TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Father’s Day – A 20
“Whoever loves father or mother, son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”
On this national celebration of Father’s Day, that quote may seem out of place. Yet, paradoxically, it honors them in the most sincere, warm, and genuine way. It was my father who taught me to love the Lord God even more than him.
My father died at age 67 on June 17, 1982, a couple days before Father’s Day that year. For a couple years I had seen his health deteriorate. He was overweight and had already had a heart attack at 48. Then at age 67 he had to have a quadruple bypass. The operation was a success but, as they say, the patient died. A blood clot got him.
But not before what I consider my most treasured memory of my father. I was ordained about twenty years at the time.
I was at home overnight. Mom was still alive. She was already in bed. Dad always liked to watch the late movies. He usually fell asleep before they were over. I liked to watch them with him. I watched. He slept.
This night at the end of the movie, we joined in pulling the shades and turning out the lights. At the end of our rounds we both ended up in the kitchen—obviously, our favorite room in the house—to turn the light out. This moment had been building up for several years as it became more and more evident that I might not have him much longer.
We looked at each other and I reached out and hugged him and he hugged me. And I told him “I love you.” He told me the same. And we just stood there hugging, how long I do not know.
That moment was different from the other times we hugged and said, “I love you.” This was not only the iconic moment when I felt the full flood of the love that he had been giving me for 41 years but it was also and still is the iconic moment when I felt the full flood of God the Father’s love for me. What a gift! My earthly father revealed to me my Heavenly Father.
That is what was in that hug and those words. What preceded this, illuminates what I said at the beginning. He taught me to love God more than him.
I went in the seminary at age 16. In eighth grade I began to get vocation literature. I was closer to my mom in my early years, so I told her first. But I had to tell my father. She arranged it. Him and I both sat in silence for about fifteen minutes in the living room before I got the courage up to tell him. He said “yes” but I knew he was reluctant.
Fast forward thirty-five years when I was visiting one of my cousins who, out of the blue, said, “Jimmy, do you know why your father was reluctant to see you go into the seminary?” I said, “no.” I had never thought of it. He was the proudest man on the block when I got ordained. She said, “He knew he would not have grandchildren.”
His sacrifice was therefore just as great as mine. That taught me to love God more than him, just as he had loved God and his will more than me, when he gave up grandchildren. I hope in my 53 years as a priest, however, I have generated many spiritual grand children for him to play with up in heaven.
The father who loves Christ above all is the one who loves his spouse and children above all. He loves them in Christ. There is no better way to be loved. What better model for love of family could we have than the profound love of Christ who humbled himself not only by becoming one of us but then dying for our salvation.
A father who looks upon Christ as his all in all is essential to the spiritual health of a family. Christ came to make it possible for all of us to get to heaven. A father and husband’s essential role is to help his spouse and children get to heaven. That should be on the bucket list of every father: getting everyone to heaven.
For some this is difficult. Some present-day fathers carry a “father wound” from their own fathers which has impaired them in living like Christ and spiritually fathering their own children. Perhaps their fathers never told them that they were their beloved sons, like the Father told Christ at his baptism. Perhaps their fathers had worshipped success, power, or wealth rather than God. Perhaps a father had been absent or abusive.
For anyone with a “father wound”, there is Christ to turn to for healing. Christ asked the people that came to him for healing, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they told him. I want to see, I want to walk, I want to hear. They were specific. We must point out our specific wound for Christ to heal. Thomas was invited to place his hands in Jesus’ wounds. We need to invite Jesus to place Christ’s hands in our wounds. Only then can the healing begin. The place of the wound is the place of healing. A retreat is often the place where we experience the grace to do that.
Christ is the model for all fathers. We are, of course, accustomed to think of Christ as the Son of the Father and not a father in his own right. We look first to God the Father as our model. It is true that not much has been made of this image of Christ as a father, yet it is there. Christ at the Last Supper said that if you know me, you know the Father. He and I are one. Christ is the model of his Father and therefore a model for all fathers.
Scripture reveals Christ as a father. Adam was the father of all humanity. The New Adam, Christ, is the father of all humanity in the order of grace. Christ addressed his disciples: “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God.” “Little children, yet a little while I am with you.” “Children, have you any fish?” “Child, your sins are forgiven.” Even in the Old Testament, the Messianic King to come who would be Jesus was called by Isaiah “the father of the world to come.” Allusions to Christ’s fatherhood down through the ages enjoy a respected, if somewhat less celebrated, pedigree in the theological tradition.
