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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

The Father

 

Catholic Psychotherapy  |  Spiritual Counsels  |  Books  |  About CSF

 
Introduction | The Role of a Mother | The Role of a Father | True Love is Hard Work | Lack | Unconscious Consequences of Lack | Saint Joseph | The Remedy | Putting It Into Practice | Two Natural Models | Prayer to Saint Joseph | Modern Prayer to Saint Joseph
 

 
PEOPLE who lack a deep understanding of the Christian Faith will often claim that the Blessed Virgin Mary is just a goddess substitute taken over from pagan religions. Yet the Blessed Virgin is far from being a goddess. As the mother of our Lord, and therefore the most blessed of all saints, Mary receives our greatest reverence and respect (called hyperdulia in technical language). Still, despite all this reverence from the Church, the Blessed Virgin never was taken to be comparable to a pagan goddess. Pagan goddesses kept their sons to themselves, to serve the recurring cycle of natural fertility. Christianity, however, is something completely different from a slavery to the closed, repetitious cycle of birth and death.

To save the world from its slavery to death and sin, God chose to come into the world in human form, so as to show us exactly how to live holy lives. To do this, He submitted Himself to the very rules of life that He created. Thus He was born of a woman, as every human infant must be born. And he provided for Himself a father, Saint Joseph.

Why a father?

Think about this a bit. The angel told Mary, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). Now, if we think of a father in just the biological sense, as a sort of “sperm donor,” Saint Joseph wasn’t really needed, was he? God did the work Himself, right?

Well, there’s more to being a father than just performing a biological function. Despite what contemporary culture might want to believe about single mothers and homosexual “parents,” God knows the truth. He should. He created it. And the Catholic Church knows too. And Saint Joseph exemplifies it all.

 
The Role of a Mother

We all need mothers—just as almost every animal in this world needs a mother. A mother’s role, right from the child’s conception, is to nurture a child so that the child can develop strength and inner security through emotional honesty. To do this, the mother must hold the child in her arms, providing comfort and tactile security, so that the child can experience the bliss of resting peacefully in total surrender to gentle love. Then, as the child gets older, the mother must provide the child with hope and encouragement as the child explores and encounters the world.

The Blessed Virgin did this perfectly for the child Jesus. The Bible witnesses to it: “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed,” we hear from Luke 11:27.

And look at the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. At the sight of the Cross, the child Jesus leaps into His mother’s arms, one sandal dangling from His foot as testimony to His haste in seeking out His mother’s protection. And notice this well: a mother’s protection, until the time is ripe for the real Cross. Jesus didn’t run to His mother to hide from the cross; He ran to His mother to get comfort to face the cross. Thus a mother must be a solid core of faith in the family so as to teach her children how to pray, to prepare them for the journey to their own crosses.

  

If the mother fails in her task by being emotionally cold or distant, or by being critical rather than supportive, the child will be crippled with a tormenting sense of emotional emptiness. Still, all is not lost, because the father, if he does his job, can “fill in” the lack left by the mother.

  

And here we come to the role of a father.

 
The Role of a Father

A father must “come between” a mother and her child to sever the child’s bond of dependence on the mother and to lead the child out into the world so that the child can develop his or her talents and take up a meaningful, productive life of honesty and integrity. In doing this, though, the father does not “eliminate” the child’s need for a mother; instead, the father refines the role of the mother.

  

Most children experience the delight of being fed and protected when they are helpless infants. In fact, if they don’t experience it, they die. And the delight of this early infantile experience, which makes no demands on us and leaves us free simply to enjoy it, is at the root of our adult yearnings for a “utopia” in which all of our needs are taken care of effortlessly.

But to function responsibly as an adult, a child must pass beyond this care-free infantile state of dependence. If this task fails, the child will remain neurotically dependent on maternal protection and will be afflicted with doubts and anxieties about assuming personal responsibility in the world. Moreover, the child’s talents will either remain buried in fear or will be expressed largely through an unconscious grandiosity. And, in its most severe manifestations, alcoholism and drug addictions can develop in adolescence and adulthood, because all addictions have their roots in a desire to escape the demands of personal responsibilities and return to an idyllic feeling of care-free bliss.

  

A child, therefore, has three essential tasks which must be accomplished under the guidance of a father.

