June 18, 2018
“Happy Father’s Day!”
First, allow me to express these words to any fathers readings these lines. Your witness and sacrifice to raise your children is of inestimable value. Families are the bedrock of both of the Church and society. Thank you for leading your families to Christ.
Second, allow me to reminisce about the first time I heard those words spoken me. I had been ordained a priest for just about a year and was serving as an associate pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk, NE. I was standing at the back of the church greeting parishioners and found myself on the receiving end of a greeting that many men receive every third Sunday of June. But at age 26 with a promise of priestly celibacy, I just wasn’t expecting to hear it. Yet it was then and remains today a beautiful grace for me to hear those words as it underscores one meaning of priesthood, that of “spiritual fatherhood.”
This terms speaks to the reality that priests, while celibate and so do not have a wife and children (in the common understanding of the terms), are in fact “married” and “beget children” in another way. We say that Christ is wedded to the Church, His bride. And so priests, sacramentally configured to Christ, are “married” to the Church as well. We address priests as “father” because they are spiritually fruitful—they engender a spiritual life in the lives of their parishioners.
One great role model for spiritual fatherhood is St. Joseph, the husband of Mary. We know that Mary and Joseph, while spouses, remained celibate. But this did not mean that they were not fruitful! Mary’s fiat, her “yes” to the Angel Gabriel, set the course for Christ becoming man in order to redeem humanity. St. Joseph cared for his bride and the Child in a protective, loving, and pure way. Interestingly, the scriptures do not record a single word that St. Joseph said. But there is no doubt that he was a “doer”—he took Mary into his home and cared for her. He orchestrated their escape to Egypt to avoid the persecution of King Herod. He worked with his hands as a craftsman and tradition tells us that he taught Jesus about hard work and the dignity of labor. These are virtues which priests seek to emulate in their spiritual fatherhood. As my own patron saint, I have a particular devotion to St. Joseph. And so when I was ordained a priest, my holy card carried the image of Joseph holding the Child Jesus in his arms, while Mary lay asleep in the background. In the scene he is fulfilling his role as a chaste lover, protector and caregiver. The prayer I wrote on the back of the card reminds me to seek St. Joseph’s intercession as I strive to live spiritual fatherhood: “O chaste St. Joseph, you welcomed the Christ Child into your life and cared for Him. Help all parents to welcome God’s gift of children, and help all priests to be spiritual fathers to those entrusted to their care.”
Of course, another model for fatherhood for me, and I imagine all priests, is our earthly fathers. I am blessed to have my dad so close—just a few steps out of my office! Jim Taphorn (or as my staff calls him, “Dad Taphorn”) serves as a volunteer bookkeeper for JPII Newman. Though retired for many years, he lives the adage, “Retirement doesn’t mean less work. It just means you don’t get paid.” Dad loves Christ and the Church and has been involved in many works of the apostolate over the years, including the Serra Club of Omaha, the Institute of Priestly Formation, and Spirit Catholic Radio.
Back in 2011, when the dream of building a Newman Center was coming to the fore again, I reached out to Dad and asked if he could spend of his time in retirement working with a realtor to look for land for a Newman Center and also serving on our feasibility committee. Several months later he came back with a binder full of material on many different possible sites. And after many meetings and crunching numbers over a couple of years, we closed on 3.5 acres of land at 71st and Pacific Sts. in January, 2014. The groundbreaking ceremony in June, 2015 was a special day for the both of us!
In his younger years as a father, Dad was the breadwinner in the family, while Mom stayed at home raising five children (I’m the baby of the family. . . and my siblings do consider me spoiled!). Ours was a devoutly Catholic home; Sunday Mass and regular confession were a given. My parents sacrificed to send us all through Catholic elementary, high school, and college. Dad worked many hours in his own small businesses but provided well for us. Like St. Joseph, he is a “doer,” but in that way, he showed his generous and sacrificial love. Though he was gone to work a lot, Dad also made time for fun. Some of my fond memories of childhood revolve around going on summer vacations to Lake Okoboji, where we could spend endless hours sailing our Hobie Cat 16. There I experienced the joy of just “wasting time” with my father who loved me and my siblings so much.
After I was ordained a few years and spent time overseas in Rome studying canon law, Dad was able to make some trips overseas to visit. One summer we went to Germany and looked up his kin in the small town of Dinklage in northwest Germany. Another year we met in Ireland to see the “Emerald Isle” and visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock. Once I was assigned back in Omaha, our travels continued. A few years later we took an Alaskan Cruise. Here is one of my favorite picture of us on a zip line.
And in 2009, Dad was able to check off of bucket list a longtime dream, a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Here we are at the Western (wailing) Wall of the ancient Temple.
These shared experiences of travel, especially to holy places, are moments I will treasure forever.
On this Father’s Day, I am so blessed with many fond memories of my dad, and know that more continue to be made. I am grateful to him and to my patron, St. Joseph, for teaching me about spiritual fatherhood. May I be as generous, sacrificial, and loving as these two men, so as to receive in humility the greeting, “Happy Father’s Day.”
Fr. Joe Taphorn | Director & Pastor | St. John Paul II Newman Center