffering, for reasons of His own (reasons He knows best), God does allow some degree of it in our lives.
Yet I wonder if we really consider the countless times God did step in to prevent disasters in our life. We tend to focus on the negative things, overlooking an enormous number of often-hidden blessings: every beat of our heart, every proper function of every cell in our body, and all the perfect balances that exist in nature and the cosmos in order to sustain us.
Just consider the simple act of walking and all the missteps we might make each time but do not. Think of all the foolish risks we have taken in our life, especially when we were young, that did not end in catastrophe but surely could have. Think of all the poor choices we have made and yet escaped the worst possible consequences.
Yes, we sometimes wonder why we and others suffer and why God allows it. But do we ever wonder why we don’t suffer? Do we ever think about why and how we have escaped the consequences of some foolish things we have done? In typical human fashion, we minimize our many, many blessings and magnify and resent our sufferings.
One of the expressions I have picked up over the years, and that I use in response to people who ask me how I am doing, is this: “I’m pretty well blessed for a sinner.” I have heard others say, “I am more blessed than I deserve to be.” Yes, pretty well blessed indeed!
I thought of all these things as I watched the commercial below (it aired during the Super Bowl). And while it speaks of the watchfulness of a father, it also makes me think of my guardian angel, who has surely protected me from many disasters.
As you watch the commercial, don’t forget to thank God for the many hidden rescues He has executed for you through your guardian angel. Thank Him, too, for the hidden blessings—blessings you know nothing of—that He bestowed upon you anyway. And finally, think of the wonderful mercy He has often shown in protecting you from the worst of your foolishness.
I remember once being amused to hear that a certain Franciscan Theologian from the 19th Century (whose name I cannot remember) wrote a six volume “Life of St. Joseph.” Six volumes?! How could one possibly get enough material? We know so little of Joseph from the Scriptures. He seems to have been the strong, silent type. Not a word of his is recorded. But his actions have much to say, especially to to men. On this feast of St. Joseph we do well to ponder him as a model for manhood, for husbands and fathers.
A man who obeys God and clings to his wife – Joseph was betrothed to Mary. This is more than being engaged. It means they were actually married. It was the practice at that time for a couple to marry rather young. Once betrothed they lived an additional year in their parents’ household as they became more acquainted and prepared for life together. Now at a certain point it was discovered that Mary was pregnant, though not by Joseph. The Scripture says that Joseph was a “just man.” This is does not mean that Joseph was a fair and nice guy (though I presume he was). What it means was that he was a follower of the Law. He based his life of the Jewish Law that God gave through Moses and as interpreted by the Rabbis. Now the Law said that if a man discovered that a woman to whom he was betrothed was not a virgin, he should divorce her and not “sully” his home. Joseph as a just man, that is a follower of the Law, was prepared to follow its requirements. However, he did not wish to expose Mary to the full force of the law which permitted the stoning of such women. Hence he chose to follow the law by filing the divorce decree but not publicly accusing her. He would remain quiet as to his reason for the divorce and Mary would escape possible stoning. To fail to divorce Mary would expose Joseph to cultural ramifications. Just men just didn’t marry women guilty of fornication or adultery. To ignore this might have harmed not only Joseph’s standing in the community but also that of his family of origin. But you know the rest of the story. Joseph is told in a dream not to fear and that Mary has committed no sin. Matthew records: When Joseph awoke, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matt 1:24). Now a man obeys God even if it not popular, even if he may suffer for it. Joseph is told to cling to his wife. He may suffer for it but he as a man “obeys God rather than men.” It takes a strong man to do this especially when we consider the culture in which Joseph lived, and in a small town, no less. Joseph models strong manhood and has something to say to the men of our day. In the current wedding vows a man agrees to cling to his wife, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or health. This is what a man is to do. Our culture often pressures men to bail out when there is trouble Joseph shows the way by obeying God over the pressures of prevailing culture, even if he will personally suffer for it.