At the last Supper, Jesus assumes the father’s role in the ritual Passover meal. Jesus’ whole life reflected his Father’s life: his merciful love, his extensive healing ministry, his tireless compassion for sinners and the downtrodden, and his parables of mercy, especially the Prodigal Son. Today the Divine Mercy chaplet, which so many pray, speaks eloquently of the mercy of God the Father through the Passion of His Son who was imitating the infinite love of the Father.
In his ministry Jesus performs every action of the good father: he provides his disciples with food, both for their bodies and their souls, he guides and teaches them, and he protects them from harm. Above all, he gives them, and all believers, new life—the highest life of all—in the Paschal Mystery and prepares the way for their resurrection, their physical birth into eternal life.
Like God the Father, Jesus’ paternity does not end with generating life itself but includes its nourishment, protection, teaching and all the other goods supplied by a father.
All men are called to imitate the fatherhood of Christ. God has placed within every man, single, married, or celibate, the desire to be a father, to generate new life. Each vocation approaches fatherhood in a different way but all embrace the generation of spiritual children because of our living in imitation of our Heavenly Father found in Christ.
As fathers, we must look to Christ, our father, whose most profound act of love for us was on the cross. Such a profound act of love calls every man to the nobility and beauty of giving his all to another according to his vocation. We are drawn to the beauty and nobility of this profoundly tragic act because the cross is the most profoundly beautiful act of love that will ever be witnessed on this earth.
We must not excuse ourselves because of our weakness. St. Paul tells us that Christ uses the weak to confound the strong. In our weakness we turn ourselves over to Christ to be our strength. Spiritual strength is not a matter of being perfect but of being loving. When we share our weakness and sins in confession and in front of our children and apologize to them for how we have hurt them, we are admitting our imperfection but at the same time we are showing them our love by teaching them that love is the perfection that life is all about.
Christ does not choose those qualified for fatherhood, rather he qualifies those he chooses. That is true in every vocation of fatherhood. When we humbly approach the Lord in our weakness, Christ gives us his strength, so much so, that St. Paul says, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” The reason Christ uses the weak to confound the strong is so that people can see that a man’s strength comes not from himself but from God. That is what we must show our children and our spouses.
The renewal of the family, more than anything else, will make the church great again, will make our nation great again. The renewal of fatherhood is essential to that renewal. Become spiritual fathers not only to your own children but to those children who may not be benefitting from their own fathers who may be absent or neglectful and sadly in some cases abusive.
Fathers need to give the example of worship of God as their number one goal in life. Other gods, such as sports, or success or wealth or power or honor are not to be worshipped. The first purpose of each member of the family is to help each other get to heaven, not to be successes in this world. To teach them and be proud of them for their success in the world is indeed a good thing but not as our first goal. If success here, rather than hereafter, is taught them, we set them up for failure in the kingdom to come.
My son or daughter, the doctor, the lawyer the executive is in no way as important as my son or my daughter, my beloved, my gift from God, the one I am proud of first of all because of who they are not what they achieve.
Christ was seen both in the OT and the NT as Priest, Prophet, and King. A priest is one who sacrifices; a prophet is one who proclaims the truth out of love, and a king is one who provides and serves. Fathers are meant to do the same by being leaders, protectors, and providers for their family. It is in that way that they assume their rightful role as heads of their families. This role is of service not of domination. Serving means that a father submits himself to the gifts and charisms of the others in the family. He encourages their unique contribution to the family. In that way, he leads, provides, and protects but with the one essential goal in mind: to help his family get to heaven.
A father teaches us not to fall for anything but God because he has not fallen for anything but God. Pray that if you have fallen, you will come to your senses, like the Prodigal Son, and come back to the Father who tells us as he told his other son, “Everything that is mine is yours.” God is the only one that can satisfy the hunger which inhabits our soul. Nothing else in this world can do that. We should not mislead each other in this matter.
A Happy Father’s Day to all our Dads. May Christ, our father, be your all in all in this life. May you relish the role of helping your spouse and children get to heaven. May you be a true head of your family in serving, loving and proclaiming to them the importance of the eternal truth in our gospel today, namely, that love of God in our lives comes above all other loves. To love God is to love all others in God.
By: A dear man and priest who is a spiritual father to me and I thank God for his priesthood every day of my life