 
1. To learn how the world works.

The father must teach the child not only about the abstract—and often dangerous—dynamics of social relationships beyond the family itself but must also provide instruction in the practical rules governing the physical world, including honest, productive work in the world.

  

Imagine a primitive society of forest dwellers. To teach the child how the world “works,” the father must take the child out into the depths of the forest and show the child how to survive and eat by using weapons, building fires, and making shelters. Now, the modern world may not be a forest anymore—though it is often enough called a jungle—yet the forest metaphor aptly describes the process by which a father must teach a child “how the world works.”

  

 
2. To learn to trust.

Yes, a child will more-or-less “trust” a nurturing mother. This sort of trust, though, is a necessary part of mother-infant bonding for the sake of the infant’s physical survival.

Real trust requires that the child grow to depend on and respect the father, a person different from the mother from whom the child originated; that is, the father is a different body and a different gender from the mother. The father—and only a father—can therefore teach the child to enter the world and encounter difference confidently.

But, to be a successful teacher, the father must teach this from the place of his own faith and obedience. In other words, the father must live from his heart the very same rules he teaches to his children. He must touch their souls with his soul.

He must touch his children with physical affection;

  

He must touch his children with sincere affirmations of their talents;

  

He must touch his children with protection from evil influences and bad decisions.

  

In this way the children can learn to trust him through his own integrity. Otherwise, the children will see him for a hypocrite and will disavow—openly or secretly—everything he represents.

 
3. To learn to trust oneself.

As a child receives instruction from a trustworthy father and develops a sense of confidence under the father’s compassionate guidance, the child will then be able to function more and more independently, assimilating the father’s external guidance into an internal, psychological confidence.

  

First the father builds a fire, saying to the child, “Watch me.” Then the father encourages the child to build the fire. Finally the child goes off into the forest alone, and builds a fire on his own, confident in what he learned from his father.

  

 
True Love is Hard Work

Living a genuine Christian life is hard work. It requires discipline. It’s tedious. It’s often frightening. It requires constant effort to monitor our feelings and the impulses that arise with our feelings, and to override those impulses—those signs of what we want personally—with a firm decision to live a holy lifestyle by doing God’s will.

Therefore, learning to live a Christian life requires parents—especially a father—who can teach the child both through words and actions that they are willing to do the hard work themselves.

It’s all far easier to serve the devil by doing whatever we want. Do what thou wilt. That’s the motto of Satanism.

 
Lack

Now, considering all of this about the role of a father, look about you and see how many fathers shirk the hard work of being a father and fail miserably in their responsibilities. How many fathers are absent from the family because they were nothing more than “sperm donors” in a moment of lust? How many fathers are absent from the family because of divorce? How many fathers are absent from the family because their adultery draws them away to another woman? How many fathers are absent from the family because they are emotionally insensitive to their children’s needs? How many fathers are absent from the family because they are preoccupied with work or sports? How many fathers are absent from the family because they are preoccupied with their own pride and arrogance? How many fathers are absent from the family because of alcoholism? How many fathers are absent from the family because of illness? How many fathers are absent from the family because a woman decided she didn’t need a man to have a child? It can go on and on. And it does.

  

Consider communities in which single mothers are the norm, rather than the exception. What do you see there? A male disrespect for women, low educational performance, social disobedience, violence, drug abuse, prostitution, and a general lack of social opportunity.

  

And the sad thing is that when a father is absent—whether physically or emotionally—his lack causes a personal lack in the children. Lacking understanding of how the world works, lacking trust in others, and lacking trust in themselves, children—whether they be boys or girls—become lost, insecure, and confused. They lack confidence. They lack real faith. They lack a spiritually meaningful future. They lack life. All because their fathers were lacking. 

 
Unconscious Consequences

Please note, though, that all of this lack resulting from the lack of a father is, in many cases, largely unconscious.

Yes, some persons are truly crippled—both emotionally and socially—by the lack of a father, and their lives become dysfunctional and stuck. And, sadly, some die in childhood from abuse at the hands of the mother’s “partner.” [1]

But other persons are able to keep up a surface appearance of functionality; they hold jobs, they get married, and they have children. And they may even be active in their churches. Yet under the surface of normality—and often under the surface of devotions and novenas—a deep secret of anger and victimization is buried.

