We celebrate Fathers’ Day today. While human cloning has made it scientifically possible to have a child without a father, we can be quite sure that in the future a male contribution will normally be necessary to bring new human life into the world.
Our experience tells us that fatherhood is a choice in a way that motherhood is not. We are disturbed when we hear on the news of a mother abandoning her child, but a father abandoning his child happens so frequently it never makes the news. Many, many children today come of age in homes where no father is present.
Such was the experience of my own father when he was growing up in the 1950s. His dad walked out on his family when my father was twelve. Sometimes when a home is broken up fathers disappear entirely from the families they leave behind. Thankfully, such was not case with my dad’s family. My grandfather continued to play a role in his family’s life, albeit largely on his own terms.
My dad, as an only son, could have taken over my grandfathers’ retail and real estate businesses and had a relatively easy life. Instead, when he married my mother at seventeen he struck out on his own fairly quickly, leaving Ohio for Indiana and a very uncertain future.
I learned as a young boy why my father decided to forego being the heir to the family business when I asked him why he voted for Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale rather than Ronald Reagan in the 1980 and 1984 presidential elections. His answer? “You can’t trust a man who was not true to his marriage vows.” As you might recall, Ronald Reagan’s long marriage to Nancy Reagan came after a divorce.
Having heard his answer, I knew all that I needed to know about why my dad left Ohio. As for my opinion on his political reasoning, I have no comment.
Hard work, honesty, faithfulness, commitment to the Church and moral courage are very important values to my father. It must have taken quite a bit of moral courage for him to swim against the stream and make his own way in his late teens with a wife and a young daughter. More than fifty years and a lot of hard work later, he is still married and has done very well for himself.
Now that I have gotten your attention with a personal story and have reassured all of you that I am a human being and not a martian, let’s look at what the Word of God has to say to us today about fatherhood.
We know from many different examples in Scripture that the sins of the father are visited on his children. Our first reading gives us a colorful example of this truth.
David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah killed so that he could marry her. When the prophet Nathan confronted the king, David repented in sackcloth and ashes. While God forgave David for his sin, there remained real consequences for his actions, one of which was that David’s royal house would be torn with strife and civil war, even during his own lifetime.
Two of David’s sons tried to take the crown from him violently. When the best of his sons, Solomon, finally became king, he began to worship gods other than the Lord on account of his many foreign wives, who turned his heart to their gods. Solomon had a weakness for women. As they say, like father like son. After Solomon died, David’s kingdom was rent in two, never to be reunited.
While the life of David is a sobering warning for us, the example of Saint Paul gives us hope.
Before his conversion Paul was a religious fanatic. He was a doctor of the Jewish law and used his standing as a religious expert to track Christians down and murder them. Paul’s sins make David’s look like child’s play.
But then what happened? Paul met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus just as his breath was filled with the stench of murderous threats against members of the Church. What did Jesus say to him? “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Paul neither ate nor drank for three days after this encounter with the Lord. How could he keep on living if he had gotten things so wrong? Paul was hard-headed and had a tough time repenting from his sins.
In the midst of his soul-searching, Paul came to know Jesus’ mercy. In Christ crucified, he found pardon and peace. Through reflecting on the meaning of the Cross Paul learned that Jesus loved him so much that while he was yet a sinner He died for him in order to pay the debt of his sins.
At his baptism Paul was told that he would have to suffer much for the name of Jesus. Years later, after having been beaten, thrown into jail and almost killed for the faith, Paul could write these words to the church in Galatia, “I have been crucified with Christ, yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”
These are the words of a joyful man!
As we know, Saint Paul had no wife and children. But on the supernatural level, he took the Church as his bride and his children were the members of the Christian communities that he founded. Paul’s own words make it clear that he understood his vocation as a priest and Apostle of Christ in terms of spiritual fatherhood.
Paul learned how to be a father from contemplating Christ crucified. We can summarize the exhortations in Paul’s letters to Christian fathers like this,”Here is a crucifix. See Jesus giving His life on it that you might live. Now go and do likewise for others.”
On this Fathers’ Day we celebrate all of the sacrifices that our fathers have made for us that we might have life in abundance.
We celebrate the spiritual fathers who, year after year, have put service to others over their own comfort, sacrificing marriage and a family, worldly ambition and the freedom to choose where they live and work so that they can be more free to respond to the needs of the Church. We also celebrate those priests who have stuck with their vocations through difficult times when it seemed easier to walk away from the priesthood than to continue in a bad assignment.
We celebrate the fathers who have been faithful to their marriage vows, worked long hours to provide for their families and been present to their wives and children as spiritual leaders. We also celebrate those fathers who have had to struggle with difficult marriages, career challenges and being the spiritual head of the household. In fatherhood persistence is more important than ability.