“Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.”

The angel’s message could have just as easily gone:

“Joseph, Son of David — do not be afraid to be a father.

In accepting his spouse, Joseph was accepting fatherhood. He was invited to take up an unthinkable role — the humbling and privileged vocation to be the foster-father of God-in-the-flesh.

No wonder he might have felt the pang of fear! Joseph was accepting a monumental responsibility and gift from God.

And so the angel’s words are words of encouragement: “Don’t be afraid to take Mary to be your wife. Don’t be afraid to be a father.”

There is a deep fear of fatherhood today.

Husbands, priests, bishops, and everyone in between — we are so often afraid to live up to what is demanded of us to truly be fathers. It’s just like Saint Paul once lamented: “Though you have countless guides, you do not have many fathers.”

Why is that?

First: We are afraid of responsibility. Why? Because we’re afraid we might screw up. We’re not humble! We’re so proud that we can’t stand the thought of not following through on our commitments. So what do we do? We shirk commitment. We avoid responsibility.

Second: We are afraid of service. Why? Because it demands that we give  totally of ourselves, and lay down our lives for others. It requires putting to death all our selfishness and admitting that we’re weak. That we’re poor. That we really do depend on God for everything. That we don’t have all the answers.

Third: We are afraid of intimacy. Why? Because we don’t want to risk getting hurt. 

We hold the people in our lives at arms length, we keep things superficial — even within our marriages, our families, our relationships with sons and daughters. It’s much simpler if there isn’t any real sharing of hearts. It’s safer if we keep everything surface deep. Sports scores, finances, tv shows, hobbies, what’s for dinner…

Let’s face it:

It’s so much easier and a lot less scary to shirk our responsibilities, to seek comfort and convenience, to go through life immature in faith, immature in prayer, immature in virtue.

Fatherhood is under attack.

When we say things like that in Church — that fatherhood is under attack, or the family is under attack, or the human person is under attack — we tend only to point our fingers at external forces: the wider culture, politics, the media, the secular materialist worldview. We like to find some external cause for our dysfunction and just blame that stuff. 

And to be sure — there are so many destructive pressures weighing down on men today. The world thinks that masculinity needs to be squashed and suppressed if women are ever truly going to be respected. Fatherhood itself is being systematically eliminated from the modern imagination. 

I heard recently that a group of hospitals in England voted to eliminate the word “father” from all their official paperwork — replacing the word instead with “parent” or “co-parent” or “second biological parent.”

So yes: Obviously there are external destructive forces dismantling the very concept of fatherhood, and filling young men with fear.

But this afternoon, on this beautiful solemnity of St Joseph in the Year of St Joseph, I’d like to point out something even more important: 

Fatherhood is under attack in YOUR heart.

That’s where the battle is ultimately won or lost: Within your own soul.

It really doesn’t matter much what the world says about fatherhood. It doesn’t matter what politicians or celebrities say about masculinity or gender. Those sorts of voices are becoming more and more incoherent and patently absurd. We need to ignore them entirely. And when we do, we will be so much happier and freer.

But we cannot afford to ignore the interior Voice of the Holy Spirit prompting us to give our whole lives, our whole strength, our whole being over to the Father of mercies, and to affirm the true fatherhood that God wants to establish within our families and within the Church.

Jesus came to save us — yes! — but what IS salvation but access to the Father? Christ came to reveal the perfect Fatherhood of God and to reconcile us with that same Father.

He tells us: “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” 

Our greatest enemy, Satan, hates God the Father, and so he hates the fatherhood God wants to create in you through Jesus Christ. Your deepest identity is under attack. The Devil wants you to be wishy-washy, lazy, and most paralyzing of all — afraid.

Jesus our captain and our king is like Aragorn at the Black Gates of Mordor rallying us — He cries out to YOU:

“Sons of God! My brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. 

A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship — BUT IT IS NOT THIS DAY. 

An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight! 

By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!

So let it be said again: 

Do not be afraid to be a father!

Don’t be afraid to be a man!

St. Josemaría Escrivá put it this way:

Be firm. Be virile. Be a man. And then… be a saint.

And ladies — don’t worry, I’m not forgetting you. This homily is not just for the men here. Because guess what? Your hearts ought to be on fire with this truth as well. It’s what you were created to be attracted to. The masculine virtues of St. Joseph Terror of Demons is a shining model for what the men in YOUR life can and must become if they want to be fully alive and most fully themselves. 

Don’t settle for the version of manhood the world serves you today — as if there is intrinsic competition between women and men. As if you have to become more like a man in order to have value and usefulness. That’s all sad nonsense and you deserve better.

You deserve authentic fatherhood. And that means total commitment — the constant willingness to be present, to offer guidance, to encourage and build up, to form and to lead through humility and service. The tenderness and support of a good father is unmatched. It’s irreplaceable. It’s what we all crave. It’s what we’re made for.

And thankfully — That’s who God is.

We heard in our scriptures today these beautiful words of promise:

“I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.”

These words aren’t simply a prophecy pointing ahead to Jesus, the Son of God, coming and dwelling among us. It’s also a firm, beautiful profession that by the gift of our baptism, God has definitively made us His family. The Lord kept His promise.

God certainly isn’t afraid to be a Father.