In the unconscious, however, the anger gets distorted because it is difficult for children to admit being angry with a father from whom they still desire a sign of love. To protect themselves from the threat of their own anger, then, the children distort that anger by turning it against themselves to ensure that they do nothing.

Addictions (such as alcoholism, drug addiction, obesity, smoking, marijuana use, video games, casinos, etc.) allow them to feel filled when they are really empty; thus they feel nothing.

  

If a father fails in his role as a proper father, then he will also fail in his duty to separate the child from its infantile dependence on the mother. In sadness and anger at this loss, the child can then unconsciously “return” to the mother in psycho-social development, thus setting up the dynamic of an addiction.

Addictions to a substance (e.g., alcohol, drugs, food) can therefore serve the unconscious purpose of numbing the pain of the loss of the father’s guidance and protection.

Autoerotic sexual addictions can differ in men and women. In men, they can signify the boy or man “handing” his father’s failure to his mother. In women, they can signify the girl or woman “handing” her sexual pleasure to her father in an unconscious attempt to entice him back to her.

Interpersonal sexual addictions can also differ in men and women. In men, they can signify the man’s desire to gratify his depressed or unhappy mother. In women, they can signify the woman’s desire to regain her father’s lost attention. (Homosexuality can add different psychological twists to these dynamics.)
 

  

Argumentativeness prevents them from accepting truth, which includes the truth that the father has failed them; thus they accept nothing.

Being late for appointments and meetings prevents them from having to wait; thus they wait for nothing.

Immodesty (whether as revealing clothing, gaudy make-up, tattoos, piercings, etc.) prevents them from respecting their own bodies; thus they respect nothing.

Learning disorders prevent them from discovering a world that seems hidden from them; thus they discover nothing.

Mental confusion (often expressed by forgetting things or as difficulty with math) prevents them from engaging with the signs and symbols of life; thus they engage with nothing.

Procrastination prevents them from stepping out into the world they don’t know how to negotiate in the first place; thus they accomplish nothing.

Sexual preoccupation (whether as self-created mental fantasies, pornography, lust, or sexual acts) prevents them from experiencing emotional intimacy; thus they are intimate with nothing.

Suspiciousness prevents them from having to trust a world they fear; thus they trust nothing.

In the end, all these nothings, taken together, lead to the nothingness of death: symbolic death, which keeps a child emotionally disabled as punishment for his or her anger, and real death—through slow self-sabotage or through outright suicide—by which the child, in making herself or himself the “missing one,” draws attention away from the truth that the father has been missing from the child’s life all along.

  

There is no current psychiatric diagnosis for this collection of symptoms, so I have named a psychoanalytic diagnosis: Ira Patrem Latebrosa (hidden anger at the father). This is an anger at the father that so cloaks itself in invisibility that a person afflicted with it will deny that it even exists. Yet it does exist, and the evidence above proves it, like tracks in the snow that reveal the presence of an animal lurking nearby.

  

Now, the irony here is that although all of these self-defeating behaviors are based in anger at the father and are unconsciously motivated to “get back at” the father, they can ultimately lead a person into religious disobedience and willful sin. Why? Because in the unconscious our separation from God the Father (resulting from our Original Sin) becomes confused with the lack of an actual father. Anger at God, though, gets us nowhere—at least, nowhere pleasant. And so unconscious anger ultimately hurts only ourselves.

Without intense scrutiny, the dark roots of these self-defeating behaviors remain outside of conscious awareness. Yet when individuals examine their private inner lives in psychotherapy or spiritual direction, and the deep truth of their hidden despair emerges, they end up admitting that they have been secretly hating themselves all along and that their lives have failed to bear much—if any—spiritual fruit.

 
Saint Joseph

In contrast to all the lack in many families, Saint Joseph exemplifies a father’s presence as a teacher, a trustworthy man of faith, and a man whose faith inspires others to grow in confidence and wisdom.

Saint Joseph was a carpenter who taught Jesus the craft; thus, he taught Jesus how to work Murillo: Saint Joseph and the Christ Child (1678) in the world. And we know that Jesus learned from him, because Jesus was obedient to him (Luke 2:51).

We also know that Saint Joseph was a righteous man (Matthew 1:19). He was also a man of faith because when an angel gave him instructions in a dream, Saint Joseph obeyed without question—twice (Matthew 2:13-15; Matthew 2:19-23).

