12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 19, 2016
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today America celebrates Father’s Day.
And it’s right and good that we do so.
Especially today, when, now more than ever, we need to rediscover
the true meaning of family, especially of fatherhood and motherhood,
as gifts from God which are essential
to the happiness of every human being.
On Mother’s Day I talked about the greatness of being a woman and mother
–today we talk about the equal greatness of the gift of fatherhood.
When we read Sacred Scripture
we find that God uses various symbols and images
to describe himself.
Almost all of these fundamentally describe God in relationship to others
—to his creation, to mankind, to Israel, to the Church, to the individual.
In fact, the very core of who he is, is revealed to us as a relationship—
the relationship of the 3 persons in 1 God—the Trinity.
And by far, the most common image He uses to reveal or describe himself to us
is the image of a Father in relationship with his children.
But as we learn when Jesus comes on the scene,
this is more than a symbol, or image,
–it is the way that God exists to His Son, and to us:
it is Christ who tells us that God is, in fact,
His “Father” and “our Father.”
Of course, God’s fatherhood is completely totally unique.
But the wonder is that in some small way
he shares that fatherhood with human beings,
in the gift of human fatherhood.
The importance of this gift is borne witness to by the fact
that for the Israelites in the Old Testament,
God used human fatherhood to identify his people as his own.
For example, in today’s 2nd reading he speaks of “Abraham’s children”
—Abraham, is called the father of all the Jews, and our “father in faith.”
And in today’s 1st reading he speaks of “the house of David”
—David is the father of all Jewish Kings, of the Christ himself.
And the people themselves—the Israelites—
are named after another of their forefathers
—Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, also called “Israel.”
Fatherhood is a powerful gift in scripture.
Some say, but Father, all this is Old Testament stuff.
Jesus changed all that: St. Paul says in today’s 2nd reading:
“there is not male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
True, but does anyone really think Paul meant that there are really
no longer “males and females”?
Actually, what St. Paul’s doing here is emphasizing that Jesus came to
restore the original equal dignity that God gave
all human beings in the beginning
and that was blurred by original sin.
And in restoring the original equal dignity
he restores the original differences
from being a source of division between males and females
—divisions caused by sins like lust and the pursuit of power–
into a source of the true union of love between male and female,
the way God intended in the beginning.
Now, this in no way diminishes women or motherhood: Scripture is very clear:
men and women are equal in dignity before the Lord.
The very first chapter of Scripture makes this clear:
“God created man in his own image, …male and female he created them.”
Still, he created them as male and female —equal but different.
God creating each in his image,
but that image is expressed with different gifts he gave to women,
and to men.
And without taking anything away from the fantastic gift of motherhood,
fatherhood is itself a unique gift from God,
to be like God as God is Father.
Yet for so many people in our society today
fatherhood is often considered a burden and a curse.
Everywhere you look, men are encouraged to do that physical act
that is specifically designed to make them fathers,
and do it whenever, however, and with whomever they want.
But they’re also told to do it “safely”
so that they can avoid becoming what the act is designed to do
—make them fathers–
and so to protect themselves from that evil culprit called “a baby.”
And so we have a culture that promotes contraception
more than it promotes responsible fatherhood.
A culture where too many men are happy to either
leave the life and death of their unborn children
to the “choice” of the mother,
or to demand that their wife or girlfriend
choose the death of their own unborn child
if they want to keep the “love” of their man.
Where too many men would rather buy a new SUV or big screen TV
than accept the expense of being a responsible father.
And if they do seem attracted to fatherhood, men are too often taught
to accept it only in the context of sentiment or fun
—“wouldn’t it be great to have a kid:
wouldn’t it be fun to take him fishing and play ball;
wouldn’t it feel great to have a sweet little girl
throw her arms around you when you come home from work.”
But let’s not get carried away—don’t have too many,
cuz that would be more work than fun.
And let’s not do anything to make them mad at us, like disciplining
—what’s the point of having kids if they won’t like us.
With all this, why are we so surprised
when the culture starts to tell men:
“if it’s not about kids,
and just about the pleasure,
then why in the world limit yourself to one “partner,”
or even on one gender?
This is the world we live in today:
in too many cases fatherhood is considered a curse,
rather than recognized as the original blessing.
Is there any wonder that good decent men and women
react against this demeaning notion of masculinity?
Unfortunately, rather than searching for the true meaning of masculinity
men and women all too often accept the mindlessly absurd notions
infecting our culture today
rejecting any sort of common sense notion of masculinity,
and trying to recreate all men not in the image of God,
but in the image of woman.
This is not true manhood.
True manhood is rooted in true fatherhood.
In rejoicing in fatherhood, and more importantly
in being a good and responsible father, and husband.
Of being a father, as God is a father.
But how do we do that?
Easy: the first step is simply open the Bible.
The Old Testament is one long story
of how God is the perfect the Father of Israel.
A father who rejoices in giving life to his children
—even in “filling the earth” with his children.
A father who gives his children everything they need.
Who teaches his children how to live—what is right and wrong.
Who is patient with his children’s mistakes and sins.
But also a Father who constantly demands respect and love from his children.
And who carefully, though mercifully, disciplines his children.
And even better:
in the New Testament we have the example of the Son of God the Father,
who came to earth not only as a human being but a male.
And not only a male, but a living breathing example
of what it means to be a father like God is father:
As Jesus told the apostles at the Last Supper:
“he who has seen me has seen the Father.”
His life is the story of how a real man denies his own selfish desires
and gives up his life for those he loves
–for his wife and for his children, as Christ did on the Cross.
And to be a real man, we must imitate him.
As he tells us in today’s Gospel:
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Now you notice I’ve almost equated manhood and fatherhood.
And this is purposeful on my part.
You might say, but Father De Celles, you’re not a “father”, you have no children.
Lots of good men don’t have children.
But I say to you, every man is created to be a father.
Some, like Adam, will be fathers of their natural children.
Some, like St. Joseph, will be fathers of adopted children.
Some who have no children of their own, for whatever reason,
will be fathers in proxy to other people’s children,
exercising their natural fatherhood as best they can
in the situations God calls them to,
by being teachers, coaches, godfathers, uncles, mentors
and leaders of society.
And finally, some like Jesus himself, and the priests conformed to his heart,
will become spiritual fathers,
begetting spiritual children in the Lord.
That is why you call me, “Father.”
Just in case I seem to have been chastising the fathers present today,
let me say clearly, I have been praising you.
Yours is a tremendous gift—and what a glorious thing it is when you use it well.
And lest I seem to have been speaking only to fathers, let me say clearly,
I have also been speaking to their sons and daughters and wives as well.
To be a father, a true father, is a great thing—men should aspire to it,
but children and wives should also honor it.
Scripture reminds us of this over and over again.
“honor they mother and father.”
“wives respect you husbands.”
And this continues even when children grow up,
as the prophet Sirach reminds us:
“O son, help your father in his old age….
even if he is lacking in understanding, show forbearance; …
For kindness to a father will not be forgotten.”
To be a father is not something to be shunned or afraid of.
It’s one of the first and greatest gifts God gives to all of us.
And so it’s not something created to abuse or amuse.
It is not about being God-like, but being like God.
It is about losing your life to save it.
It is about laying down your life
to become the great man God created you to be.
It is about denying yourself and taking up the cross every day
and following Jesus,
because he who has seen Jesus has seen the Father,
and the man who follows Jesus
follows the path of true fatherhood.