A man whose vocation is more important than his career – In Bethlehem Joseph is warned by an angel in a dream: Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him (Matt 2:13). Joseph may well have had much to lose in this flight. Back in Nazareth he had a business, a career if you will. He had business prospects, business partners and contacts. Fleeing to a distant land might mean others would take his business etc. But Joseph was a father and husband before he was a businessman. His child was threatened and his first obligation was to Jesus and Mary. His vocation outweighed his career. In a culture like ours where too many parents make their careers and livelihoods paramount and their children are too easily placed in day care Joseph displays a different priority. It is true that many parents feel they have no choice but to work. But it is also true that many demand a lifestyle which requires a lot of extra income. Perhaps a smaller house, less amenities etc would permit a daycare free childhood for more of our children. Joseph points the way for parents: vocation has priority over career. For fathers especially Joseph shows that a man is a husband and father before he is a businessman.
A man who protects his family– And for men, Joseph also models a protective instinct that too many men lack today. Our children, like Jesus was, are exposed to many dangers. Our American scene does not feature a lot of physical dangers but moral dangers surely abound. Fathers, what are your children watching on TV? What are their Internet habits? Who are their friends? What do your children think about important moral issues? Are you preparing them to face the moral challenges and temptations of life? Are you teaching them the faith along with your wife? Or are you just a passive father, uninvolved in the raising of your children? A man protects his children from harm, physical, moral and spiritual. Joseph shows forth this aspect of manhood.
A man of work –The Scriptures (Matt 13:55) speak of Joseph as a “carpenter.” The Greek word however is τέκτονος (tekton, os) which can mean more than a worker in wood. It can also refer to a builder or any craftsman. It seems unlikely that Joseph and Jesus would have worked exclusively in wood since wood was more rare in the Holy Land and used more sparingly than in our culture. Stone was surely plentiful and so it may be that Joseph also worked with stone as well as wood in his work. It was and through his work Joseph supported his family. It is the call of a man to work diligently and to responsibly and reliably provide for his family. Joseph models this essential aspect of manhood. Paul felt it necessary to rebuke some of the men of his day for their idleness: In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us….For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ that with quietness they earn the bread they eat. (2 Thess 310-12)
A man who teaches his son– We learn from Scripture that Jesus too was a carpenter (Mk 6:3). It is obvious that it was Joseph who taught this trade to Jesus. Consider the hours each day they spent together as Joseph patiently handed this trade on to Jesus, teaching him of its intricacies, and methods. It is not enough for a father to provide for his children, he must also prepare them for life. He does this through modeling and teaching discipline, moderation, hard works, self-control, and many other life skills. In our times it is more rare for fathers to teach a trade to their sons or other children. But in the end a man prepares his children for life. Joseph models manhood by preparing his Son Jesus for life as a tradesman.
Joseph is a model for manhood. Nothing he ever said was recorded but his life speaks eloquently enough. He is referred to at the Guardian and Patron of the Universal Church. He has these titles for he was guardian, protector and patron(provider) of the Church in the earliest stage, when the Church was just Jesus and Mary. But since the Church is the mystical Body of Christ, in protecting, providing and preparing Jesus he was doing that for us for we are in Christ as members of his body. Men especially do well to imitate St. Joseph and invoke his patronage in all their endeavors as Husbands, Fathers and providers.
To know history is also to become Catholic. We, along with the Orthodox are the only Churches that stretch right back to Christ and the Apostles. The true faith has literally been handed from the apostles to their successors the bishops through the laying on of hands. We have a living Tradition of cherished teachings and memories going back to Chirst himself.
Sadly the upheaval of the 16th century led to the Protestant denominations of today which were largely severed from history and Tradition. Sola Scriptura! (Scripture alone!) the cry went up, as if Scripture could be divorced from the Church, and sacred history that gave it birth. An immense and ahistorical rupture severed many Christians from their sacred inheritance.
