The Bible is full of numerous examples of the importance of paternity in the worldview of human culture in the ancient world and into the modern era. As early as the first few pages of the book of Genesis we see images of paternity in God’s creation of the world and of Adam, and at the end of chapter 2 we get the first instruction on man’s paternal responsibility: “And that is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” (Gn 2, 24).
In chapter 5 of Genesis we see the record of the descendants of Adam, evoking the importance the ancient world placed on paternal lineage, and pre-figuring the genealogy of Jesus recounted in the first Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. “Adam was one hundred and thirty years old when he begot a son in his likeness, after his image, and he named him Seth.” (Gn 5, 3). This wording is identical to that used in describing the creation of man in the likeness and image of God. This connotes a sharing of the power of creation between God, Father and Creator and man, creation and in turn co-creator. St. John Paul II, speaking in one of his Theology of the Body Catechesis sessions, said that “fatherhood is one of the most prominent aspects of humanity in Sacred Scripture,” giving this text as an example.
Adam is the first human father image we are given, and he is at once flawed in his sin of disobedience. This should give us an early warning against the worldly notion of the all-powerful authority figure of a human patriarch: mankind’s fatherhood is subject to flaw and sin, unlike God’s, even though ours is meant to be a reflection “in his likeness and image.” Genesis gives us further genealogies, from Adam to Noah, then from Noah’s son Shem to Abraham. Like most of us, these men have their good points and their failings.
In Abraham we have perhaps the finest Old Testament example of a human father. His faith and obedience to God are clearly shown – and chosen for emphasis – as he is held up in Genesis as a man God attracted (from a family that worshipped other gods) then tested and chose to be the father of an “innumerable race” in which his plan for reconciliation would unfold generations later in the person of Jesus.
Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus in chapter 1 is meant to show us that the Nativity of Jesus is indeed the fulfillment of the promise of God’s salvation in Isaiah 7, 14 and Samuel (2 Sm 7, 12-16). Fatherhood and lineage play a key role in bringing salvation into the world.
St. Joseph is a beloved devotion in our family, and although he is often listed among the “other”
devotions of the Pauline family, we always include him in our prayers right next to Mary. This is a particularly meaningful devotion for us, as St. Joseph is the adoptive father of Jesus. We found him to be a wonderful model and source of inspiration, hope and patience in the early years of consolidating our blended family, where Jim had to assume the role of step-father to adolescent girls. The Bible doesn’t tell us much about the challenges Joseph faced in raising Jesus – except for that little bit about leaving the caravan to go to the temple in Jerusalem without telling his parents – but it has been a great comfort to reflect on Joseph’s abiding trust in Divine Providence when faced with situations where we have felt at our wit’s end, lost and without clear answers. Imagine what Joseph must have been feeling when he could not find a place for his wife to give birth? Or when they fled into Egypt with nothing, just barely escaping Herod’s army of assassins? His trust in God in times of trial can be a great comfort for all men (and women) facing uncertainty and fear.
As human fathers, we sacrifice our own self-interest and ego for the good of our wife, our family and our children, which in turn spreads out into society like ripples on a pond. In doing so, we more closely approach that definition of fatherhood in the image and likeness of God. The Bible is full of good examples, and so-called “good bad examples” to help us discern the better path when we are faced with difficult choices in guiding our families.
May the Divine Master intercede for all fathers that He might grant them the faith, trust and obedience of Abraham and Joseph as they strive to more perfectly reflect the image and likeness of God the Father in their roles in their family, the Church and the world today.
We wish you every blessing this Father’s Day.
Jim & Luisa McMillan
Holy Family Institute
Jim and Luisa McMillan are members of the Holy Family Institute, which they entered in Colombia in 2000. They currently reside in Colorado with their youngest daughter, Maria, where they work as translators and interpreters. Their oldest daughter, Gabriela is married and lives in New York with her husband, Fidel, and their daughter, Emilia. Sara is currently attending graduate school in Michigan.