Calling Men to Be Icons of God the Father

An interview with Devin Schadt, whose new book challenges men to recognize that fathers are not defined by their occupations but by their vocations

Devin Schadt is a husband, father, and speaker whose book, Joseph’s Way: Prayer of Faith (80 Days to Unlocking Your Power as a Father) was recently published by Ignatius Press. The book is the first of a two-volume series that seeks to “transmit the message of the glory, necessity, and power of fatherhood.” Devin is the cofounder of the Fathers of St. Joseph, an apostolate that works for the renewal of authentic fatherhood, and he lives in the Midwest with his wife and five children. He recently corresponded with Carl E. Olson, editor of Catholic World Report, about the family as an icon of the Trinity, the example of St. Joseph, and how families goes the way of the father.

CWR: What was the inspiration, or origin, of Joseph’s Way: Prayer of Faith? How did your own experience as a Catholic, husband, and father shape this book and the second volume, Prayer of a King?

Devin Schadt: Joseph’s Way was born out of crisis. Our third daughter, Anna Marie, was born at 28 weeks gestational period. After an emergency caesarian section, she spent a month in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in order to develop her lungs and digestive system, and eventually returned home with our family. After five days she contracted the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is a type of cold that attacks premature infants’ lungs, often causing death. We readmitted Anna Marie to the pediatric unit at the local hospital, but the team was not equipped, nor did they have enough experience, to care for a child that small. Due to neglect, and ten hours of apnea, Anna Marie suffered a hypoxic event, wherein not enough oxygen was transmitted to her brain. By the time the Medivac team stabilized her on life support and she had arrived by helicopter at a children’s hospital a couple of hours away, she had suffered three clinical death experiences and permanent brain injury.

Because of this, my wife implored me to discontinue my participation in youth ministry and to focus on being a husband and father. At that time, I viewed fatherhood as a second-rate vocation, not capable of fulfilling the great commission given by Christ in Matthew 28. In fact, I sensed that fatherhood was essentially a way to dismiss oneself from following Christ and becoming one of His disciples.

For years, I had lived in the tension of wanting to follow Christ, but also acknowledging that I was needed at home, and because of this I concluded that I was not called by God to be one of His followers. I went on a pilgrimage and confessed my interior struggles to one of the spiritual directors accompanying us. She said, “Go home and be Joseph.” Those words initially crushed me. Couldn’t she have said, “Go home and become St. Paul”, or “Go home and start a mission”? Who was this St. Joseph, not a word of whose is recorded in Sacred Scripture, and who, in so much of Christian art, is depicted as lacking vitality and youth? St. Joseph appeared to be an extra, a tack-on, someone needed to “fill in” and make the Virgin’s teenage pregnancy acceptable.

I went home and, being consecrated to Our Lady, asked her to introduce me to her “most chaste spouse”—and she did.

I started a writers’ group—not because I am a writer, but because my brother is an excellent writer, and had a couple of projects that he had been working on; I had hopes that the writers’ group would give him the accountability needed to complete his works. Each week, one of the members would share his latest writings. I was the odd man out, in that I was the only one among the men who was not a writer. When it was my turn to share, I would share brief reflections on fatherhood through the lens of St. Joseph. At one of these meetings, my friend (aptly named Joe) turned to me and said, “You are called to write on fatherhood through the lens of St. Joseph.” His words resounded in my being. I was leaving for a four day retreat later that day, and by the time I had returned, God had given the entire outline for what originally constituted four books, which now comprise the two volumes of Joseph’s Way.

I originally wrote Joseph’s Way as a letter to myself, in hopes of discovering what it truly means to be a great father. Four books later, which now constitute two volumes, I sensed that God had given me something very special. Joseph’s Way is unique, in that it provides a theological vision of fatherhood through the lens of St. Joseph. It is theological, yet practical—sometimes painfully practical. The books present a chronological, theological account of St. Joseph’s life—from his first step to fatherly greatness, returning to his vocation after originally fleeing from it, and embracing his role as protector of woman, Mary, to his commissioning of Jesus to be built into a temple of sacrifice.

There are books written on the subject of fatherhood, and there are also books written on the subject of St. Joseph. But there are very few that offer an integration of fatherhood and St. Joseph in a practical, yet theological manner. Joseph’s Way accomplishes this.

CWR: There are two sources, in particular, that inform Joseph’s Way: Sacred Scripture and the writings of St. John Paul II. Can you comment on the importance of both for your work and thought?

Devin Schadt: St. Pope John Paul the Great’s Theology of the Body had a profound effect on my life. It was through this Saint’s teachings that I discovered the true meaning of authentic masculinity, while also discovering a lens by which the entire Christian life, and the goodness of the human being, could be seen afresh. The Theology of the Body, coupled with John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation on St. Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer [Redemprotis custos], provided the foundational material and inspiration for Joseph’s Way. The Word always speaks, and to believe that the Word speaks through His Word, that is, the Sacred Scriptures, is essential to the Christian life. By praying over the Sacred Scriptures and asking God to speak His Word into my being, and being safeguarded by the balanced and inspiring Theology of the Body, I was granted a theology of fatherhood that has proved to be an essential guide in my rediscovery of the authentic glory of the vocation of fatherhood.

