What a Catholic Father Can Do to Help Raise Heroic Priests

Today’s Catholic homes are the training ground for future deacons, priests, bishops and popes.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682), “Saint Joseph and the Christ Child”
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682), “Saint Joseph and the Christ Child” (photo: Public Domain)

The summer of 2018 has been filled with earth-shattering scandals for the Church, centered on sexual abuse of adults/minors and the men who cowardly covered up these crimes. 

In the face of all this evil, how should the Catholic father respond? When the problems and scandals of the Universal Church overwhelm us, we must turn our attention to our more pertinent purpose: tending to the Domestic Church.

A good Catholic father should be a man of prayer in front of the children, and he should be a model of chastity. How can a priest be expected to be chaste and prayerful (e.g., remain celibate, read his breviary faithfully, and so on) if his own earthly father was not a model of chastity and prayerfulness in his own state in life? In John 5:19 Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, a son cannot do anything on his own, but what he sees his father doing, for what he does, his son will also do.”

In my view, this is clearly a crisis of the Church, but it's also a crisis of fatherhood. The following are some concrete suggestions for continual personal conversion for Catholic fathers to equip them to better tend to their own flocks. Because, how can a shepherd guard and guide the sheep if his own eyes are not keen, his wits not sharp, and his heart not full of love and courage? A Catholic father must be a model of prayer and chastity by cultivating a relationship with Jesus and Mary. 

In his lost gem, Our Part in the Mystical Body, Jesuit Father Daniel A. Lord says, “Nations do not rise above the ideals of their citizens… All reform begins with a reform of individual hearts.” So let’s take a closer look at what we need to do, not what others need to do.


Devotion to Jesus Christ

Jesus said, “If you love me, then keep my commandments.” Simple, right? Maybe not. From working with many Catholic dads through psychotherapy, it appears that skipping Mass on Sundays, a direct violation of the Third Commandment, is a popular decision. Here's what all the ice-hockey dads, baseball dads, basketball dads or insert-your-activity dads out there should know: by habitually missing Mass on Sundays or leaving Mass early, you are sending a loud message to your sons that sports (or other activities) are more important than Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. You’re saying that knowing the twelve players on the New York Knicks is more important than knowing the names of the Twelve Apostles. 

Devotion to Jesus Christ starts with showing up to Mass, following along with the readings, responding when it’s our turn to respond, dressing the part (such as wearing a collared shirt), and not leaving until the procession is over, every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. By the end of the year, your family’s presence at Mass should be a spotless 52/52. Jesus is expecting a 1.000 batting average for Sunday Mass if you wish is to remain his friend.

Another important devotion is to read the Bible, especially the New Testament, on a regular basis. The opening of John’s Gospel spells it out for us: “In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Thus, becoming familiar with Scripture, the very words of God in written form, we come to a better understanding of who Jesus really is. 

Without falling into a theological discussion about the scholarly and religious inadequacies of modern theological reconstructions of the “historical Jesus,” I'll simply repeat Pope Benedict XIV’s view from his introduction to Spirit of the Liturgy, “I believe that this Jesus—the Jesus of the Gospel—is a historically plausible and convincing figure.” 

How can we be expected to pass on our faith in Jesus if we don’t even know Jesus? A working knowledge of the Gospel, the ability to speak intelligently about the parables, and so on, can only come from sustained reading and rereading of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Read the Bible in front of your children, whether aloud or quietly. It is an iconic image for boys to see their fathers, with a look of concentration on his face, reading through the pages of the oversized family Bible he received as a wedding gift.


Devotion to the Our Blessed Mother

Emotional stability in the home depends on the quality of your marriage: how well you get along with your wife, the mother of your children. Children feel safe and even joyful when they see and experience the devotion their fathers show toward their mothers. So, if a father’s faithful devotion toward the mother of his children bring about emotional peace in the home, then faithful will bring spiritual peace in the home. Great priests of the 20th century were well-known for their Marian piety: St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, St. Josemaría, and St. John Paul II. These faithful sons never shied away from showing Mary the upmost love and devotion. It is heartbreaking for me, being part of seven parish communities in my lifetime (I’m 36 years-old) and not once have I experienced seeing the pastor lead his flock in praying the Rosary.

We fathers need to instill in our sons a true love for Mary through our own example. Here are the following suggestions: pray the Rosary with and away from the family, pray the Angelus daily with and away the family, learn and live out the First Saturday devotion, display Marian statues and artwork throughout your home, and celebrate Marian feast days. This renewed devotion cannot be a going-through-the-motions charade. Perhaps starting these devotions privately for a few weeks would be a prudent start before sharing them with your children. How can you expect to lead your family in praying the Angelus at home on Saturday and Sunday if you’re not praying the Angelus at work Monday through Friday?


Become a model of chastity

Let’s be honest. This scandal is not exclusively a problem of pedophile priests or gay priests; this is part of an even larger crisis. Many priests and bishops are failing to live up to the demands of chastity given their state in life. Unfortunately, many Catholic dads are also failing at this (e.g., pornography, masturbation, extramarital affairs). How can we expect the clergy and future clergy to be chaste if we ourselves are not chaste?

Be a model of chastity. Be mindful of how you behave, and be mindful of what you consume. Be mindful of what your children consume. For example, Rated-M video games like Grand Theft Auto V, with its controversial portrayal of violence toward women, sexual imagery and torture, have no place in a Catholic home (or any well-ordered home for that matter). And the judgment will be harsh for the father who leads his sons astray with his porn stash and browsing history.

As this ongoing scandal continues to challenge the Universal Church, we Catholic fathers need to tend our own Domestic Churches with every ounce of attention, gentleness, faithfulness, and conviction that we can muster. The future clergy of the 21st Century are our very sons and our homes are the training ground for seminarians, priests, bishops and popes.


Gabriel Somarriba, Psy.D. is a psychologist practicing in the Cleveland area. He is a graduate of the Institute for Psychological Studies at Divine Mercy University, where he defended his dissertation about the connection between masculinity and fatherhood.