Dads: Men for All Seasons
This year Father’s Day is immediately followed by the feast of two models of Christian fatherhood: Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More. What they have to say to family men and priests today.
This Father’s Day sets up a special call to greatness for Catholic men, as it falls the day before the feasts of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher.
The first was a model family man, the other a passionate pastor. Both died for the Catholic faith, demonstrating the devotion all Christian fathers must give their families (See Ephesians 5:25).
Fathers of nuclear families and spiritual families can learn much from these two English martyrs.
“St. Thomas More taught his children, by both word and action, that we’re all called to be God’s good servant first,” says Father Roger Landry, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in New Bedford, Mass., and host of “Theology of the Body” on Eternal Word Television Network. More was an affectionate and protective husband and father, yet he refused to take a false oath that would have kept him with his family.
He showed that he loved them best by loving God first.
Steve Bollman, founder and president of Paradisus Dei and the men’s leadership program That Man Is You, sees in More precisely the four leadership criteria men need: moral leadership for doing right by God, military leadership for battling Satan (who wants to destroy harmony in the home), economic leadership for making the earth (and the womb) fruitful, and political leadership for ordering a just and peaceful society.
Bollman recounts Thomas More’s life story. For years the brilliant attorney and statesman refused to enter the king’s service because he thought it would detract from his family life and religious devotions. When he finally agreed, and because of his wit was obliged to be one of the king’s constant dinner guests, More slyly turned himself into a dinnertime bore. Dropped from the guest list, he happily returned to the family table.
“He had his hierarchy correct: God first, family second, and then king and earth,” says Bollman. “He took action to live that hierarchy, even in subtle things.”
Father Landry has always been touched by the fact that More loved his children so much that, after his beloved first wife died, he chose a second wife whose reputation for virtue assured him that she would be a good mother to his four children.
Bollman adds that, as one of the most powerful men in England, he could have married practically any woman of his choosing.
“Despite the fact that he and (second wife) Alice would never be confused with Romeo and Juliet,” says Father Landry, More loved her “with a loyalty and kindness that transcended eros. He is a model of action for all spouses for whom romantic love has grown cold.”
In accepting martyrdom, says Bollman, More pointed his family beyond temporal comfort and toward eternal salvation. “Even in death, More was of service to his family,” he adds. “He gave witness that God was more important than the king or social standing.”
Pop Quizzes for Pop
Same for St. John Fisher, a prince of priestly fatherhood.
Early on in the dispute with King Henry over his illicit marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Bishop Fisher announced that he was willing, like St. John the Baptist, to die in witness to the indissolubility of marriage. His apostolic courage stands in sharp contrast, says Father Landry, to the “pusillanimous cowardice” of the rest of the bishops of England who wilted in the heat of the king’s anti-Catholic pressure.
Today’s priests need that same kind of courage, adds the priest, pointing out that they should not expect the world to reward them for their bravery.
Even in some Church circles, he says, “a majority might think it’s ‘prudent’ not to rock the boat by tackling issues of faith and morality that go against the spirit of the world.” It’s no act of virtue, he suggests, to avoid confronting such common wrongs as abuses in teaching, liturgy and priestly morality.
“The way we prepare to be faithful in the supreme test is by our fidelity in the ‘pop quizzes’ of daily life,” explains Father Landry. “Each day is a series of tests by which we put God and others ahead of ourselves, from the time the alarm clock sounds in the morning to the time we set it at night. Each of these tests is a mini martyrdom, a crucifixion of our ego, one that allows us to become more like the Good Shepherd who laid down his life out of love for us and told us to love others as he loved us first.”
It happens daily in little things. Ask Peter McFadden, pre-Cana teacher in the New York Archdiocese and, with wife, Anna, co-founder of the John Paul II-inspired Creative Marriages, Inc.
“One practical way we can lay down our lives for our wives and our children is to slow down and listen patiently and sympathetically to their concerns,” he says. “A husband should ask his wife, every day, ‘How was your day?’ — and notice if she has a concern.”
Patiently listening doesn’t come naturally to many men, he points out.
So it is that marriage and family life offer many opportunities to grow in virtue.
With adopted 4-year-old daughter Albina, McFadden loves playing tag, leading trips to the zoo and bicycling. But when she wants him to do artwork, that’s another story.
“For me, patiently doing artwork is very hard,” says McFadden. “That’s one place where I lay down my life for her. It’s a struggle, and I’m not perfect at it. But if it was easy, it wouldn’t be laying down your life.”
Living an active prayer life as More and Fisher did must be the foundation to laying down your life, according to both Father Landry and Bollman. Next step?
“Discover joy with your family, God’s gift of joy, and then it will be easy to do all the other things,” says Bollman. He describes the amazement More’s guests had seeing how this man acted with his children.
“He was giddy, fun, silly — all those things people considered inappropriate for a leader of the state,” says Bollman. Yet, at the same time he made his family fun, he was deadly serious about the moral life.
“That’s a great combination for husbands and fathers,” concludes Bollman. “We need to have fun in our families, but always with our minds set on what is above.”
Happy Father’s Day, Catholic men for all seasons.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.