CWR: We all know, to some degree or another, that fatherhood is in a state of crisis. How would describe that crisis? And how does Joseph’s Way seek to address the root problems?

Devin Schadt: Research from the Baptist Press states that if the mother is the first to become a Christian, there is a 17% probability that the family will follow. If the father is the first to become a Christian, there is a 93% probability that the family will follow. Researchers at Columbia University state that if children have a strained relationship with their father, the children are 68% more likely to be involved in the use of alcohol, drug use, and premarital sex. A study from MSNBC demonstrated that fathers have twice as much influence as mothers in helping their teens stave off premarital sex.

From a pragmatic perspective, this demonstrates that society goes by way of the family, and the family goes by way of the father. If you want to change the world—change the father. Fatherhood is like oxygen. We rarely reflect upon the necessity of oxygen, and yet without it, human beings cannot survive. Fatherhood, though rarely reflected upon, is like oxygen: without authentic fatherhood, society crumbles.

Our identity as fathers shapes the world’s destiny. The family has been created by God to be an icon of the Holy Trinity, a reminder of our destiny. God is an eternal exchange of love—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and He has destined us to share in this eternal exchange of persons. The family is ordained by God to be an “exchange of persons” wherein family members give themselves away to the other so that the other may experience life to the full. Satan knows that the family serves as a reminder of our destiny, and therefore attempts to destroy this fundamental cell of society. But in order to destroy the family, he must bind the strong man and strike the shepherd of the family. In other words, he must keep the human father from realizing his identity as icon of God the Father. Indeed, if the enemy binds the strong man, then the evil one can plunder the goods of the house, that is, the wife and children. If he strikes the shepherd, the sheep will scatter. And if there is no one to lead, none will follow. If fathers do not lead the family from wrong, wrong will lead the family.

Without St. Joseph, the Holy Family itself would not have been an archetype and human model of the Trinity, an icon that directs humanity to the glory of the Triune God. St. Joseph is not merely a tack on, but rather an integral part of the Holy Family becoming an icon of the Trinity. Joseph’s identity led to his family’s destiny.

When Joseph encountered the Virgin, his wife pregnant without his cooperation, he initially fled from his vocational post. But God chased down Joseph and relentlessly pursued and called him to take up his post as guardian of the Redeemer and guardian of the Virgin. By doing so, God was teaching us that fatherhood is essential in the development of the family as an icon of the Trinity. Fatherhood is necessary, vital, and glorious.

CWR: The subtitle to this first volume is 80 Days to Unlocking Your Power as a Father. What is the significance of 80 days? How would you describe or define the “power” of fatherhood?

Devin Schadt: It’s funny, but the 80 days was simply an accident (or perhaps a God incident).

True power can never be associated with selfishness. If one is selfish, then he is bound and mastered by his own passions and therefore cannot live the full reality of the freedom of the gift, of self-giving love. In other words, if a man is bound by selfishness he has no true power over himself. Love begets love and life. This is true power—to beget love and life. Satan does not have this power, but God has given human beings this power.

In other words, “You use, you lose. You give, you live.” When a father begins to discover and use his power to set the pace of self-giving love, he discovers within himself the power to give life and love. A father has the power to set the pace of self-giving love—in fact, this is his essence, this is his power. It was Adam’s power, and the New Adam’s power. The first Adam neglected this power and allowed the serpent to have his way with his bride, thus bringing forth shame, blame, sin, and rupture in the body and spirit, and rupture in the relationship between man and woman. The New Adam sets the paradigm of self-giving love, self-donation, and the bride, the Church—throughout the centuries—lives her response to follow that pace.

The human father has the power to set the pace of love within his domestic church, his icon of the Trinity, his family. He can either continue the paradigm of neglect, like the first Adam, or continue the heroic duty of self-donation like the New Adam. This is the human father’s power, his essence, and his call to greatness. Paul VI referred to St. Joseph as a type of Adam. Where the first couple, Adam and Eve, unleashed sin and evil upon the world, Mary and Joseph, by means of their “yes” to one another and their mutual “yes” to God, brought forth redemption and salvation for the world.

CWR: You note, near the start, that St. Joseph is known in the Tradition as “Light of Patriarchs.” Why is that title significant? How do the three patriarchs—Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David—shed light on the meaning and value of fatherhood?

Devin Schadt: In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ lineage begins with the first father, Abraham—our “father in faith”—and ends with the last father, St. Joseph, the “just man” “who lives by faith.” By beginning and ending this patriarchal lineage with our father in faith and the most faithful father, God is calling particular attention to the fact that salvation is passed on by means of fatherhood.

