The Loving Merciful Path of Fatherhood, 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C), June 16, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
June 16, 2013
2 Samuel 12:7-10; Ps 32; Gal 2:16, 19-21; Lk 7:36-8:3

Today is Father’s Day and an important day for us not only to thank our dads but to thank God for our dads. It’s also a day for us to focus on the importance of fathers in God’s plans.

The Statue of St. Joseph in the sanctuary shows that God the Father wanted his Son raised by a dad here on earth. Jesus could have born to Mary as a single mom, but God the Father wanted him to be born in a home with a mother and a foster father.

One of the most powerful comments on the importance of fatherhood I’ve ever heard was in a March 15, 2000 speech at the Cathedral of Palermo, Sicily, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said, “The crisis of fatherhood we are living today is an element, perhaps the most important, threatening man in his humanity.” The crisis of the family, the crisis of society that comes from the building block of the family, the crisis of poverty, the crisis in the identity of men and women, the crisis of a lack of hope, the crises that lead to bellicosity and war, the crisis even in the Church — all of these, the future Pope Benedict implied, flow from the crisis of fatherhood, which he believed was the most important element threatening the human person. The crisis of fatherhood not only has obvious ramifications at the level of women, children and social policy, but has enormous anthropological and spiritual consequences as well. The future Pope said that the crisis comes from a true “dissolution of fatherhood,” flowing from reducing fatherhood to a merely biological phenomenon — as an act of generation, sometimes even carried out in a laboratory — without its human and spiritual dimensions. That reduction leads in turn to the “dissolution of what it means to be a son or a daughter,” but, on a spiritual plane, impedes our relationship to relate to God as he is and revealed himself. God, Cardinal Ratzinger said, “willed to manifest and describe himself as Father.” Human fatherhood provides us an analogy to understand the fatherhood of God, but “when human fatherhood has dissolved, all statements about God the Father are empty.” The crisis of fatherhood, therefore, leaves the human person lost, confused about who God is, confused about who he is, confused about where he has come from and where he is going. That’s why Cardinal Ratzinger says the crisis of paternity is perhaps the most important element threatening man.

Great confusion about types of fathers.

There is a notion, he says, that fathers are no longer necessary. Fatherhood has been reduced to a biological act. The expression “to father a child” means basically just to procreate; it no longer is understood to involve raising a child, as it once did. The belief is that a child doesn’t need a dad, just a parent or a couple of adults. And so we have the phenomenon of sperm banks, where women can select their sperm daddy’s qualities literally from a catalogue and then be injected, conceiving a child who will never be able to discover his or her dad’s identity. We also have the ush for the redefinition of marriage, which always brings a redefinition of the family, is one that wants to pretend that marriages don’t need husbands or wives and families really don’t need moms and dads, and we need to be candid about it.

The real test of any society historically has been whether it can socialize men by teaching them to be fathers, acknowledging their paternity and dutifully providing for, protecting, and helping to raise their children in a committed alliance with the mother. When we attack this bond, when we pretend it isn’t necessary, we do great damage to all of society.

That’s why today it’s really key for us to focus on the importance of fatherhood, to celebrate it, to praise it, and to thank those who really live up to this most important vocation.

In the bulletin this week, I’ve focused on what every father can learn from God the Father from whom all paternity takes its name. I summarized that article from a speech I gave last year to the huge family life conference of the Archdiocese of New York. Like God the Father, every human dad should take delight in his children, love unconditionally, be generous, observant and merciful, discipline, instruct, work hard, and share his child’s life . I’d ask the dads here, as well as boys who will one day, God willing grow up to be dads, to pray about these truths this week.

But what I’d prefer to do today is to look at what lessons fathers — and all Christians — can learn from today’s readings.

In the second reading, St. Paul describes what it means for a dad truly to be Christian, to live by the Christian faith. With unforgettable words, he said, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” To live by faith, we must first die to being in control. We must be crucified with Christ so that he can live within us. This parallels what St. Paul said to all husbands in his letter to the Ephesians, when he said, “Husbands, love your wives like Christ loved the Church, laying down his life to make her holy by water and the word.” A husband who loves his wife, a dad who loves his children, must not only be willing to die for them, but actually needs to die for them, dying to himself, to his ego, to his desire for control and domination, for getting his own way. In many ways, thanks be to God, many husbands and dads do this, working grueling jobs, sometimes more than one, sacrificing themselves for the good of their loved ones. Real love always involves this sacrifice.

It shouldn’t be surprising that if the mission of a husband and a dad is to sacrifice himself out of love for his wife and kids in order to protect and provide, to nourish and sponsor them, that the devil is going to try to attack men precisely here, so that instead of being self-givers, they’ll become takers. We see one of the principle lines of attack in today’s first reading about King David.

In this reading, Nathan is speaking for God about David’s great series of sins. What were his sins? Where did they begin? It all began with lust.

