09 September 2021, The Tablet

We call priests ‘Father’ when what they are not meant to do is become a natural father

We call priests ‘Father’ when what they are not meant to do is become a natural father

I have only recently learned that back at the end of last year Pope Francis declared a “Year of Joseph” (from 8 December 2020 to 8 December 2021). I am not sure how I managed to miss this because I have a strong personal devotion to St Joseph – which probably started because as a child our family Christmas crib set had a particularly attractive model of Jesus’ mortal father. But also because in the 1960s, as a teenager, I developed a kind of respect for a man who did not “need” to have sex … young women then were still lumbered with the total responsibility for chastity. Boys’ lechery was normal or even healthy; ours was immoral as well as stupid.

In 1968 my poor parents had five teenagers, and my mother dealt with the “dangers” of mini-skirts by issuing her daughters with rugs to cover our thighs when being driven by a male friend. She did honestly believe that if some young man should accidently touch your naked upper leg while changing gear, he would not be able to control himself and any subsequent car crash would be entirely your fault. But Mary and Joseph’s relationship was presented as both extremely happy and totally chaste. (I was brought up as a Scottish Presbyterian and therefore less “lumbered” by Marian excess than many of my Catholic peers.)

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