“Light of Patriarchs” is a title that is both mysterious and loaded with profound meaning. Joseph as the last and final father, in a long list of patriarchs, casts light upon the Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David, and upon their roles as husbands and fathers. This comparison unveils their experiences as husbands and fathers and allows us to see them in a new and profound light, which is then reflected upon St. Joseph, casting typological light upon his role as father of Jesus and husband of Mary. But this light is also reflected from Joseph and cast upon God the Father (the source of light), allowing us to see God the Father as He truly is, and to envision our fatherhood as it truly should be. By comparing St. Joseph with the Patriarchs, we mine deep into the divinely inspired wisdom of fatherhood that has been passed down throughout the ages and learn essential and invaluable lessons, which will aid us in becoming fathers of glory.

CWR: What are some of the deepest, perhaps even surprising, temptations that face fathers and husbands today? Can you provide an example of how St. Joseph points the way to overcoming a particular temptation or obstacle?

Devin Schadt: Ego, pride, lust, and avarice are among the many temptations facing the father of the modern age. Often, when a father does not receive the accolades, honors, and lauds that he desires at home, he may be tempted to seek such affirmation elsewhere. When experiencing the mundane, common, routine rhythm of family life, fathers sometimes surrender to the temptation to be noticed by men, rather than being known by God. When a man surrenders to this biting temptation, he flees from his vocational path to greatness and seeks a different path to glory, usually by means of work, or working for God outside his family. While both of these spheres of endeavor can be good, if they are used as a means of self-affirmation, or a way to obtain vainglory, they can cause a man to neglect his vocation as a husband and father. As one confessor said, “Do not become a street lamp in order for you house to go dark.” And another said, “You will become a saint by means of your vocation, not outside of it.”

The human father is not defined by his occupation as much by his vocation. He is not defined by what he does as much as for whom he is doing it. At work the father is replaceable; at home the father is irreplaceable. God “needs” the human father, because our children need God the Father. The evil one is constantly tempting fathers to believe that their vocation as a father is not the true path to glorifying God and, by glorifying God, to be glorified. This is a grave trap and has tragic consequences for the family.

In the “Flight to Egypt” account, Herod sought to murder the Christ child after ascertaining the time of His birth from the Magi. Joseph, being warned by an angel, secretly stole away with his family under the cover of night, and fled safely to the land of Egypt. Herod is a symbol of Satan who is always attempting to destroy the child. St. Joseph is a symbol of all fathers who are called to protect, feed, and teach their families. The night is a symbol of the secret, hidden manner of fatherhood, by which the family is saved in the midst of this Egypt, this land of exile.

Joseph demonstrates that the family is not saved by means of pomp and self-asserted glory, but rather in the hidden and secret ways of fatherhood, which are unknown to this world. But as our Lord promises, “What is hidden will one day be revealed.” Our hidden, secret acts of love as fathers will one day be proclaimed by God as a participation in the salvation of mankind.

CWR: If a man was unsure about reading your book, and asked you, “Why should I bother with this? What will it do for me?”, what would you tell him?

Devin Schadt: If a man chooses to engage the principles laid out in Joseph’s Way, and begins applying them, he will experience a new knowledge of what it means to be truly a man, of what it means to be a great father, and of the first steps in his journey toward authentic greatness. Joseph’s Way is segmented into bite-size pieces. The reflection for each day is usually approximately three pages. By reading three pages a day, and by imitating St. Joseph’s example, I believe that your fatherhood will experience a new power, vitality, and strength.

By reading Joseph’s Way a father will discover that his fatherhood is vital, necessary, and the path to true glory. The destiny of our world depends on you discovering your identity, in order that you and your family can achieve their destiny—which is nothing less than eternal communion and union within the eternal exchange of Persons in the Trinity. You are an icon of God the Father (see Eph. 3:15), a link between God and man, a link between the Father and His children. You are the face of the Father that your children cannot see, the voice of the Father that they cannot hear, and the touch of the Father that they cannot feel. Few people ever reflect on the reality of oxygen—yet without oxygen people die. So it is with fatherhood. You are called to greatness, and your path to greatness is by means of your vocation—not outside of it. Joseph, a most unknown father in his day, by embracing his vocation as his call to greatness, became the most known and revered father in all of human history.

CWR: How will the second volume, Joseph’s Way: Prayer of a King, build upon this first volume?

Devin Schadt: The first volume discusses the call to greatness that exists in the heart of every man and how to achieve this greatness by means of understanding and living one’s identity, which is to be an icon of God the Father and to set the pace of self-giving love. In volume II, Prayer of a King, a father will learn: first, how to establish a rich prayer life—for a man cannot give what he does not have, and can only give God if he has God. Prayer is the place in which God gives Himself to man in order that man may give God to another. Second, a father will learn how to assume charitable authority—the authority to lead by love, and love by leading—by protecting, feeding and teaching. Third, a father will learn to identify his child as a temple of God, to give his child the materials to be built into that temple, and to bless and charge his child to become that temple. If volume I, Prayer of Faith, describes the identity of a true husband, father, and man, Volume II describes how to live out this identity in a practical way, how to achieve one’s destiny.

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About Carl E. Olson 1197 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.