Journey With a Father’s Heart – Day 9

Day 9 – A Father in the Shadows

Excerpt from Patris Corde

The Polish writer Jan Dobraczyński, in his book The Shadow of the Father, tells the story of Saint Joseph’s life in the form of a novel. He uses the evocative image of a shadow to define Joseph. In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way. We can think of Moses’ words to Israel: “In the wilderness… you saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as one carries a child, all the way that you travelled” (Deut 1:31). In a similar way, Joseph acted as a father for his whole life.


Being a father entails introducing children to life and reality. Not holding them back, being overprotective or possessive, but rather making them capable of deciding for themselves, enjoying freedom and exploring new possibilities. Perhaps for this reason, Joseph is traditionally called a “most chaste” father. That title is not simply a sign of affection, but the summation of an attitude that is the opposite of possessiveness. Chastity is freedom from possessiveness in every sphere of one’s life. Only when love is chaste, is it truly love. A possessive love ultimately becomes dangerous: it imprisons, constricts and makes for misery. God himself loved humanity with a chaste love; he left us free even to go astray and set ourselves against him. The logic of love is always the logic of freedom, and Joseph knew how to love with extraordinary freedom. He never made himself the centre of things. He did not think of himself, but focused instead on the lives of Mary and Jesus.

Joseph found happiness not in mere self-sacrifice but in self-gift. In him, we never see frustration but only trust. His patient silence was the prelude to concrete expressions of trust. Our world today needs fathers. It has no use for tyrants who would domineer others as a means of compensating for their own needs. It rejects those who confuse authority with authoritarianism, service with servility, discussion with oppression, charity with a welfare mentality, power with destruction. Every true vocation is born of the gift of oneself, which is the fruit of mature sacrifice. The priesthood and consecrated life likewise require this kind of maturity. Whatever our vocation, whether to marriage, celibacy or virginity, our gift of self will not come to fulfilment if it stops at sacrifice; were that the case, instead of becoming a sign of the beauty and joy of love, the gift of self would risk being an expression of unhappiness, sadness and frustration.


Selflessly giving of himself day after day in the hidden shadows of his carpenter’s shop, Joseph did not seek recognition or recompense.  He never held his silent service over Jesus and Mary’s heads, demanding to be valued, while continually reminding the world of all that he did and the little he received in return.  His hidden sacrifices did not lead him to bitterness but blossomed into fruits of love, peace, and joy in that little household in Nazareth.


Saint Joseph was a true representation of the Father’s care for his little family, for his love was not self-serving, but rather a true gift.  As such, it was given in freedom and received in freedom.  It was Joseph’s joy to give of himself to his wife and son, and it was, in turn, their joy to receive his love and love him in return.  True love does not create slavery, but joy.  It is not possessive, but rather unfettered.  It does not bind, but nonetheless unites. 


As we draw to the end of our Journey with a Father’s Heart, let us ask God for the grace to love in the freedom and joy we see reflected in Saint Joseph’s life.  May others never feel constrained by the sacrifices we undertake for them, but rather empowered by a new-found freedom to love.  May we, like Saint Joseph, grow to be so secure in the love of our heavenly Father, that we need not become domineering toward others in an attempt to guarantee the fulfillment of our affective needs.  Let us ask God to release us from the chains that bind us to subtle forms of self-serving love, that we might fly in the shadow of his wings, fully free to love.

Questions for Reflection

  • “Chastity is freedom from possessiveness in every sphere of one’s life.”  How chaste is my love?  Are there any subtle forms of possessiveness in my relationships with others?  In what areas of my life might God be showing me an opportunity to grow in greater freedom to love?
  • “Every true vocation is born of the gift of oneself, which is the fruit of mature sacrifice.”  Is my heart more focused on sacrifice or on gift?  Could I sometimes be at risk of becoming too focused on the sacrifices required by my vocation and falling into the trap of “unhappiness, sadness, and frustration?”  How might I renew the “beauty and joy of love” in the living out of my vocation, discovering the fruitfulness of a love lived in true gift of self?


Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.

Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy, and courage,
and defend us from every evil. Amen.

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