King David was up on the roof of his palace and he saw Bethsheba, bathing in a nearby house. And his heart was filled with sinful desire. He knew exactly who this beautiful woman was. She was the wife of one of his soldiers Uriah. But it didn’t matter. He sent for her. He sinned with her. Then she got pregnant. David tried all types of ways to get her husband, an honorable man, to return from battle and sleep with her to pretend that Uriah was the father, but that those attempts at deception failed because soldiers didn’t have marital relations whenever a battle was being waged. Finally, David had Uriah killed. Lust led this man, chosen by God, to become not only an adulterer, a destroyer of someone’s marriage, but a murderer.

Unfortunately, what happened to David can happen to every man. Sadly you don’t have to go up onto a palace rooftop to lust, you don’t even have to go with sunglasses into a dirty bookstore, but you can do so easily now on television or on the computer. And the sin of David is happening more and more. Jesus was very clear in the Gospel that whenever we look at a woman with lust, we are already committing adultery with her in our hearts. And the porn epidemic is making so many of the men of our culture, including our married men, adulterers just like David.

A 2008 survey showed that 86% of young adult men had viewed pornography in the last year, 70% viewed porn at least once a month, 48% were viewing porn weekly and 19% were viewing every day (This is compared to 31% of women who said that they had looked at porn in the last year and 3% viewing it weekly).

What is the consequence of this? Blessed John Paul II said that lust changes the intentionality — the entire direction or orientation — of a human being from a self-giver, to a taker, from someone who sacrifices himself for others as St. Paul mentions, to someone who sacrifices others for himself.

Pornography destroys marriages.

  • 47% of Christian families said that pornography is a real problem in their home.
  • The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers — basically divorce lawyers — said that Internet pornography was a significant factor in 2 out of 3 divorces.

The breakup of marriage normally starts with porn. Then men are led to using their wives in a filthy way, reenacting according to their lust. Or they visit the seedier areas of town to rent women. Or they go to chat rooms, pretending that everything is innocent, and proceed to clandestine encounters if their advances are reciprocated. Then it often goes to out-of-wedlock pregnancies. And worst of all, it can often lead to killing the child through abortion. Just as with King David what begins with lust ends with the murder of an innocent to try to cover one’s sins.

Two out of three divorces begin with porn, so say divorce lawyers. If porn use was eliminated, there’s no telling how many marriages might be saved and strengthened.

The devil attacks men through pornography, but because the devil is accompanied by beautiful naked women, guys don’t recognize what the devil is doing to them, to their lives, to their marriages, to their families.

The Path back is through repentance.

What’s the path back for men and dads and anyone else caught in this sticky web of pornography? Jesus describes it in today’s Gospel in the moving scene of this sinful woman’s washing Jesus’ feet with her tears, anointing them, and drying them with her hair. Her extravagant love for Jesus was a manifestation of her gratitude for his mercy.

We learn that when Simon the Pharisee, Jesus’ host, complained. His heart was hardened toward Jesus and toward mercy, and thinking he was sinless in comparison with this sinful woman, he complained. In response, Jesus gave us all a truly crucial principle in the spiritual life. “The one to whom little is forgive, loves little.” Our love for Jesus is dependent on our how much we recognize our need for and come to receive his mercy. If we haven’t been to confession for a while, our love for Jesus will suffer big time.

Dads who are caught in pornography have a particular need for God’s mercy, not only to be forgiven (obviously) of these sins of adultery in the heart, but also to be strengthened in the battle to be a self-giver instead of a cheater and a taker. Dads also need to come to receive Jesus’ merciful love in order grow in love of Jesus, so that they can pass on that type of forgiving love to their families. “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,” we heard in today’s responsorial psalm. Blessed indeed is the man who has grown in love of God but coming to the Lord in confession and saying, “Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.” This is the path to become a better man, a better husband and dad.

But the connection between loving more and asking for forgiveness more also applies within the home. Dads also have to love their wives and kids enough regularly to ask them for forgiveness for the times they’ve proud and bossy, for the times they’ve used foul language, for the times they’ve put work or fishing or card games or sporting events above their family, for the times when they really haven’t given the type of example that God wants and expects of them. One of the greatest lessons a father can give is one of humbly saying, “I messed up and I’m sorry,” because it helps everyone else to recognize that they make mistakes, too, they sin, too, and teaches them the first step they should follow when they do.

The Father protects, provides, nourishes and promotes

God the Father does each of these traits of a Father in the Eucharist. The more we unite ourselves with Jesus in the prayer of the Mass, the stronger we are against the deceptions of the devil. He provides us the light for our paths. He nourishes us with the greatest source of life of all. And he sponsors or promotes us in our Christian vocation to live by faith in the Son of God who loved us each personally and gave himself up for us.

On this Father’s Day, we turn to God the Father from whom every fatherhood on earth derives it names, and we thank him for his being the greatest father of all. We also ask him through his Son to bless all of our fathers for their sacrifices and love, to strengthen in the battle against temptation, and to help them to defend their wives and children from the same infernal terrorism, until that day when we are all, we pray, reunited in the heavenly Father’s house for ever.