Giving Good Things

If you then, being evil,

know how to give good gifts to your children:

how much more will your Father, who is in heaven,

give good things to them that ask him?

Matthew 7:11

St. Paul tells us that “all paternity in heaven and earth is named” after “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 3:15).

For us earthly fathers, this is a tough act to follow. In comparison with his heavenly Father, Christ made no scruple of referring to the rest of us copycats as “evil.”

Was our Lord a man-basher avant la letter? That he was not appears from his paradoxical claim that “evil” fathers “know how to give good gifts to [their] children.”

As St. Thomas Aquinas observes, every human being is blessed with an innate inclination to promote “the union of male and female, and the education of children.” When we listen to our nature, and through it to the voice of our Creator, we “know how to give good gifts to [our] children.”

Sadly, earthly fathers (and mothers) are subject to disordered passions and habits, overlaying and interfering with the light of reason. Not to mention the influence of “political correctness”!

If we wish to do the good that we desire, then, we are in need of aid from a Father incapable of evil, and ready to deliver us from it—if only we ask.

Of all earthly fathers, there is none greater than St. Joseph, whom Christ chose as his father on earth. No one better illustrates the formula for fatherly success in the face of evil and the challenges it poses to our humanity.

Faced with a sinless bride “found with child, by the Holy Ghost,” Joseph was perplexed. “Being a just man,” he knew his own capacity for evil, and could not assume the spotless Lamb of God meant to have him as a father. Therefore, he was “minded to put [Mary] away privately,” knowing that God would protect her or designate someone worthy to do so (Mt. 1:18-19).

Being also a magnanimous man, Joseph was by no means unwilling to do whatever the Lord commanded, knowing well that with God man can do all things (Phil. 4:13). So Joseph turned to the Lord for counsel, and received his fatherly commission.

What kind of prayer did Joseph offer here? It was no passive surrender, but rather a manly devotion of his highest faculties to the service of God.

Matthew tells us that Joseph received an answer “in his sleep,” after “he thought on these things” (1:20). As Devin Schadt notes in his illuminating study of Christian manhood, the Greek enthyméomai is a visceral term, signifying a protracted application of thymos, that power by which we strive to overcome evil in defense of the good.

St. Joseph was a wrestler of the soul, setting himself relentlessly against all evil, whether in the desires of his own heart, the deceits of the devil, or the wiles the world.

It was his willingness to resist evil with all his might, in order to know and do what was good for God’s Son (and Mother), and his faith that God would make him capable of doing so, that made St. Joseph, after the heavenly Father, a father whom we may all celebrate today, and to whom the fathers among us can turn for example and guidance.

Joseph Most Prudent, pray for us!

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