Caribbean family life is notably marked by the absence of the father in the home. This absence is in many instances supplanted by the extended family through other males in the household. Often, no such male is present as in the case of single mothers and sometimes even the extended family has none. In many instances, children are taking care of children with no adult in the home.
The absence of the father must never be romanticised. His role can never truly be supplanted, and even while we have grown accustomed to his absence, we ought not to accept this as the norm since children take into adulthood the “father wound” and while some are able to break out of it, others simply perpetuate the cycle of absence and neglect.
Today’s gospel offers some insight here. St Luke has a cycle of three couples in his infancy narratives: Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and Simeon and Anna, the latter, unlike the rest, not being married. However, all show the place of the male in the upbringing, and very importantly, religious upbringing of a child, and both men and women are involved in the fulfilment of prophecy.
St Luke, with his emphasis on the Spirit, says of Simeon that “the Holy Spirit rested on him”, something was “revealed to him by the Holy Spirit”, and that he was “prompted by the Spirit”. Three times we are told that Simeon was a man of the Spirit, and he was not of the tribe of Levi; he was not a priest but a faithful lay Jew. This is really radical in the Caribbean context.
Do we see men as people filled with the Spirit in our culture? With numerous competent female leaders in almost every field of ministry, we do not normally regard men as being people on whom the Holy Spirit rests. Mary is sometimes referred to as “daughter of the Spirit”. The term is not applied to Joseph, understandably so due to Mary’s unique role in the history of salvation. However, he, like Simeon, was very much a man of the Spirit.
Pope Francis himself has made two initiatives to support this: he added the name St Joseph to all the Eucharistic prayers (it was only present in the Roman Canon) and now he has declared a special year of St Joseph on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. In doing so, the Pope has kept Mary and Joseph together, as we should, when we consider the kind of man Jesus turned out to be.
It is therefore high time for the Caribbean Church to re-look at our fatherhood situation and the state of the young male in our society. The ongoing carnage of women and the abuse of women and children must be addressed in our Catholic schools and religious education programme in parishes. This includes a healthy sex education consistent with Catholic sexual ethics. This in turn requires adequate training in content and delivery.
Bible scholars have noted Jesus does not appear to have any serious hang-ups. This cannot be the work of Mary alone. Joseph fathered Jesus in such a way that He had no serious hang-ups. As Patris Corde points out: Jesus is described as “son of Joseph” in the gospels and Joseph loved Him “with a father’s heart”.
Let us then use this Holy Year of St Joseph to strengthen family life, to challenge men to see they too are under the Spirit, to reshape the face of manhood, and to spare our young men the burden of serious hang-ups.