|Tabernacle in progress...|
Job 28:1, 8-11
2 Corinthians 5:14-17
My first experience of something like being a father came at Camp Chosatonga, where I worked as a camp counselor for two summers during my seminary formation. Unlike many camps where the kids would come for a week and then head home, the kids at this camp came for 3 ½ weeks or 5 weeks, some staying the whole 9 weeks. It was great because I was actually able to get to know the kids and because I stayed in the cabin, had to make sure they were taken care of. I had to do things that typical dads have to do: make sure they eat, clean their room, brush their teeth, shower regularly, etc. I also had to worry discipline them, encourage them, and sometimes give them guidance and direction on things at camp or back at home. Years later I continue to reflect upon those two summers, as I still keep in touch with a number of the boys, now young men, who were there. And it hits me specifically that if those few short weeks 10 years ago had such a profound impact upon those children, how much more does the relationship with their own fathers have an impact?
Looking at the world around us we see that fatherhood is in a major crisis at the moment. 1 in 3 children today are raised in homes without their biological father. Many have no father figure at all. Add to this the media portrayal of fathers as a bunch of Homer Simpson look-alikes who are generally incompetent, angry, childish, or unconcerned about their family, and you soon have a picture of fatherhood that is anything but inspiring. The importance of a father, though, is something that continues to be shown in research even if not in the media; how the presence of a father direction affects a child’s education, behavior, proneness to depress, likeliness to engage in drug use or premarital sexual activity, fidelity in their future relationships, and even their religious upbringing. Did you know that when the father attends church weekly the child is 70% more likely to be religious as an adult? That’s huge.
I don’t want to get caught up in statistics though, because every study can be tweaked to it’s own desired end. I want to start at the beginning: “Male and female He created them; in His image and likeness He created them.” It’s about what the Church refers to as the complimentarity of the sexes, the fact that men and women were created by God to be men and women and eventually fathers and mothers, and that both are images of God. This weekend’s scriptures show us an attribute of God that is traditionally ascribed to men, namely, authority.
Years past heard the regular reference to the father as the head of the family, which rubs many people wrong these days. They hear ‘head of the family’ and shrink back because we’re in an age of equality when everyone should be on even ground and there’s no differences in anything, but the simple fact is the being equal doesn’t mean we’re all supposed to be the same. Everyone one of us is different in the church today, but we each have the same dignity, the same right, and the same value in the eyes of God. The simple fact is that men were created by God and designed to be the head of the family and that women were created by God and design to be the heart of the family. Women are naturally more nurturing and caring,. Men are naturally more inclined to discipline and direction. Have any of the ladies every been frustrated because you’re talking to a man and he seems not to understand that you just need him to listen but he keeps trying to offer advice on how to fix the situation or take some action toward a resolution? It’s written in our very sexuality as men! Unfortunately wounded humanity has often taken what is a good attribute and brought it to a sad end. Men have often exercised their authority in a negative fashion by degrading, oppressing, and becoming domineering to other, specifically their families. This is not the type of authority that God desires to be show in men. Rather, the type of authority God seeks to have us men exercise is demonstrated by the Lord Jesus in the Gospel and described by St. Paul in the Letter to the Corinthians. Jesus, knowing the need of His disciples, rebukes the wind and sea and exercises His rightful authority not for Himself but only for the service of His disciples. Here the words of St. Paul about ‘no longer living for oneself’ become particularly important. Authority has been entrusted to men, but it is an authority that manifests itself in service for those entrusted to him. Jesus teaches many powerful things and works miracle after miracle, showing His authority in each case. Not one time is it for His own glory or benefit, but always for the good of the other, out of love and concern for the other to have life here on this earth and to prepare for life in the world to come. Earthly Fatherhood is called to be a living image of the Fatherhood of God that is ever patient, present, guiding and directing us in the path that will bring us the greatest eternal reward. It’s love in a different light.
Last weekend, if you remember, the scriptures were all about plants and how the farmer sows the seed and it brings for a blade, then an ear, then the grain, and then it’s harvest time, though the farmer knows not how. That passage made me think about how while God sometimes does miraculous things, the real action of God is in the everyday stuff of life; it’s in the daily growth of the plant that’s easy to miss unless we’re very attentive. This was in my mind when I went to my mom and stepdad’s house the other day to work on building a box. I arrived and my stepdad stopped what he was working on and sat down to have lunch with me. Then we went over my ideas and he asked me all sorts of questions about different options, what I was envisioning, whether my measurements would be right, and so on. Then we went to the garage and he showed me how to use the table saw, which we didn’t have when I lived at home. He pointed to the blade and said, “Don’t touch this.” We went through it all and then he helped me make the first few cut on the large sheet of plywood I was using. Then he went back to his work. Every now and then he’d pop his head into the garage and wave his fingers at me and ask, “Still got 10?” and I’d wave mine back and say, “Yes sir!” As I worked I was filled with gratitude because my stepdad was showing me the love of the Father in the way that men do it best, by exercising self-less authority and guidance. He took time from his project to simply be with me, to guide and direct me, to encourage me in my own work, to show me what to do and enable me to reach the end that I was aiming for. It wasn’t anything spectacular or miraculous but it was a reminder that God is always at work doing the same – making a point to be with us, guiding us, encouraging us, and directing us to eternal life. The love of a father.
So, fathers, I have a simple request and it is but an echo of Pope Francis’ recent addresses: play with your kids. It doesn’t matter what you do, just make time to play with them, to be with them, to guide and encourage them. If you do, you can rest assured that they’re in good hands because they won’t be receiving just your love, they’ll be seeing and experiencing the love of the Father through you.