I often post and comment on commercials that seem to hint at the gospel or some virtue, but today I focus on one that shows something wrong.
The commercial features a man who is a new father. Apparently, marriage and fatherhood have caused him to lose his “swagger.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines swagger as follows:
to conduct oneself in an arrogant or superciliously pompous manner; especially: to walk with an air of overbearing self-confidence [*]
The word also brings to my mind the life of some young, single men: drinking, partying, and generally irresponsible, boastful behavior. This, is course, is not something to be desired.
While youthful vigor may have its place, life is supposed to move in stages. Once a man is married, and surely once he is a father, youthful swagger is hardly appropriate. It is time to leave the single life behind and accept the calling to be a good husband and father.
As a priest I often help younger couples in making this transition. They cannot and should not go on living as they did when they were single. Marriage is a new reality. Nothing helps you to grow up the way getting married and having children do!
This is a good thing, though. Swagger usually bespeaks frivolity, phoniness, and immaturity. Our modern culture holds up youth as an ideal and seems to want to extend adolescence interminably.
In the commercial, the “friend” who comes to rescue his buddy from the world of marriage and fatherhood and get him back his swagger is not a friend at all; he is more of a tempter. There’s nothing wrong with feeling young, but maturing and accepting responsibilities is a good thing, not something from which to be rescued.
Sunday’s Feast of Corpus Christi brought the first Masses of the new priests ordained here in Washington. It was also Father’s Day. The readings for Corpus Christi suggest a kind of threefold office for the priest (related to teaching, governing, and sanctifying). I thought it might be good to present some of the notes from that homily on the blog today. Here, then, are three facets of a faithful Father—of a faithful priest.
I. The Priest Announces the Truth – Throughout the readings today we see Moses, St. Paul, and Jesus announcing fundamental truths for God’s people. Scripture says, For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts (Malachi 2:7). In today’s readings, four truths stand out that the priest should announce.
REMEMBER– Moses says to the people, Do not forget the Lord your God (Deut 8:14). He also adds, Remember how for forty years now the Lord, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert (Deut 8:2). Hence, every priest must stand before his people and say to them always (whether explicitly or implicitly), “Never forget the works of God. Do not forget what He has done for you. Remember Him and what He has done for you!”
To remembering means to have so present in my mind and heart what God has done for me that I’m grateful and different. Indeed, gratitude is a form of joy. When we are grateful, an awful lot of poison goes out of our heart. When you’re joyfully grateful, it’s pretty hard to despise your neighbor, or to be stingy and greedy, or to be vengeful and envious. Yes, a lot of poison goes out of our system when we remember what the Lord has done for us; we are grateful, joyful, different. At every Mass, the priest, as a Father, should remind his people never to forget the works of the Lord.
REJOICE– Here, too, today’s readings portray the priestly call for his people to rejoice in the Lord. Psalm 147 says, Glorify the Lord O Jerusalem; praise your God oh Zion! (Psalm 147:12), and the beautiful Sequence Hymn says, Laud O Zion your salvation, Laud with hymns of exultation, Christ your king and Shepherd true.
Every priest, as a faithful Father, must summon his people to rejoice in the Lord. The Lord only permits difficulty in order for some greater glory to be ushered in. Every priest should say, as in the words of Scripture, “Do not be sad, do not weep, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!” (Neh 8:10) Joy is the natural state of every Christian, and every faithful priest should summon his people to joy by being a man of joy, hope, and confidence himself.
Sadly, joy is not the first thing that many people see upon walking into a typical Catholic congregation. Too often the scene looks more like a funeral than the wedding that the Mass is supposed to be. While it is true that people express joy in different ways, joyous is not the first way most outsiders would describe a typical Catholic congregation.
Every faithful priest should stand before his people and say “Rejoice,” not only with his words but also by his demeanor, hope, and manifest confidence.
RE-CENTER – In the first reading, Moses says to his people, Not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God (Dt 8:3). Here, too, every priest, as a faithful Father, must exhort his people to center their lives on things that really matter. Too many of God’s people focus on lesser things such as sports, politics, money, or how they stack up against other people. But every faithful priest, every faithful Father, must stand before his people and remind them, in the words of Isaiah,
Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live (Isaiah 55:1-3).
Yes, Sunday after Sunday, the holy priest must remind the faithful of that which really matters and call them to focus their lives on heavenly, lasting things rather than earthly, passing things.
RECEIVE– In the Gospel today, Jesus warns, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have a life in you (Jn 6:53). Thus every priest will celebrate the Eucharist for his people faithfully and will exhort them never to miss a Sunday. His chief desire is to feed the people entrusted to his care and to warn them that if they neglect to feed on the Holy Eucharist of the Lord, they will have no life in them.
They will be like the children of Israel in the wilderness who would never have made it to the Promised Land if they had not faithfully eaten the manna that God gave them to preserve them in the desert for over forty years. Neither will we make it to the heavenly Promised Land if we do not receive frequently our manna—the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.
Every priest, every faithful Father, must stand before his people and say, “Come, eat His Body, which was broken for you, and His Blood, which was shed for you.” Every priest will seek the lost sheep to restore them to the nourishment they desperately need and without which they will die.
