June 16, 2013
Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
There’s an old saying: “behind every good man is a good woman.”
There are lots of exceptions to this rule,
but there’s also a lot of truth in it.
Because men and women never become that way on there own
–there’s always someone in their past, a woman or man,
that helped make them who they are today.
On this Father’s day I want to talk about the fact that
behind every good man or woman,
is often the good man who is their good father,
But we also need to admit that the opposite is also often true:
behind every bad man or woman, is often a bad father.
In short, fatherhood is critically import to family life and society itself.
And yet today many people try to pretend
that fathers don’t matter very much
—in fact, that fatherhood itself is basically meaningless.
Consider how some jurisdictions are now not even
recording the fathers of children in their birth records,
referring instead only to “parent 1” and “parent 2” and even “parent 3.”
Or consider the high divorce rate,
and the fact that 41%–more than 1 out of every 4—(of) babies
is born outside of wedlock.
But as we see a huge increase in the number of “single mothers”
(God bless them)
we also seem to see a strange discrepancy:
we hear a lot about single mothers” “but not about “single fathers”:
they often just seem to disappear from the picture.
And with the rise of contraception and abortion,
and in-vitro and other artificial methods of conception
woman are more and more seen as solely responsible
for pregnancies and births,
with men reduced to mere accidental participants,
or simply irresponsible “gamete donors.”
You also see this in the confused role of fathers who do remain in the picture:
more and more society seems to not know what to do with them.
Some people seem to define a father as simply
“the guy who helps the mother,”
or they try to feminize fathers into being kinda like “male mothers”.
But all that is relatively old news—now we have a new threat:
the silently growing for the last few years,
until one day we seem to have woken up to a fait accompli,
in the legitimization of “gay” relationships and so called “gay marriage.”
The devastating effects of this are many and multifaceted,
but just consider one.
If the courts or legislatures, or society, can redefine the meaning of “marriage”
from what everyone everywhere has always understood it to mean
what will keep them from redefining the meaning of “fatherhood”?
If marriage is no longer marriage, why should fatherhood be fatherhood?
For example, why should a mere “male gamete donor”
have any rights or responsibilities toward the product of their donation
—rights and responsibilities that up until now
everyone, everywhere has always considered
as belonging to the very nature of “fatherhood”?
So that when government officials and professional experts, like
teachers, school administrators, doctors and government bureaucrats,
deem they know what’s best for a man’s children
—even a married man raising his children in his own home—
why would the gamete-donor’s (the father’s) opinions be considered?
Friends, fatherhood is at risk of becoming meaningless and even extinct
for legal purposes and at a macro-cultural level.
And when fatherhood becomes meaningless, motherhood will soon follow,
the family will disintegrate,
and society will soon come crashing down on top of us.
But of course, all this runs completely contrary to the nature of men,
and to the dignity of fatherhood.
And in response, men feel more and more marginalized
and seek to express their masculinity in other ways,
in places they feel like they’re allowed to be men.
They throw themselves into their work,
or into community projects or politics
or into the arms of another woman.
Anything that makes them feel important as a man.
But fatherhood is not something we can never afford to marginalize.
On Mothers’ Day I usually talk about the dignity and importance of mothers:
how, their babies see the love of God for the first time
in their mother’s smile.
But Father’s have no less a dignified role in their children’s lives.
In the beginning God created human beings in his image as male and female:
fundamentally equal in human dignity before God and each other,
but also fundamentally different!
And the first thing he told them was “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”
–take that beautiful difference
and become mother and father!
Did you ever wonder why in the Bible
God calls himself “our Father”—never “our mother”?
It’s not because male is better than female,
And it’s not because God the Father is a actually a male like I’m a male:
as the Catechism reminds us:
“He is neither man nor woman: he is God.”
Yet there is something fundamentally important
that he wants to explain to us by revealing himself as “Father.”
And part of that
is the importance a human father has to the family.
Think about this:
God could have simply created mankind and then abandon us,
but instead he loves us and constantly shows that love in our lives.
A human male can also create human life and abandon it,
only the woman has to carry the baby for 9 months, and beyond.
But God says: no! a father is supposed to be like me!
once he creates life a true man
must give himself completely and always
to his children and wife—like God gives himself to us.
Again, men and women are very different.
We all know this and we should neither try to deny it,
or demean it by trying to masculinize women, or feminize men.
So men: be men!
And fathers, be manly fathers!
Take the many God-given masculine virtues you have
and put them to work for your family and your wife.
Even so, like all good things, even love itself,
it’s very easy for manly virtues to be corrupted by sin.
