As we continue to reflect on the life of St. Joseph, our Lord’s father here on Earth, we now turn to his role as teacher. He must have taught Jesus the skills of carpentry and other practical skills. Most likely he also taught his son the Law of Moses and the Ten Commandments. And it is here, on this subject of passing on the faith, that we want to focus. As adults today, and especially as parents and godparents, we continue St. Joseph’s legacy of teaching the next generation the beauty and deep meaning of our faith. It may be the most important task of one’s life.

So, when we talk about “passing on the faith,” what is it we want to pass on?

I think most of us want our children to receive the sacraments, to learn about good and evil, redemption and forgiveness, the beautiful permanence of marriage, the mysteries of our faith, the value and dignity of each life. We want them to know the importance and comfort of prayer and union with their loving heavenly Father. Hopefully we take them to Mass weekly and pray the rosary together. We teach the profound meaning behind the Church’s stand on many difficult issues.

We also need to consider that “passing on the faith” includes teaching the next generation to love one another, to treat one another with respect and kindness, to sacrifice for the other, to be loyal, humble — in essence, to teach them the fruits of the Spirit. Every person has imbedded in them the realization that they are made for love and connection, for union. And the family is the training ground where one learns the joy of connecting with and caring for others.

St. John Paull II called the family “the school of love” in his “Familiaris Consortio:” “The family, which is founded and given life by love, is a community of persons: of husband and wife, of parents and children, of relatives. …  [The family’s] inner principle is love. Without love the family cannot live, grow and perfect itself… without love man remains incomprehensible to himself, his life is senseless if love is not revealed in him.”

I think of a patient who shared the powerful example of seeing his father kneeling by his bed in prayer. I have another patient who chooses to treat his ex-wife with respect despite the pain and suffering she has caused him and the children. I can think of fathers who love their children unconditionally, even when those children are arrogant and make bad choices.

Fathers today are called to live out the Gospel in their homes and to teach and lead their families in how to love deeply and joyfully. They show how to resolve conflict peaceably. Fathers are called to be examples of our Heavenly Father. It is hard for children to trust God the Father when their earthly father is unjust, selfish, critical, arrogant, or weak and passive. When the family is a safe and secure haven, one with boundaries and rules and expectations, the children will realize the love who calls them to Him.

Sharon Trani, a nurse practitioner, is a marriage and family therapist with Vermont Catholic Charities Inc.

—Originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.