II. The Priest Admonishes the Timid and Temperamental – In today’s Gospel, as the Lord Jesus announced the essential truth of the Holy Eucharist He encountered many who were quarrelsome and murmured against Him.
How does He deal with them? Upon hearing their protests, He does not compromise. He does not water down His teaching. Rather, He intensifies it and warns them clearly.
When He tells them that they must eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, and they object, He warns them with this well-known Jewish expression: “Amen, amen I say to you!” Then He goes on to say that unless (which is a very strong and exclusive word) “you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you will not have a life in you.” He then intensifies His teaching even more by substituting an impolite word for eating: τρώγων (trogon), which means to gnaw on or devour.
So when it comes to an essential truth, Jesus does not water down or “cave in.” Rather, He solemnly reasserts the truth even more forcefully. He does this not to be argumentative, but because He loves them and does not want them to be lost forever.
So, too, for the priest of God today. We live in quarrelsome times in which many murmur and protest: about the Eucharist to be sure, but also about many moral teachings. The priest of God, as a faithful Father for his people, must not water down the truth or compromise. Rather, he must speak the truth even more clearly. He must explain it with love, so as to save his people from the error that can and will destroy them. Yes, like Jesus, every priest must speak the truth clearly and in love.
St. Paul admonished Timothy,Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but will surround themselves with teachers who will tickle their ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires (2 Tim 4:2-3).
All the more reason, then, that the priest of God must stand before his people, not counting the personal cost, and speak the truth to them in love, speak to them the truth without which they will perish.
III. He Advances the Transformation of God’s People – Notice that in this brief passage the Lord Jesus presents the same truth four times:
i. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; ii. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. iii. The one who feeds on me will have life because of me. iv. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.
Obviously, since repetition is the mother of studies, Jesus wants us to lay hold of this truth: if we receive His Body and Blood and follow Him in faith, we will have eternal life!
Yet many misunderstand the concept of “eternal.” The Greek word αἰῶνα (aiona) refers not merely to the length of life but also to its fullness. Therefore, in offering us eternal life, Jesus is not simply saying that we will live forever in the sense of a very long time. Rather, He is saying that we will become more and more fully alive with Him, even in the present, and that one day we will enter into the glory of Heaven forever where we will be so alive that our life here will seem to have been a mere coma. St. Ireneus says that the glory of God is the human person fully alive.
Therefore, every priest must stand before his people and announce to them a fuller life, a richer life, a more wonderful life—not in some distant Heaven, but even now! He cannot be content merely to point to the possibility of such a thing. Rather, he must stand before them as a living witness, as one who has committed himself to prayer, to the sacraments, to the Word of God, and to walking in holy fellowship with the Church. He must show that even now he is experiencing a life made richer and fuller by the grace of the sacraments working in his life. He is not merely to announce to his people the richer and fuller life; he is to stand before them as a witness of it.
Of this, I myself can testify. Now well into my fifties, my body is heading south. My soul, however, is more alive than ever before. I am more joyful and more confident. I love God more. My prayer life is coming alive; my mind and heart are being renewed. I’ve seen sins put to death and new graces come alive.
Yes, every priest must be able to stand before his people as a living witness of how the Lord can transform our lives and bring us into the fullness of eternal life, even now. In this way, he helps to advance his people in the transformation that is the normal, the expected life of God’s people.
Here, then, are some facets of a faithful Father, gleaned from yesterday’s readings at the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.
If you ask me (and even if you don’t ask me) something in the video below is amiss. Twenty years ago a father would have filled the role depicted in it. Watch it and see what you think. In making my observation I am not blaming women/mothers. But if any video could demonstrate that we have a crisis of fatherhood and “missing man syndrome,” this is it. There should be a father—a man—in this video, but he is absent. But the video reflects reality does it not? What will you and I do to change this?
I remember once being amused to hear that a certain Franciscan Theologian from the 19th Century (whose name I cannot remember) wrote a six volume “Life of St. Joseph.” Six volumes?! How could one possibly get enough material? We know so little of Joseph from the Scriptures. He seems to have been the strong, silent type. Not a word of his is recorded. But his actions have much to say, especially to to men. On this feast of the Holy Family we do well to ponder him as a model for manhood, for husbands and fathers.
1. A man who obeys God and clings to his wife – We saw last Sunday the Gospel that Joseph was betrothed to Mary. This is more than being engaged. It means they were actually married. It was the practice at that time for a couple to marry rather young. Once betrothed they usually lived an additional year in their parents’ household as they became more acquainted and prepared for life together. Now at a certain point it was discovered that Mary was pregnant, though not by Joseph. Now the Law said that if a man discovered that a woman to whom he was betrothed was not a virgin, he should divorce her and not “sully” his home. Joseph as a follower of the Law, was prepared to follow its requirements. However, he did not wish to expose Mary to the full force of the law which permitted the stoning of such women. He would thus remained quiet as to his reason for the divorce and Mary would escape possible stoning. To fail to divorce Mary would expose Joseph to cultural ramifications. Just men just didn’t marry women guilty of fornication or adultery. To ignore this might have harmed not only Joseph’s standing in the community but also that of his family of origin. But you know the rest of the story. Joseph is told in a dream not to fear and that Mary has committed no sin. Matthew records: When Joseph awoke, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matt 1:24).