Finally, we know that Jesus grew in self-confidence under Saint Joseph’s guidance: the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom (Luke 2:40; see also Luke 2:52). Thus Saint Joseph’s role as father was to prepare Jesus to serve His heavenly Father. And this is all foreshadowed by the story of The Boy Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52), when, at the age of maturity, Jesus declares to Mary, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” This event represents the symbolic separation of the child from the mother by the father. Thus, to achieve this separation, Saint Joseph served as father until Jesus was prepared Himself to serve the Father.

 
The Remedy

So what can you do if your own father’s lack has left you lacking? What can you do if, despite your best attempts on your own, you still feel doubtful, insecure, fearful, and interiorly embarrassed for not living a holy life?

Well, regardless of the lack of your own father, you can be led through Christ to the utter fullness of life in God the Father. To do this, though, you must set aside your unconscious anger at your father and take full personal responsibility to remedy what is lacking in you.

  

“But wait,” you say, “I have no issues with my father. We got along well together. My mother was the cruel one.” In that case, don’t be deceived by sentimentality. Yes, you have to resolve a lot of anger at your mother—yet, in addition to that, you will find considerable unconscious anger at your father: for being too physically ill, too mentally ill, or just too weak or cowardly to stop your mother’s abuse.

  

Therefore, acknowledge what was “stolen” from you as a child; feel the pain of that loss and bring it all to Christ; and, refusing to hate your father, turn to Christ in full confidence to teach you what you never learned as a child.

 
Putting It Into Practice

Pay attention to times when you get stuck, when you feel blocked, when you lose confidence, when you get impatient, when you doubt yourself, etc. At those times, tell yourself something like the following:

“OK. I’m feeling [stuck, unable to concentrate, indecisive, whatever]. This is happening because of what my father failed to do for me. He failed to [love me, provide guidance, give encouragement, teach me confidence, whatever].

“But now I know that my difficulties are resulting from his failures. In the past, I would have blamed myself. I would have said that I was bad or that I was defective. Now that I know that I am feeling this way because of what my father failed to do for me, I no longer have to blame myself. I have skills, I have talents—they just never got developed properly under my father’s guidance.

“So now that I know that I’m not at fault, I will go about learning how to develop my skills and talents. I will take personal responsibility for myself.

“Moreover, I’m not alone. I have God to help me. God loves me and cares for me. Together—God and myself—we can change my life and provide for me what my father never did.

“In all of this, I won’t blame my father because blaming him is like hating him, and blame only keeps me in the place of a victim. Blame makes me angry, and anger at him makes me feel guilty, and guilt cripples me. I will be honest with myself about what my father failed to do, and that’s not blaming him—it’s just about getting to the truth. The truth will set me free, and so I will be free to join with God to fulfill my talents.”

To do this, you must really “die” to yourself. Sever all of your vain attachments to the world and all of your illusory social identifications that only hide your inner insecurity and wretchedness. Take up the task of inner scrutiny through true spiritual purgation.

  

None of this is easy. It doesn’t happen just by thinking about it. It requires mental and physical discipline. It takes hard work. It takes courage. And, if your father was lacking, then you lack courage, don’t you? Therefore, the only way to learn to trust in God is to strip away everything we use to hide from Him so that, left with nothing of our own making—with no arrogance, no pride, no hatred, and no bitterness for what others have done to us—we have no choice but to acknowledge our wounds, feel the pain, bring it all to Christ, and depend on Him alone.

  

 
Two Natural Models

In all of this, keep in mind two natural models. Mary, the Blessed Virgin, in all of her titles, represents the Church, the mother who nurtures our souls with her Sacraments during our life-long journey to our true Father. Saint Joseph represents all priests of the Church, not in their priestly role per se (that is, as representatives of Christ) but as symbolic fathers who lead us beyond themselves to serve our true Father.

And what about Christ? Well, Christ has no natural model. In some ways, yes, we are all like Him as a child, who grew in wisdom through obedience to His parents. So we must grow in holiness through obedience. But, in His ability to heal our brokenness through the broken bread of the Eucharist—His body and blood, faith and love—He has no natural parallel. No other religion has a God like this, who came into this world in human form to save us from our sin, who loved us despite our lack of love, who endured all of our hatred without hating us, and who offers us His unfathomable mercy if only we would turn away from what we think we are and turn back to what He really is—and what we can be in Him: God’s children with a real Father.

