Friday, June 22, 2012

Considering Fatherhood (A Late Father's Day Post)

This is a portion of a homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen of Our Lady of the Presentation (St. Mary’s) in Eugene, Oregon, given on Father’s Day, June 17th, 2012.

When we consider fatherhood, and Father’s Day is a good day to do so, we can look at St. Joseph as the perfect father. He was a provider, a protector and a teacher. He was the spiritual head of the Holy Family. Isn’t that amazing? St. Joseph was the spiritual head of the Holy Family. That means that Joseph, a just man, was put in charge of being the spiritual head of the Immaculate Sinless Ever Virgin Mary. St. Joseph was not immaculate, nor sinless. On top of that, St. Joseph, a just man, was put in charge of being the spiritual head of God the Son, Jesus Christ. I need not point out that Joseph did not have what it took to be the spiritual head of that family. Well, actually, he did not have what it took on a natural level. He did have it on a supernatural level because God provided for him.

Mary had a far greater capacity for God than did Joseph. Why was he put in charge of the spiritual life of that family? Well, we can say this about pretty much any man because as a general rule, women have a deeper sense of spirituality than do men. But it is not a woman’s vocation to exercise that gift as the spiritual head. Many women become de facto the spiritual head of their family because dad neglects this part of his vocation. But while men do not generally have the same natural gifts in this area, it is their vocation to cultivate these gifts and to use them to glorify God. Men are given the vocation to stand in the place of God in their families. This is not sexist. It is reality.

In fact, it is well known that if dad does not practice his faith, the children will not likely practice their faith as adults. Even if Mom is very devout, it is far less likely that children will continue to practice their faith if their dad did not place any importance on it. In his book, “The Faith of the Fatherless,” Paul Vitz researches the psychology of atheism. It is generally agreed upon that a defective relationship with the father is “the major psychological origin of intense atheism” (109). He distinguishes, however, the way this differs between men and women. “For men, God seems to function primarily as a principle of justice and order in the world––and only secondarily as a person with whom one has a relationship. …For women, by contrast, it is their relationship with God which is primary, while God as a principle of justice and order, though important, is typically seen as secondary (110).

…[A] good and well-ordered relationship with one’s father, or a father figure, leaves a person free to have faith in God. In a normal healthy home, a young child looks to his father with awe. Dad is powerful. Dad loves me. I know that if I am afraid, Dad has courage for both of us. He will help me to be brave. If I don’t believe in myself, Dad will build me up. If I have done something wrong, Dad will hold me responsible but if I am sorry, he will forgive me. If I conquer my fears and achieve something by hard work, Dad will say “That’s my boy.”  

Maybe a boy does not have a father in his life. Or maybe his father is not taking an active part in a boy’s life. The boy can have a father-figure in the form of a coach, or an uncle, a friend’s dad, a scout master, a priest. This father-figure can say something like: “You know I never had a son, but if I had one, I would want him to be just like you.” Those of you who saw the movie “For Greater Glory” will recognize these words and how they changed two lives: the life of the man who spoke them, and of the boy who heard them.

Fathers, do you know how important you are to the lives of your children? Your boys only know what it is to be a man because they can look up to you and copy you. Boys need to spend time with their fathers: whether camping, or hiking, or hunting, or fishing, or playing ball. They need your strength to draw from so that they can become strong, and virtuous, and holy. When they are little, you are like God to them. They will come to relate to God based upon how they relate to you; how you treat them. Will God be distant and angry? Or will God put His arm around their shoulder and tell them He is proud of them?

And your daughters need you too. Fathers, do you know how important you are to the very life of your daughters? You are given daughters to love and protect. It is a man’s vocation to guard the holy reputation of a lady and to protect the purity of her soul and body. A man must prove himself worthy of the woman he loves by guarding and protecting her in this way so that she will trust him to be her husband and the father of her children. She has a good family name that she will not see tarnished because of some scoundrel with a handsome face. But a woman must learn this from her father. A girl must know that she is precious and that a man must prove himself worthy of her.

On this Father’s Day, let us look to the example of St. Joseph. He did not have what it took, but with the help of God, he did what God gave him to do. Guys, let’s face it; we do not have what it takes. I don’t have what it takes to be a good priest, you don’t have what it takes to be a good husband and father, ––BUT–– we must have hope and a good sense of humor. Let us turn to God. He is the true Father. He will give us what it takes to be the men we need to be, to make our father’s proud of us, and to take care of our mothers and venerate them as they deserve to be venerated. For you husbands, to love your wife as she deserves to be loved; to take on the role of the spiritual head of the family; to treat your wife in a way that you would want your daughters to be treated by their husbands.

Men, we live in an increasingly fatherless society. Whether we are priests or husbands… we are being called to be fathers to the whole society: to be signs of God’s Fatherly love to a world that does not know what true self-sacrificial love is. Let us step up to this noble vocation and ask God to give us the grace of piety to be providers, protectors, and teachers, and to be spiritual heads of our families. Let us look to St. Joseph: a real man; a chaste man; a heroic and pious man; a saint. I believe in you men out there. As a priest, as your spiritual father, I am setting the bar high because I believe in you, I love you, and I am proud of you. With the help of your wives, with the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the example of St. Joseph, and by the power of God Almighty and an army of archangels behind us––men, we can do it! 

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