Saint Joseph, Head of the Holy Family
Part 7 – Catholic Masculinity Series: Following the Model of St Joseph
The man’s headship in the family, according to God’s established order as clearly revealed in Sacred Scripture, is perhaps one of the most contentious issues amongst even faithful Catholics today. It is such a ‘stumbling block’ for women – and even men – that many priests try to skirt the issue whenever the words “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as it behoveth in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18) come up in the lessons for the sacred liturgy. Our society is patently antipathetic towards the traditional role of the husband as the head of the household. It is easy enough to understand how the various toxic philosophies so rampant today have brought disorder into the home. However, many do not stop to consider how this lack of male headship creates a vacuum, which either the woman will fill, or no one will properly fill.
Headship of a family is built into the very nature of a man, and when he fails at this task, it affects the health of his whole family and, consequently, all of society. Wives who are not led and served by a loving and self-sacrificing husband are not secure. Daughters who cannot look to a father who is on mission to sanctify his family will encounter difficulty in understanding their worth as a child of God the Father. Furthermore, sons in this situation will be stunted in their development as men, which means they will have to work so much harder to reorder things correctly when they have their own family.
We can be certain that Saint Joseph showed proper headship of the Holy Family. He demonstrated this on many occasions, not least of which in his role as Pillar of Families and Chaste Guardian of the Virgin. Men today need not only an example of headship, but also an example of how to become a man who is ready for the role. For our purposes, let us briefly look to the Old Testament.
Out of Egypt
We all need to be freed from the bondage by which a world opposed to God envelopes us. This holds true whether we are married or not. Due to our fallen nature, we suffer from concupiscence and tend to rebel. Evidence for this is all around us and can likewise be seen in the Old Testament. For thousands of years, it has been a similar story over and over again. Even the Hebrews who walked dryly across the Red Sea did not take long to rebel against the divinely-appointed leadership of Moses. By God’s power, Moses parted the Red Sea, brought forth water from the rock in the desert, and rained down manna. Despite these greatest of wonders, his spiritual children nonetheless rebelled.
Hence, men should not be surprised when they encounter resistance to God’s established order and their headship within their own household. However, before being enraged by the motes in the eyes of wives and children, men should strive to remove the beam from their own eye (cf. Mt 7:5). It is futile to try and force one’s family to accept the proper order of things when one is himself not properly ordered. In fact, precisely because the man is the head of the family he naturally sets the example for those under his authority to follow.
A man should realize that, in general, his family will reject his authority to the degree with which he himself rejects God’s authority. It is often even to a greater degree on account of our fallen nature. For example, consider how readily children amplify the faults of their parents. If you have long lived a worldly life with disorder in the roots of your interior life and within the fabric of your home, it will be humanly impossible for you to right the ship. I say humanly impossible, but it is not impossible with God’s grace and by His guidance.
When Moses went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, we read in the Bible that the people “rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6). This is Biblical terminology which means they engaged in sexually deviant behavior and ritual debauchery. They had come out of a pagan culture, and pagan religious rituals were always mixed with impure sexual practices. We need not go into detail here, but it would surely have been a tremendously scandalous scene.
Contrast the two main priests: Moses and Aaron. All things considered, Aaron is certainly viewed as a great personage of the Old Testament. Yet even he, when pressured by the people (cf. Ex 32:1), promoted a false worship and carnal ritualism in carrying out priestly functions with the Golden Calf. On the other hand, Moses is faithful and stoic in his priesthood. He casts out immorality, rebellion and idolatry with a rigorous severity.
What is so different about Aaron and Moses? It is probable that Aaron, a slave, grew up with at least a semblance of the old traditions from Abraham; whereas Moses, a prince, was steeped in Egyptian paganism at the royal court. The difference between the two is that Aaron, although a Hebrew, left Egypt, but Egypt had not left him. Moses, although raised pagan, had spent forty years in the desert before being called to liberate his people. We read that Moses was away from Egypt for “a long time” (Exodus 2:23) and that he finally met the Lord in the “inner parts of the Desert” (Exodus 3:1). The major difference between Moses and Aaron is that not only had Moses left Egypt, but he made sure that Egypt had in fact left his soul.