  

Christ is in the Father by reason of His divine nature, we are in Him by reason of His human birth, and He is in us through the mystery of the sacraments.

  

—from a treatise by Saint Hilary, bishop
Office of Readings, Wednesday
of the Fourth Week of Easter

 
Traditional Prayer to Saint Joseph

In 1889, in Quamquam pluries, Pope Leo XIII prescribed that this prayer to St. Joseph be added to the recitation of the Rosary during the month of October. Nothing prevents this prayer from being used by the faithful at any other time.
 

TO thee, O blessed Joseph, do we have recourse in our tribulation, and having implored the help of thy thrice-holy Spouse, we confidently invoke thy patronage also. By that charity wherewith thou wast united to the immaculate Virgin Mother of God, and by that fatherly affection with which thou didst embrace the Child Jesus, we beseech thee and we humbly pray, that thou wouldst look graciously upon the inheritance which Jesus Christ hath purchased by His Blood, and assist us in our needs by thy power and strength.
 
Most watchful Guardian of the Holy Family, protect the chosen people of Jesus Christ; keep far from us, most loving father, all blight of error and corruption; mercifully assist us from heaven, most mighty defender, in this our conflict with the powers of darkness; and, even as of old thou didst rescue the Child Jesus from the supreme peril of His life, so now defend God’s Holy Church from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity; keep us one and all under thy continual protection, that we may be supported by thine example and thine assistance, may be enabled to lead a holy life, die a happy death, and come at last to the possession of everlasting blessedness in heaven. Amen.

 
Modern Prayer to Saint Joseph

I wrote this prayer myself.
 

 

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Who wrote this web page?
 

Notes.

1. Schnitzer PG, Ewigman BG. Child deaths resulting from inflicted injuries: household risk factors and perpetrator characteristics. Pediatrics. 2005 Nov;116(5):e687-93.

  

“Young children who reside in households with unrelated adults are at exceptionally high risk for inflicted-injury death. Most perpetrators are male, and most are residents of the decedent child’s household at the time of injury.”

  

 


 
Recommended Reading

Abandoned in childhood by his father, a man sought his revenge by laying plans to destroy the Catholic Church from within. He became a priest influential in Vatican II and beyond—but then something happened that he didn’t plan. The God in whom he did not believe caused him to write his memoirs and then brought about his unexpected death in a traffic accident. Subsequently, the memoirs were brought to light and published. Moreover, in His great mercy, God gave the man a short time in a coma to contemplate his sins before he actually died. We don’t know the ultimate disposition of his soul, but we do know the reason for the unexpected disruption to his plans: the mystical sacrifice of a young woman known to the man as “Raven Hair.” Her sacrifice? She set aside her romantic hopes and became a Carmelite nun to pray for his soul and for the good of the whole Church.

TAN Books and Publishers
 

Anger and Forgiveness by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. explains how most of us carry more anger in our hearts than we are capable of admitting even to ourselves. As a result, we often feel stuck in lives of unfulfilled potential, unending resentments, and physical illness. In this book, Dr. Richmond explains the deep psychological implications of anger and forgiveness and shows how to turn the emotional wounds of daily life into psychological growth.

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Falling Families, Fallen Children by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. Do our children see a mother and a father both living in contemplative love for God with a constant awareness of His presence and engaged in an all-out battle with the evil of the world? More often than not our children don’t see living faith. They don’t see protection from evil. They don’t see genuine, fruitful devotion. They don’t see genuine love for God. And so, with seething unconscious anger at their parents, especially at their fathers, they become fallen children.

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Healing by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. explains how psychological defenses help to protect us from emotional injury. But if you cling to the defense mechanisms that were created in your childhood and carry them on into adulthood—as most everyone does unconsciously—your quest for spiritual healing will be thwarted by overwhelming resentments and conflicts.
   Still, God has been trying to show you that there is more to life than resentment and conflict, something so beautiful and desirable that only one thing can resist its pull: hate.
   So now, and in every moment until you die, you will have a profound choice between your enslavement to old defenses and the beauty of God. That decision has to come from you. You will go where you desire.

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