Now a man obeys God even if it not popular, even if he may suffer for it. Joseph is told to cling to his wife. He may suffer for it but he, as a man, “obeys God rather than men.” It takes a strong man to do this especially when we consider the culture in which Joseph lived, and in a small town, no less. Joseph models strong manhood and has something to say to the men of our day. In the current wedding vows a man agrees to cling to his wife, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or health. This is what a man is to do. Our culture often pressures men to bail out when there is trouble Joseph shows the way by obeying God over the pressures of prevailing culture, even if he will personally suffer for it.
2. A man whose vocation is more important than his career – In today’s Gospel set likely in Bethlehem Joseph is warned by an angel in a dream: Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him (Matt 2:13). Joseph may well have had much to lose in this flight. Back in Nazareth (or perhaps Judea) he had a business, a career if you will. He had business prospects, business partners and contacts. Fleeing to a distant land might mean others would take his business etc. But Joseph was a father and husband before he was a businessman. His child was threatened and his first obligation was to Jesus and Mary. His vocation outweighed his career. In a culture like ours where too many parents make their careers and livelihoods paramount and their children are too easily placed in day care Joseph displays a different priority.
It is true that many parents feel they have no choice but to work. But it is also true that many demand a lifestyle which requires a lot of extra income. Perhaps a smaller house, less amenities etc would permit a daycare free childhood for more of our children. Joseph points the way for parents: vocation has priority over career. For fathers especially Joseph shows that a man is a husband and father before he is a businessman.
3. A man who protects his family– And for men, Joseph also models a protective instinct that too many men lack today. Our children, like Jesus was, are exposed to many dangers. Our American scene does not feature a lot of physical dangers but moral dangers surely abound. Fathers, what are your children watching on TV? What are their Internet habits? Who are their friends? What do your children think about important moral issues? Are you preparing them to face the moral challenges and temptations of life? Are you teaching them the faith along with your wife? Or are you just a passive father, uninvolved in the raising of your children? A man protects his children from harm, physical, moral and spiritual. Joseph shows forth this aspect of manhood.
4. A man of work –The Scriptures (Matt 13:55) speak of Joseph as a “carpenter.” The Greek word however is τέκτονος (tekton, os) which can mean more than a worker in wood. It can also refer to a builder or any craftsman. It seems unlikely that Joseph and Jesus would have worked exclusively in wood since wood was more rare in the Holy Land and used more sparingly than in our culture. Stone was surely plentiful and so it may be that Joseph also worked with stone as well as wood in his work. It was and through his work Joseph supported his family. It is the call of a man to work diligently and to responsibly and reliably provide for his family. Joseph models this essential aspect of manhood. Paul felt it necessary to rebuke some of the men of his day for their idleness: In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teachingyou received from us….For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ that with quietness they earn the bread they eat. (2 Thess 310-12)
Joseph is a model for manhood. Nothing he ever said was recorded but his life speaks eloquently enough. He is referred to at the Guardian and Patron of the Universal Church. He has these titles for he was guardian, protector and patron(provider) of the Church in the earliest stage, when the “Church” was just Jesus, Mary and himself. But since the Church is the mystical Body of Christ, in protecting and providing for Jesus he was doing that for us for we are in Christ as members of his body. Men especially do well to imitate St. Joseph and invoke his patronage in all their endeavors as Husbands, Fathers and providers.
When I was a growing up my father would often exhort me to “be a man.” He would summon me to courage and responsibility and to discover the heroic capacity that was in me. St. Paul summoned forth a spiritual manhood with these words: We [must] all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ. (Eph 4:13ff)
But today, too many Christian men are passive fathers and husbands. They have not matured in their faith but remain in a kind of spiritual childhood. They are not the spiritual leaders of their home that scripture summons them to be (cf Eph 5). If they go to Church at all, their wife has to drag them there. They do not teach their children to pray, read them Scripture, or insist that they practice the faith. They too often leave this only for their wife to do.
Gratefully, many men do take their proper role. They have reached spiritual manhood and understand their responsibilities in the Lord. They live courageously and are leaders. They are the first up on Sunday morning leading their family to Church and they insist on religious practice in the home. They intitate prayer and Scripture reading with their wife and children and are vigorous moral leaders and teachers in their family, parish and community. They are willing to battle for the truth and speak up for what is right.
You see the Lord is looking for a few good men. Are you a Christian Man? Have you reached spiritual manhood? This is not the kind of manhood that comes merely with age. It comes when we pray, hear and heed scripture and the teachings of the Chruch. It comes when we couargeously live the faith and summon others to follow Jesus without compromise. When we speak the truth in love and live the truth. It is when we fear God and thus fear no man, for when we are able to kneel before God we can stand before any threat.
Here are two good websites for Catholic Men. Let me know if you know of others.