Joseph Challenge

Posted On 2021-01-14 In Year of St. Joseph

A Father in the Shadows

JOSEPH’S-CHALLENGE 2021 | Klaus Wittmann, GERMANY•

The Joseph Challenge 2021 by, only for men: Men from different vocations in the Covenant of Love, from different countries and generations are challenged by Pope Francis’ letter, Patris Corde, about Joseph, his “reflections on this extraordinary figure who is so close to each one of us humanly.” They get involved in sharing what impresses and motivates them most about the figure of St. Joseph and the Holy Father’s letter about him. Today it is Klaus Wittmann from Germany, active with the International Kentenich Academy for Leaders (IKAF); he has discovered point 7 – A Father in the Shadows – for himself. —

Fathers are not born, but made. 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.

I think about how I became a father – It was a challenge! I didn’t want to do anything wrong and yet some things got away from me. I remember a situation in which I was completely overwhelmed: The child cried, although I had already tried everything possible. I was alone and didn’t know how to help myself – so I shook it. One thing I still can’t forgive myself for today.

I felt the responsibility for the children from the first day and I don’t regret a single day that I was allowed to take care of them.

Being a father entails introducing children to life and reality. Not holding them back, being overprotective or possessive, but rather making them capable of deciding for themselves, enjoying freedom and exploring new possibilities. Perhaps for this reason, Joseph is traditionally called a “most chaste” father. That title is not simply a sign of affection, but the summation of an attitude that is the opposite of possessiveness. Chastity is freedom from possessiveness in every sphere of one’s life. Only when love is chaste, is it truly love. A possessive love ultimately becomes dangerous: it imprisons, constricts and makes for misery. God himself loved humanity with a chaste love; he left us free even to go astray and set ourselves against him.

Freedom, that’s my theme – that’s why this passage appeals to me so much. My own desire for freedom was already excessive when I was young. As a father, I want to exemplify this value and pass it on to my children. That’s easier said than done (implemented).

Our children are now young adults who are currently doing a lot to not conform, but to be different – through hairstyle, clothing, aimlessness, lethargy, etc.

Again and again I fall into the comparison of my value conception with the life (the ACTUAL state) of my children.  Actually, however, I would have to say that it is not the ACTUAL state, but that what I perceive and from which I believe that I have an overview of the full reality. What a presumption and what a fallacy!

Again and again it happens to me that I openly or between the lines criticize my children because of their way of life or their appearance in comparison to what I use as a standard. Sometimes these are just small things – but why don’t I pull myself together and speak only benevolent, uplifting things?

A true love of Joseph is then probably, as Fr. Joseph Kentenich said, the selfless education of firm, free (priestly) characters.

When fathers refuse to live the lives of their children for them, new and unexpected vistas open up. Every child is the bearer of a unique mystery that can only be brought to light with the help of a father who respects that child’s freedom. A father who realizes that he is most a father and educator at the point when he becomes “useless”, when he sees that his child has become independent and can walk the paths of life unaccompanied. When he becomes like Joseph, who always knew that his child was not his own but had merely been entrusted to his care.

How wonderful it is to see the children’s independence, and how proud it makes me as a father when they have “conquered” something for themselves. My encouragement has supported something.

Currently, our son is talking about going to the USA for a few years. At the first moment, we as parents were blindsided and also afraid.

But we sense his eagerness and his desire to discover new things for himself. We support him. He will then be gone from my care and in large parts I can no longer be of use to him. I will become a father in the shadows.

In the end, this is what Jesus would have us understand when he says: “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Mt 23:9).

In every exercise of our fatherhood, we should always keep in mind that it has nothing to do with possession, but is rather a “sign” pointing to a greater fatherhood. In a way, we are all like Joseph: a shadow of the heavenly Father, who “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt 5:45). And a shadow that follows his Son.

I think of the novel by William Paul Young “The Cabin”. The protagonist Mackenzie had a broken relationship with his earthly father. How difficult it was for him to connect with the Father-God in the story.

Here I also see a very special responsibility for fathers. What kind of father image do I model for my children so that they can accept God’s love, goodness and mercy because they have actually experienced a loving father?

Joy and happy moments with my adult children arise when I succeed in letting some of this divine fatherliness to work through – when I, as a father, could be a shadow of the Father in heaven.


Original: German 08.01.2021. Translation: Lindsay Burger, Ohio, USA



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