So sometimes the natural gift of manly aggressiveness
can be corrupted by sin so that
a man treats his children as property to be dominated,
not as persons to be loved.
The natural manly inclination to help his children to become better than he is,
can be corrupted so that he pushes them too hard,
trying to make up for his own inadequacies
through his kids’ accomplishments.
Or the natural manly propensity
to give his children everything they truly need
can be corrupted so that a father spoils his children,
and refuses to discipline them
or teach them self discipline.
Sin can turn a good father into a bad father.
And bad fathers can make good children into bad adults.
Fathers—whether sinful or holy—
are important, and make a huge difference in the lives of their children.
In the first part of today’s gospel we have an example of
one of these children who has become bad adult:
a woman who even Jesus admits has committed “many sins.”
One wonders what kind of father the sinful woman had as a child.
Maybe he treated her like a piece of property instead of a person,
causing her to see herself that same way.
Maybe he was inattentive or unaffectionate,
causing her to do anything to get the attention and affection
of any man to fill in for her father.
Or maybe he failed to discipline her,
allowing her to do or dress as she pleased
without concern for modesty and the response it would generate
in other sinful men when she grew up.
On the other hand,
think of the other main character in this reading: Jesus.
And think of the role his father played in his life.
As Jesus tells us elsewhere about his heavenly Father:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord,
but only what he sees the Father doing;
for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise.”
But the Divine Father knew that when his Son became human being, a boy,
he would also need a good earthly father to raise him,
and so he gave him St. Joseph.
And Joseph was a great father.
He did everything the God the Father asked of him.
He made his child and his wife, his absolute number one priority,
even leaving even his home in Israel
to flee with Jesus and Mary to Egypt to protect them from King Herod.
He taught Jesus: he taught him a trade, the law of Moses and how to be a man.
And he spent time with Jesus constantly, and he gave him a great example.
Think about this: if a good human father was so fundamentally important
for the human life of God the Son,
how can it not be important for us mere humans.
Now, let’s go back to the sinful woman again.
I have assumed here that because she became a great sinner,
that her father might have been a bad father.
But we all know that sometimes even good fathers can have bad children.
They tried their very best,
but somewhere along the line something went wrong
and one of their children took a wrong turn,
and turned out not so good.
Actually, personally I think this is what really happened
to the woman in the Gospel.
If we read Scripture carefully we find that this woman is actually
the woman named Mary who lived in Bethany
with her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus.
Martha and Lazarus are clearly 2 very good and holy people
—clearly the children of a good mother and father.
And although Mary has clearly gone astray,
somewhere deep inside she has some of that same goodness.
And that goodness comes out when it comes face to face,
with God the Son.
And then the “the sinful woman”,
becomes the tearful penitent of great love,
and finally she’s identified,
again reading Scripture very carefully,
as not merely “Mary of Bethany,”
but also, in fact, the great St. Mary Magdalene,
the devout disciple of Jesus
who stood at the foot of the Cross
and became the first witness of His Resurrection.
Some of you fathers may think you aren’t or weren’t
the good father you should be.
You’re probably right: no body’s perfect:
I know I’m not the father I should be to you.
But don’t stop trying.
If your children are still young, with God’s help,
it’s not too late to become a better father.
And if your children are older, don’t give up
—do whatever you can now to be a good father.
Don’t worry about being a friend,
or keeping their affection.
Be strong and brave and work hard
to do whatever you have to to help them become good adult Catholics.
And don’t worry: you don’t have to do it alone.
Besides the help of a good wife, I hope,
you have the example and intercession of great saintly fathers
like St. Joseph.
And you have the example and grace of
your heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ.
It’s not going to be easy though.
You have to die to your sins,
but in dying to them,
Christ will raise you up in the strength of his own life,
and give you the grace to be the man he created you to be.
As St. Paul reminds us today:
“I have been crucified with Christ;
yet I live, no longer I,
but Christ lives in me….
…I do not nullify the grace of God.”
In the end, though, most of you men
are good fathers,
or try to be,
or will be someday once you have children.
Don’t let anyone tell you your fatherhood is not important
—whether your children are 5 years old or 55,
or still a just twinkle in your eye, a hope for the future.
And never be discouraged,
because the perfect Father and Son in heaven
love you and your children even more than you do.
And children, whether you’re 5 or 15 or 55 or 85,
remember and honor your father today.
Help him to be the best father he can be,
by cooperating with and loving him.
Most especially pray for him and for all fathers
that they may become the fathers
God created them to be,
and that we need them to be.