The Builder: St. Joseph and the Long Lost Arts of Fatherhood, Manliness

Joseph Serwach

Why form a family? Why build something of your own? The first shall be last The Holy Family sculpture in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Photo by Joseph Serwach.

Why form a household? The amazing Holy Family sculpture created by South Carolina artist Wayne Edwards shows the story of family and fatherhood.

You first see the father, St. Joseph, towering over his little family (and our own) from a distance. Growing closer, you sense the devotion of his teenage wife Mary lovingly looking up to Heaven (but also to Joseph). Both completely trust God’s Plan.

Less is more. As you look closer at Mary, you finally spot baby Jesus, who is sleeping peacefully, knowing He’s in their care.

That is the Holy Family's essence: mother, father, and child — three very different people with very different roles coming together to form something bigger than themselves.

Mary and Joseph knew from the angels they had a higher mission, a greater purpose.

The inscription below the statue explains the Holy Family is “The everlasting symbol of love.”

Like the Trinity itself, the family and its members are three — and one:

  • Joseph, “the model for all mankind, father, and protector of the family, faith, and truth.”
  • Mary, “the loving and sacrificing mother.”
  • Jesus, “the Holy Child who shared Divinity and Humanity, who would offer salvation to the world.”
  • The hope of Family itself. “Sharing their example will bring us happiness and eternal peace. Let us pray for their guidance in all we do.”

Throughout the Year of St. Joseph, a time when families are under fire and when single-parent families are at record numbers, the Church calls to its human father figure, the man who raised Jesus, for guidance.

Bishop Thomas Olmstead, the founder of the Church’s “Into the Breach” movement, teaches that all men are called to either be fathers or “father figures” to someone or some group of people they mentor and guide.

Why St. Joseph is the builder of our church — and our family

Why does this Joseph statue show a father much larger than his wife and baby? The name Joseph means “to Increase,” the core of St. Joseph’s mission. This sculpture stands at the Holy Family Catholic Church campus entrance in Hilton Head Island, S.C.

The sculpture at Holy Family Catholic Church in Hilton Head Island, S.C., is at the epicenter of one of the fastest-growing Catholic communities in America. South Carolina was the least Catholic population state in America when St. John Paul the Great came to visit in 1987. Numbers then skyrocketed.

The Builder? St. Joseph — a simple craftsman and layman rather than a scholar or clergyman — is the patron and protector of the Church, workers, the family, and fatherhood because he built things. And people too.

Joseph was called to marry and protect Mary (the ultimate matronly example of matrimony) and raise, guide, and shape Jesus, particularly his humanity.

St. Joseph is the patron of fatherhood, and becoming a father (or mother, a priest or nun) is a vocation. You don’t necessarily “decide” your vocation as much as you are “called to do it.”

Similarly, the Holy Father chooses a new name when he becomes pope because his previous life is over: He is now the earthly father to the church family.

The “go-to” saint: “Go to St. Joseph”

Catholics don’t worship saints or statues, but we do go to them as we go to our dearest friends, loved ones, and trusted advisors here on earth. We know certain people seem to be more expert when we need help — and prayer.

For centuries, Catholics in need have been told to “Go to Joseph” to get an answer. St. Teresa of Ávila was healed at age 26 after praying for Joseph’s intercession.

“I do not remember once having asked anything of him that was not granted,’’ St. Teresa said. “God seems to have given other saints power to help us in particular circumstances, but I know from experience that this glorious St. Joseph helps in each and every need.”

Prayerful people, she said, “should love him like a father.”

Why he said “Be Not Afraid” — What St. John Paul the Great taught a Swiss Guard about fatherhood and being a man

“You must be a new one,” St. John Paul the Great said, smiling when he first spotted Mario Enzler in his Swiss Guard uniform. “Well, Mario, thank you for coming to serve he who serves.”

Enzler spent 40 months serving John Paul as one of his Swiss Guard, learning firsthand why the Polish people look to St. Joseph as a father figure and protector. John Paul similarly became a holy “father figure” to Enzler.

He remembers standing guard as John Paul told his trusted secretary, Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, about a dream where John Paul’s guardian angel told him he must change the way he was leading the church, adding, “I must lead with suffering so the world will see a higher gospel of suffering to prepare us.”

In 1992, John Paul had a large tumor the size of a Clementine orange removed from his colon. Difficult falls and complications from Parkinson’s disease followed. Enzler stood nearby when a butler slammed a car door on three of John Paul’s fingers, and rather than crying out in pain or yelling in anger, the saint bent his head down, closed his eyes, and prayed.

Enzler recalls, “They shot the guy, and he did not give up. In 2005, he was not afraid to show weakness, to go out and try to say a word to the people when only saliva came out. What a man!”

Like St. Joseph himself, John Paul was the leader of his earthly family (the Church), a saint who fell in love with Mary, always turning to her in need. John Paul kept repeating Totus Tuus (Totally Yours) to Mary when he was shot in 1981 and called the Rosary his favorite prayer.

Like the silent Joseph (we read none of Joseph’s words in the Bible), John Paul could move another person by saying nothing, just staring at them briefly with his intense large blue eyes.

Once John Paul looked at Enzler then reached into his pocket to give away the Rosary beads he carried: “Take my beads and make them the most powerful weapon you ever used. Welcome to manhood. A man always calls on Mary. Call on Mary.”

Summing up the theology of John Paul, Enzler once asked him why he shaped his pontificate around the words “Be Not Afraid,” and John Paul offered a powerful reason why: “You can never be afraid because God is always one day ahead of you.”

JMJ: Four guides for forming your family — the first shall be last?

For centuries, nearly all Catholics (including the saints) added three letters to the bottom of every page they wrote, “JMJ” for “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”

The first shall be last? The carpenter’s son? Yes, Jesus is first (and everything), followed by Holy Mary (full of grace, free of sin), followed by Joseph. Joseph is third in holiness yet also the Holy Family's undisputed head, the icon of humanity, the teacher showing his son how to be a man, father, and worker.

The world constantly tries to distort that three-in-one story, minimizing Mary, making Joseph invisible, and relegating Jesus to the role of “kind teacher.” Our world routinely removes or mocks Joseph and other fathers and father figures from our stories, downplaying Mary and motherhood as well.

“There is a certain patricide in the world and even in the Church,” Father Donald Calloway said at a March 19 Feast of St. Joseph conference.

Calloway’s book on consecration to St. Joseph has become a Catholic “must-read” and helped spur Pope Francis to establish the first Year of St. Joseph.

Enzler offers four guidelines:

  1. Don’t waste time anymore. Go out and bring people in.
  2. Start paying attention to the little things. The devil, he argues, “hides in the little things like sex, booze, and money, trying to trip us up.” St. Joseph is the inversion of the devil: perfect (yet completely human), the greatest example of masculinity, manhood, and fatherhood.
  3. Embrace sacrifice. Our vocations involve self-denial.
  4. Always stay humble. “If you’re not humble, you’re not worth knowing.”

“You are the natural leader of your family, so start acting like one,” Enzler said. “What matters is not to do more but to be more.” The Holy Family statue's overall appearance — and the Holy Family itself -- changes as you zoom in on baby Jesus. Photo by Joseph Serwach.

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