Pope Francis cites a book by the Polish writer Jan Dobraczynski, The Shadow of the Father, telling Joseph’s story in the form of a novel. The “shadow” image refers to Joseph as the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father. Joseph was called to “cast the same shadow” as God the Father over the human nature of Jesus – watching over and protecting, teaching, guiding, and above all, loving this Child who had come into his life.
The Pope states: “A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility to care for that child. Whenever a man accepts responsibility for the life of another, in some way he becomes a father to that person.”
This kind of protective fatherhood is not the hovering “helicopter parent” who intervenes to prevent every failure and hurt of the real world from impacting the child, but builds freedom, wisdom, resiliency, and character by letting the child make choices, experience consequences, and then drawing forth the lessons even of failure and opposition.
In this way, too, the title of the “most chaste” Joseph speaks to his freedom in his love for Jesus and Mary. Far more than some kind of physical restraint, “chastity” refers to the opposite of possessiveness. Chaste love allows the other to flourish in his or her own person, free to be the person God created them to be. This is the kind of love God has for each of us – without it, sin itself would not be possible – and it is a love which is not focused on the self but on the true good of the other.
How have you experienced love that allows you to be your own person through the care and support of another in your life?