For fathers best looking for parenting inspiration, they need look no further than the holiest of parents, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.
I get raised eyebrows when I say that men should imitate the Blessed Mother. However, that’s exactly what they not only should do, but must do if they want to become the best disciples of Christ.
Let me explain.
The Catholic Church teaches that Mary is the first and most perfect disciple of Christ. When the Angel Gabriel appeared to her and issued God’s request that she become the Mother of God, Mary immediately gave her “yes,” or her “fiat.” She never revoked it, even when times got tough for her and her family. Giving our unconditional “yes” to God’s will isn’t a “woman” thing; it’s a Christian thing.
Blessed John Paul II wrote about this in his 1987 encyclical Redemptoris Mater (“Mother of the Redeemer”):
“Mary continued to hear and ponder; she grew in knowledge of her spiritual motherhood. Thus in a sense Mary as Mother became the first ‘disciple’ of her Son, the first to whom he seemed to say: ‘Follow me,’ even before he addressed this call to the Apostles or to anyone else” (cf. Jn 1:43).
The “‘handmaid of the Lord’ remained throughout her earthly life faithful to what this name expresses. In this she confirmed that she was a true ‘disciple’ of Christ, who strongly emphasized that his mission was one of service: the Son of Man ‘came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mt 20:28). In this way Mary became the first of those who, ‘serving Christ also in others, with humility and patience lead their brothers and sisters to that King whom to serve is to reign.’”
Christ says, “Follow me,” to all of us — men and women alike.
At the Annunciation, Mary called herself the “handmaid” of the Lord. A handmaid is an indentured servant, someone conscripted to serve another. In Mary’s case, the “another” is God himself, and we are all called to serve God as Mary did. The male equivalent to handmaid is manservant.
In addition to her discipleship, Mary had many qualities that are not uniquely feminine: courage, strength, endurance, trust, patience and obedience.
Men can be obedient, too, without it weakening or feminizing them one bit. Being obedient to God (or to any rightful authority) takes gumption and resolve, because in order to obey someone else, we have to first conquer our own willfulness and inclinations.
This is true also for trust. Before we can fully trust God, we have to conquer our pride, fears and self-centeredness. That’s not easy for any of us, regardless of gender. Yet, Mary was able to do it.
Trust in God
Not to be forgotten, too, is St. Joseph and his beautiful example of trust in the Lord. An upright man, St. Joseph is the patron saint of fathers and fatherhood.
As the foster father of Jesus, Joseph’s “yes” to the Lord was not far behind Mary’s. After Mary, his betrothed, told him she was with child, Joseph must have been confused and hurt at the thought of her being unfaithful to him.
But at what must have been the height of despair, Joseph chose trust over anger.
When the Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and explained to him that Mary had conceived a child through the Holy Spirit and that he should not be afraid to take her into his home, Joseph could have been even more confused and fearful. Instead, he “awoke (and) did as the angel of the Lord commanded” (Mt 1:24).
Joseph responded three times with this trust in the Lord. And because of this, Joseph gives fathers a road map of how they should respond, even when it seems that what God is asking does not make sense.
Model of protection
In addition to his example of faith, St. Joseph is everything a Catholic father aims to be: a hard worker, a loving family man and a protector of his family.
As Pope Francis said in the homily during his installation Mass on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph:
“Joseph is a ‘protector’ because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will, and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically; he is in touch with his surroundings; he can make truly wise decisions. In him ... we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ.”
So when striving to be better fathers, men have only to look to the example of the matriarch and patriarch of the Holy Family. In Mary and Joseph, we find the foremost faithful disciples of Christ, and that’s a vital and worthy goal for all of us.
Marge Fenelon is the author of Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom (Catholicmom.Com Books)">“Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom” (Ave Maria, $14.95).