Our World Needs Men to Become Fathers to the Fatherless
COMMENTARY: This Father’s Day, let us turn to God so that we may know the unfailing fatherly love we all need; then let us men recommit to spiritual fatherhood.
This Father’s Day, we are still burying bodies and healing wounds from the latest round of mass slaughter of our schoolchildren in Uvalde, Texas. In a recent letter to Congress, I joined Archbishop Paul Coakley, Bishop Thomas Daly and Archbishop William Lori in a letter calling on Congress to adopt reasonable gun control legislation as part of the solution:
“We urge all members of Congress to reflect on the compassion all of you undoubtedly feel in light of these tragic events and be moved to action because of it. There is something deeply wrong with a culture where these acts of violence are increasingly common. There must be dialogue followed by concrete action to bring about a broader social renewal that addresses all aspects of the crisis, including mental health, the state of families, the valuation of life, the influence of entertainment and gaming industries, bullying, and the availability of firearms. Among the many steps toward addressing this endemic of violence is the passage of reasonable gun control measures. In this, we implore you to join the Holy Father who, in his continued expression of grief over the tragedy in Texas, declared, ‘It is time to say “no more” to the indiscriminate trafficking of weapons.’”
But as important as such policy changes are, we also know they aren’t enough. We know we are having trouble as a society raising boys to be good men. These shooters are all men, mostly young, disconnected from their families, seduced by a culture that does not offer them a clear pathway to achieve a strong and powerful masculine identity that is protective and productive. Our culture glorifies men as powerful villains, but not as loving fathers. In despair, often mentally ill from childhood trauma, these young men turn to murder-suicide as a way to feel powerful for a moment. This is always the false promise of the devil: “It is better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”
What does a Catholic priest, some might ask, know of fatherhood? Think for a moment. Spiritual fatherhood is not just a metaphor: It is the transformation that all men must go through to rise above boyish temptations and become good men. To be good fathers, we must first become spiritual fathers, not just bodily begetters.
The core of honorable manhood is a willingness to sacrifice: to sacrifice lust to love; to sacrifice ambition to service; to strive to be the hero for the people in one’s life. Sometimes this means risking one’s life to run towards the bad guy to save others. More often it includes serving and sacrificing in everyday ways: showing up for work, turning down a night with the boys in order to stay home with the family, turning off the video games.
Let us begin this Father’s Days to take seriously the hard work we need to do to raise our boys to want to become good fathers who take seriously the responsibility to love and protect the most vulnerable. The ordinary way men make that spiritual transformation is marriage. By committing to love a particular woman, to be faithful to her, to protect and provide (which takes different forms in different times and places and for different women), to care for the children they create (or adopt) together, boys become men worthy of the name.
But when a marriage culture breaks down, even more heroism is required of fathers to protect and provide for their children and their children’s mothers. Which means that, in a society riven by family fragmentation, all of us men need to step up and become fathers to the fatherless.
Father’s Day this year falls on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, which is for Catholics the great celebration of the ultimate gift of the Fatherhood of God: the gift of the sacrifice of his own Son. At every Mass, Catholics believe God brings us his Son again so that we may rise above our own failing and faults and become worthy sons and daughters of Almighty God.
This Father’s Day, let us turn to God so that we may know the unfailing fatherly love we all need; then let us men recommit to spiritual fatherhood: to our own families, our own neighbors, our own fellow citizens. Let us pledge to become the loving, protective fathers our world so desperately needs.