Facing the growing trend of Cancel Culture, our Faith stands to show us the importance of history and tradition for the present and the future. As I walked along the hills of Callas in France, I discussed the value of simply taking care of the cemetery with Bishop Dominique Rey. His Excellency stated that seeing how people lack the care of their family tombs shows a detachment from their roots which ultimately brings about their own demise. This diocese is engaged in such culture wars by promoting life and family. Among the practical works which the Bishop promotes is the weekly celebration of votive Requiem Masses on Wednesdays, along with a blessing of the cemetery. Respect for our dead is paradoxically respect for life, and this is so because Christian cemeteries are not necropoli (“cities of the dead”) but “resting places” where bodies await the final reunion with their souls.
The value of life is further understood through the value of the family and the role of the father and the mother in transmitting life. After all, the transmission of life and culture is the meaning of tradition, as we consider how the word tradition is linked to the Latin verb “tradere,” to transmit. In the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, the mystical-like sanctuary of Saint Joseph of Bessillon in Cotignac stands among the rolling hills of Provence, almost like a bird’s nest in the woods, a reminder to us of the importance of fatherhood.
This place of prayer and recollection was created because of an important apparition of the Patron of the Universal Church. On June 7, 1660, Gaspard Ricard, a young shepherd, was thirsty while praying on Mount Bessillon, and “a man of imposing stature” appeared to him. Using the Provencal dialect, he said: “I am Joseph. Lift this boulder, and you can drink.” Immediately Gaspard obeyed. Moving a heavy boulder that was close to him, he discovered a spring that quenched his thirst. Later, eight men could barely be able to move the same boulder easily raised by the pious shepherd boy.
On January 31st, 1661, the then-bishop of Fréjus, Msgr. Joseph Ondedei, authenticated the apparition and entrusted the sanctuary to the priests of the oratory.
From the content of the story we can draw some important reflections regarding the fatherhood of St. Joseph and specifically how St. Joseph helps us to be fathers.
In this apparition, St. Joseph, Father of the Holy Family, shows his paternity mainly in one way: by instilling strength. In fact, he gives Gaspard the strength to lift the boulder to drink and quench his thirst. This is basically the mission of the father: to instil strength.
The strong give order, peace, and courage, and help others to complete their works. However, this force must not be violent or coercive. It must be a Christian strength, i.e. fortitude. It must be a gentle, peaceful force. Too often today strength is confused with violence, with vehemence and belligerence. Rather than belligerence, which literally seeks out a fight, we must be militant, the Church teaches. In fact, external violence and belligerence often denotes internal fragility. Those who are strong always try to maintain peace and calm and do not let themselves be upset by difficulties. It can be said that strength contains within itself the following traits: maturity, calmness, reasoning, patience, courage, self-control. And all of these are fundamental qualities for being good fathers.
Why is it difficult today to find men who are fathers? We said that strength is a fundamental virtue for practicing fatherhood, but it is effective if it relies on another virtue: hope. In fact, if there is no hope of achieving any goal, there is no strength. It is hope that sets man in motion because it directs him to his own end. The man who hopes has the certainty of achieving what he is aiming for, and it is this certainty that invigorates his heart.
But hope seems to be of no interest in today’s atheistic society. Indeed, it seems that everything is done so that we no longer think of a future good, but, by increasingly chaining man, this society of consumption deludes him into believing that if he does not find something here and now (“hic et nunc”) he cannot be happy. In this way, man remains caged in the world and in its problems since he no longer has a Being who transcends him to whom he can turn. Modern man remains a prisoner, no longer going beyond what he sees, no longer thinking of a possibility of reaching true peace, true joy, a true satisfaction that can only be found in God.
Saint Francis was correct in advising his friars to live as “pilgrims and strangers in this world.” It is very much in line with what St. Paul wrote as well: “For our citizenship is in heaven…” (Philippians 3:20). If we establish ourselves in the world and place our security in it, then with it we are destined to perish; if, instead, we are passing through, this means that our home is somewhere else. It means that we have founded our home on the rock, and this rock is God Himself. Does this mean that what we do here has no meaning? The paradox is that what we do here does have meaning because it is the beginning of eternal life. It is part of it. For this reason, Faith is the foundation of Hope in the fruits of eternal life, and we live out this Faith in the Charity of Christ, grafted onto Our Lord in the Holy Spirit and the living Mystical Body, the Church. From now on, man is called to dwell in Him. In fact, in Him we can truly be who we are. While begging that Christ perfect him with martyrdom, Saint Ignatius Martyr said: “Let me receive pure light! I will be a man there…,” showing how it is in Him that a father is truly a father.
By removing the ultimate goal of man, which is God, the world has also removed hope, and eliminating hope it has deprived man of the strength necessary to react to difficulties. Hope, after all, is the foundation of courage and strength. One grows in courage knowing that someone or something outside of himself is there to protect him. For example, a man jumping out of a plane is courageous because he trusts and hopes that his parachute will open. Similarly, a man who knows by Faith (and trust) in God that his Father is there for him will certainly take more risks and have more hope in the future than a man who does not have such a Father figure.
While the world offers us death, hope instead directs us towards immortality; the world deludes itself with happiness, with hope instead we have the certainty that, if we obey Him, God will not deny it. If today it is difficult to find a father who truly embodies the qualities of a father, it is because the world has deprived us of Our Father who is in heaven.
Today, St. Joseph is more necessary than ever. In fact, he appears to Gaspard as an “imposing figure,” symbolizing the omnipotence of God the Father. This is precisely his mission: to reflect the fatherhood of God.
St. Joseph was an excellent father because he always tried to resemble God the Father, living an intimate union with his Will. It is this turning to the Father and His will which saves man. When we turn away from the Father, then do we falter. As Our Lord did His Father’s will so must we follow such an example.
St. Joseph expected everything of God and asked everything of Him, promptly obeyed Him, without investigating the designs that God had for him. Furthermore, St. Joseph was an excellent father because he was in close, indeed very close, contact with the Son, Jesus, who allowed him to exercise his paternity, giving him all the love he was capable of, teaching him to walk, to work, indulging Him in his Will to humble himself. This Great Saint, therefore, wants to tell us that if we really want to be authentic fathers we must let ourselves be taught by God Himself, hoping and trusting in Him alone.