Just as the Hebrews who went out of Egypt retained many pagan ideas and desires, so too many Catholics cling to the Egypt within their souls. Every step we take towards emptying our hearts of worldly desires, of the world’s false maxims, vanities, and fleeting pleasures, is a step we can then take towards God. Yet, if our heart is filled with love of transitory things there will be no room in it for love of the Eternal.
The Head of the Family Has a Priestly Role
We should, however, not make the error of thinking that Aaron was a ‘kind and understanding’ leader, having compassion for the people’s weaknesses (sin!), whereas Moses was ‘strict and uncaring.’ Aaron actually tries to excuse his grievous sin by blaming the people and speaks as if he had no role in calling for gold and fashioning the idolatrous calf (Ex 32:2-4). Instead he implies that the calf spontaneously emerged from the fire (cf. v 24).
Moses, on the other hand, intercedes for the people and begs God to forgive them. God threatens to wipe them from the face of the earth and Moses pleads for God to have mercy for His own Name’s sake (v. 11-13). Moses then freely offers himself as a reparatory sacrifice to God, accepting the people’s sin as his own! and asking God to punish him instead (cf. v 31-32).
Moses clearly serves as a type for Christ, whereas Aaron acts as type of Adam. These are the two choices constantly before every man: to act like the old Adam or like the New Adam. Do you excuse your own sin and blame those under you, deluding yourself that you are kind and compassionate? Or do you faithfully adhere to God’s ways, accept responsibility for the sins of those under you, and offer yourself as a sacrifice, willingly accepting the just punishments for their sins? Herein we see the mark of a real man who truly serves and leads as head of his family according to God’s right order.
This reality lies at the essence of priesthood: to willingly offer himself in sacrifice on behalf of his people. Every husband and father is called to live thus for his family. Even more so is every Catholic priest ordained for this role; the bishop is called to heroically live this for his diocesan flock; and, above all, the pope ought to exemplify this most perfectly as Christ’s Vicar on earth.
In order to become the domestic priests we are called to be, we need to follow Moses’ example. Yet before we can willingly offer ourselves in reparatory sacrifice, we must spend time in the desert. This means that we need to embrace ascetical practices in an intentional way. With the advent of a New Year, we have the opportunity to take on new challenges and, with God’s grace, form ourselves into men worthy of headship.
I suggest that men consider the Exodus 90 program, which is a 90-day ascetical program designed for Catholic men to grow in virtue. I have done it, and will be doing it again shortly. I can attest that it is highly effective. It is a program originally designed to help seminarians rid themselves of effeminacy, and it has been adapted for the layman.
If we are to rid our souls of Egypt, and become men fashioned after the model of Moses and Saint Joseph, then we must begin our Exodus from effeminacy immediately. Do not hesitate to challenge yourself! With God’s grace, every man is capable of achieving great virtue and recapturing the proper spiritual and moral headship over himself and his family.
Saint Joseph, Head of the Holy Family, Pray for Us!
 Recall the words from the Last Gospel of the Mass: “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (Jn 1:10-11). This opposition of the world to God has been greatly intensified in modern times by our secular, hedonistic, and atheistic society.
 A powerful image for this truth, placed by the Church before our minds at Christmastide, is how there was no room for Mary and Joseph in any inn and so Our Lord came to earth outside the [worldly] city, in a cave deemed fit only for beasts (cf. Lk 2:7).
 These are traditional practices of self-denial and mortification once common in the penitential aspect of the Christian life. Consider fasting, abstinence, praying on your knees, denying yourself legitimate pleasures, and embracing hard physical effort as a way to be more ascetical.
 Editor’s Note: One caution we offer regarding the Exodus 90 program is not to “burn out.” Given its intensity, we have seen some men who practice it suffer a letdown upon its completion. Instead of building up good habits which last, they are so relieved that it is over, that they soon return to all of their former vices. If during the Exodus 90 program you encourage yourself by thinking, ‘Just get through it, it’ll be over soon enough, and then I can reward myself with various indulgences currently denied,’ then you may very well be setting yourself up to fall deeper into effeminate habits. While Exodus 90 can serve like a bucket of cold water that shocks one out of spiritual lethargy, one must above all develop the interior life and build up a strong habit of regular prayer and penance.