The Gospel for today’s Mass provides a rich reflection for today’s observance of Father’s Day in this country. The Lord gives three fundamental prescriptions for those who would be his prophets and witnesses. He tells them to be Personal, Passionate and Promising. While these prescriptions are not limited to fathers, yet I would like to apply them especially to fathers.
Here then are three Facets of a Faithful Father:
1. PERSONAL WITNESS – Jesus asks the apostles who the crowds say he is. Various answers are supplied: John the Baptist redivivus, Elijah, or one of the prophets of old. But then comes the question that they had to answer and so do we: But who do you say that I am? No prophet, no witness of Jesus, no father can evade this question. In the end we cannot merely quote what others say.
It is a true fact that we must never go off and invent our own religion. We must remain faithful to the teaching of the Church, to Scripture, to Tradition, to the Catechism. We must say with St. Paul, “I handed on to you what I myself received.” (1 Cor 11:23)
But it is also true that we cannot go on forever being a second-hand witness. It is not enough to know about God, we must personally know the Lord. It is not enough to say, “My pastor said….Saint so and so said…..my mother said…..” This witness is precious. But there comes a moment when we have to be able to declare in a very personal affirmation: “And I say….” We must be able to affirm what we personally know to be true. Faith has to move from a merely inferential understanding based on what others have said to an experiential declaration. In effect the Christian has to be able to say, “What the Church teaches, what Scriptures affirm, I personally know by experience to be true. I know the Lord, not just from the pages of a book, I know him for myself. I have personally experienced that what the Lord teaches through the Church and her Scriptures is infallibly true.
Every child needs this testimony from his or her father. Too many men today are passive fathers, especially when it comes to faith. They leave the task of the teaching of the faith to their wife and to other women. While it is surely true that a mother has an essential role, as do other catechists, the scriptures say: Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up with the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4). Notice then that it is primarily the duty of the father to bring up his children in the training and instruction of the Lord. But as noted, most children get this from their mother in our culture. She brings them to Church, she teaches them prayer and reads to them from the Bible. While mothers do and should share this task, Scripture assigns this task primarily to fathers. A man raises his children in the training and practice of the faith. He teaches them to pray, he reads scripture to them and leads his wife and children to Mass every Sunday. He insists along with Joshua, “As for me and my household we shall serve the Lord.” (Jos 24:15)
And a father cannot be content to merely quote others, or read from book. He must personally testify to them about the faith. Every father must answer the Lord’s question: “Who do YOU say that I am.” He must come to the firm conviction and experience that Jesus Christ is the Lord, that he is Messiah and savior and the only name given by which he and his family will ever be saved. And, growing in his own personal knowledge and experience of God he must then give his personal witness to his wife and children. Children are starving today to hear of their father’s faith and to see him as a man who speaks with authority about the things of the Lord. Every, prophet and every father must give personal and first hand witness to the truth of the Faith.
2. PASSIONATE WITNESS – Lifting high the Cross is essential to the Christian witness. To say our witness should be passionate means that the Passion of the Christ must be central to our proclamation.
Jesus temporarily silences the apostles insofar as announcing that he is the Messiah due to misunderstandings of the day as to the true mission of the Messiah. He then goes on to teach: The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. In so doing he clarifies his true mission. But he also says, If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Thus he plants the cross firmly in the center of every Christian life.
We have come through a bad period in the history of the Church that has notably diminished the cross of Christ. In the 1970s and 80s it was fashionable to replace crucifixes with resurrection statues. Many parishes set aside kneeling at Mass since “kneeling is penitential but we are a ‘resurrection people.'” Preaching too largely turned aside from announcing the demands of discipleship and the tribulations of living the faith in a world hostile to our faith. Instead, self esteem, affirmation, and “God is love” sermons predominated. Themes such as these and celebrating the resurrection are not bad in themselves but they were not balanced with sermons and teachings that were sober about sin and our need to battle against temptation, the world, the flesh and the devil. The cross of self-discipline and accepting the limits that faith reasonably insisted upon were suppressed. A kind of “Cross-less Christianity” became the norm.
But the true witness or prophet of Christ must hold high the Cross. Jesus insists upon it in today’s Gospel and many other places. Accepting the world’s hatred, resisting temptation, self-discipline, and conforming our lives to the revealed truth are all crosses we are expected to carry. We are also summon others to walk in these ways and help them to carry their crosses.
A father must surely give passionate witness to his children. First he must be willing to carry his cross for them, and sacrificially serve them. He must also insist that they learn of the cross. He must prepare them for the world’s scorn. He must insist that they learn self discipline and to resist sin. He must also ensure that they conform themselves to the truth. Where necessary he must discipline and impose the cross so that they learn it’s value.
I am surely grateful to my own father in this regard. He insisted that I do what was right and learn self-discipline. I learned that talking back to my mother and not doing what I was told had a price. I learned that he expected me to work hard to become a man. I was to study and get good grades. I was to be respectful of my elders and never defame my family’s name. I was to grow into a good and productive citizen of this great land live a respectable and godly life. All of this required some crosses: self-discipline, curbing my excessive desires to goof off and be lazy, submitting to lawful authority and so forth. My Father insisted, like the Lord, that I carry such crosses and I am grateful.
3.PROMISING WITNESS– Jesus concludes the Gospel in these words: whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. In insisting on the Cross Jesus is not advocating suffering and self-denial for it’s own sake. Rather, the cross leads to life!
A Christian prophet and witness to the Lord ought to be able to know and then declare the truth of this in their life. The cross is like a tuning fork. Not only does it keep us on the right pitch or true Christianity it also signals the beginning of a great symphony. In my own life I have discovered the truth of what the Lord declares. The more I have submitted myself to the Lord and followed the way of the Cross, the more I have found true life. In dying increasingly to sin by the Lord’s grace I am coming more to life. I am less greedy, more generous, less lustful, more loving, less angry, more amiable, less critical, more compassionate, less timid, more trusting. God never fails. He holds forth the cross only to give life. And I promise you in the Lord Jesus Christ, that if you will take up the cross you will find life.
Every Father must also be able to declare this to his children. He must be able to show in his own life how obeying the Lord and accepting life’s crosses has brought blessings. He must give his children hope and zeal in the crosses they endure and the crosses he must sometimes impose. He must point his children to a better way and help them desire it at great cost. My own Father made me many promises that my life would be far better, simpler and peaceful if I would learn to discipline myself, learn self-control, respect my elders and stay away from sinful and self-destructive behaviors. And he was right. He always linked the disciplines he imposed to a better life in the future. I am glad he saw a better life for me and insisted that I carry the cross to get there. It was just his own way of saying, “Whoever looses his life for the Lord and for what is right and just, will save it.” Thanks Dad.
By the way that’s my dad in the photo above, I am at the far right.