Today there are often claims by many in the Protestant denominations that some Catholic teaching or another is either unbiblical or was invented in the Middle Ages or later. But to study history puts the lie to this claim and to read the Fathers of the Church is to enter a very Catholic world. To read the Fathers throws opens a door to the earliest centuries of the Church stretching back to as early as 100 AD a the very close of the Apostolic age. It is almost like a seamless garment. As the last Book of Scripture was being written around 90 AD, the first letters and documents of the Fathers began being circulated among the faithful. They cast light on the earliest history of the Church and we discover that world to be Catholic, a world wherein sacraments are on glorious display along with Scripture, a world where in authority and unity are insisted upon, a world of Bishops, Priests, Deacons and of the Popes. Protestant imaginings of the Church simply do not stand the test of history which testifies overwhelmingly to things Catholic.
Last week we looked at a few of the teachings of St. Ignatius of Antioch. Now we do well to cast our gaze on St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage in North Africa. He was one of the first Fathers to write exclusively in Latin. He was baptized in 245 A.D., martyred in 258 A.D. He was a prolific writer of numerous letters and teastises. Here is just a sampling of his writing that testifies to the Catholicity of his world:
On the Necessity of Holy Communionreceived in s state of grace– As the prayer [Our Father] continues we ask and say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We ask that this bread be given us daily, so that we who are in Christ and daily receive the Eucharist as the food of salvation may not, by falling into some more grievous sin and then, in abstaining from communion, be withheld from the heavenly Bread, and be separated from Christ’s Body…He Himself warns us saying, “Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, You shall not have life in you” (Jn 6:54). (Treatise on the Our Father, 18)
On the Baptism of Infants and the Necessity of Baptism– Our Council [of African Bishops] … all formed the judgement that it is not right to deny the mercy and the grace of God to any one that is born….We must do everything we possibly can to prevent the destruction of any soul….For just as God draws no distinction between persons, so neither does He between ages, but shows Himself Father equally to all….it is our view that it is to be observed most particularly in the case of newborn infants; they have all the more claim upon our assistance and God’s mercy for the reason that, right from the very first moment they are born, in their crying and wailing they are doing nothing else but imploring our help. (Letter 64 to Fidus, 2,3,5).
On the Effects of His Own Baptism– When the stain of my past life had been washed away by means of the water of rebirth, a light from above poured itself upon my chastened and now pure heart; Afterwards, through the Spirit which is breathed from heaven, a second birth made of me a new man: doubts immediately clarified themselves, the closed opened, the darkness became illuminated, what before had seemed difficult offered a way of accomplishment, what had been thought impossible was able to be done….What was born of the flesh…had now begun to be of God, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit was animating it. (Letter to Donatus, 4)
On Those Who Break Away from the Catholic Church and try to form other Churches– If someone does not hold to this unity of the Church can he imagine that he still holds the faith?…He cannot have God for his Father who does not have the Church for his mother. If anyone outside the ark of Noah was able to escape, then perhaps someone outside the pale of the Church may escape….Does anyone believe that in the Church this unity….can be divided and can be separated by the parting asunder of opposing wills? Whoever holds not fast to this unity holds not to the law of God…. . he who gathereth elsewhere than in the Church scatters the Church of Christ” nor is there any other home to believers but the one Church” (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4,6, 9)
On the Authority and Primacy of the Pope – The Lord says to Peter: I say to you, you are rock and upon this rock I will build my Church… (Mt 16:18). It is on one man that He builds the Church and although he assigns like powers to all the apostles after His resurrection ….nevertheless, in order that unity might be clearly shown, He established by His own authority a source for that unity which takes its beginning from one man alone. A primacy is given to Peter whereby it is clear that there is but one Church and one chair (“The Unity of the Catholic Church,” 4)…..There is one God, and one Christ, and one Church and one chair founded on Peter by the word of the Lord. It is not possible to set up another altar or for there to be another priesthood besides that one altar and that one priesthood. Whoever has gathered elsewhere is scattering. (“Letter of Cyprian to All His People,” 43)
On the Confession of Sins to Priests – Finally, of how much greater faith and more saving fear are those who…confess to the priests of God in a straightforward manner and in sorrow, making an open declaration of conscience. Thus they remove the weight from their souls and seek the saving remedy for their wounds, however small and slight they be…I beseech you, brethren, let everyone who has sinned, confess his sin while he is still in the world, while his confession is still admissible, while satisfaction and remission made through the priests are pleasing before the Lord. (“The Lapsed,” 28).