Every Father’s Day, a recurring theme seems to emerge within the social media world and blogosphere. It goes something like this: “Happy Father’s Day to all the dads and to the courageous moms who had to be both mom and dad.” It’s interesting that this perspective doesn’t seem to enjoy a Mother’s Day counterpart where dads are lauded for being both “father and mother.” This misplaced sentimentality of “mothers are fathers” expresses, in a nutshell, the contemporary crisis of fatherhood.
There is no question that we are in a fatherhood crisis in our world where many men have completely abdicated or simply ignored the responsibility of exercising moral and spiritual authority in the home. We fathers all ask the same question after the initial thrill and excitement of marriage wears off, and we are left with the cyclical routine of everyday life: Is this all there is? Instead of recognizing Christ within the rhythm of the life to which we have been called, instead of serving our wives and children with the tenderness, love and mercy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, instead of working hard at deepening and strengthening our faith life, we allow ourselves to be shaped and influenced by the culture; by a way of thinking and being that does not care about the truth of Jesus Christ, that could care less about the freedom of his Cross, and that finds no meaning in the life-giving love of the Holy Spirit. We replace the fullness of self-donating love with the emptiness of a culture that mocks us.
With no fathers to model faith-filled leadership and God-centered authority, our young men have grown-up embracing moral relativism and secular ideology, and these have become their god. There exists an entire generation of fathers who have physically, emotionally or spiritually abandoned their wives and children. Thus, in the absence of fathers to lead, support and nurture their families, women have compensated either by assuming masculine roles within the family, or by constructing innovative support networks for themselves and their children. This changing dynamic has brought us to a critical juncture: we are at the genesis of a systemic and fundamental shift in family life where in the near future, if we continue to live as men of the culture, fathers in the family may be considered optional and, in many cases, unnecessary.
The apostle Paul lays the foundation for getting fathers back on track: “As for you, Man of God … aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called …” (1 Timothy 6:11-12). These virtues are the wellspring that flow from the blood of the Cross from which we fathers must drink deeply in order to live the Faith with fervor and humility. We must willingly and lovingly lay down our lives in continuous acts of service and sacrifice for our wives and children that bear witness to the awesome power and testimony of the crucified Christ.
Meeting Christ on the Cross in the Eucharistic encounter is intensely personal, nurturing, and life-giving because it is rooted in covenant relationship, which is the foundation for family life. The family on earth, through its expression of the one flesh union between one man and one woman, is the image and likeness of the family in heaven.
Women, in their way of imaging God, analogously point to God’s heart and “withinness” where God, in the mystery of His inmost life, exists in an eternal interrelationship of loving and life-giving communion. Women, then, are the heart of God’s love and by nature have a special relationship with the Holy Spirit as life-givers. As Blessed John Paul the Great taught us, “In God’s eternal plan, woman is the one in whom the order of love in the created world of persons takes first root. The order of love belongs to the intimate life of God himself, the life of the Trinity. […] Through the Spirit, love becomes a gift for created persons” (Pope John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, 29). In Isaiah, God’s love for us is expressed in the love and compassion of a mother for her child: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you” (Isaiah 49:15).
Women can be the best mothers they can be—strong, supportive, and tough when they need to be (this was my mom and God knows I had one of the best!)—but mothers cannot take the place of fathers. Mothers, who share equally in the parenting relationship, are the heart of love and the love they carry within them flows from the very heart of God Himself. They share that love in so many ways, especially in their tireless commitment to the family. That love must be focused and centered in the marriage covenant with their husband, who should be allowed to exercise leadership and authority in the home through his role as chief servant of his wife and children.
Men, in their way of imaging God, analogously point to God’s “otherness” and transcendence, “to all the works by which God reveals Himself and communicates His life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #236). Just as Jesus called men to the priesthood to serve His Bride the Church, he also calls men through baptism to be priests of the domestic church, the church of the home. The priest of the home must accept the responsibility of living the Gospel by his words and actions. In a world filled with temptation and sin, living Gospel values can be challenging. It takes discipline and self-control to hone virtue and holiness within the family. Every decision a father makes cannot be his own: he must always place the best interest of his family first above everything else.
There is no greater example of this unity within the complimentarity of man and woman than that of Joseph and Mary. Mary participated in an intimate, life-giving relationship with God in an interior, bodily way that only a woman could. In becoming one with the child in her womb, she became one with God Himself. Joseph was outside of this relationship and had to learn his role as father—as the provider, protector and servant of the Holy Family—through the Blessed Virgin Mary’s motherhood. It is Mary’s fiat (“Yes”) to the gift of motherhood—to the gift of life in cooperation with the Holy Spirit—that makes possible the gift of fatherhood. Fatherhood is not purely biological; it comes through the heart of love. When we reject the heart of love through violence, pornography, contraception and abortion, we reject our own fatherhood.
The fact is that God allows earthly fathers to use his name, and with this great privilege comes an awesome responsibility: a responsibility, sadly, that many men have not taken seriously or have ignored completely leading to the “mothers are both mom and dad” mentality. A man becomes a man and a father by doing things that a father ought to do. In revealing and in reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God, a man is called upon to ensure stability and harmony within the family. He does this by exercising generous and selfless responsibility for the life conceived in the womb of the mother; by taking a more active role in, and making a more serious commitment to his children’s education and prayer life, a task that he shares with his wife; by working in a job that is never the cause of division within the family but promotes and provides for its security and unity; and, most importantly, by being a living witness and example to his children of what it means to live and act as a man of God, showing his children first-hand what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and how that relationship is lived-out daily by loving the truth, goodness, and beauty of our Catholic faith.
Any man can be a daddy but it takes a real man to be a father, and the sooner we earthly fathers begin to appreciate the great gift we have been given and begin living the mission of service to our families—when we begin to make a gift of ourselves to our wives and children, and participate deeply and personally in the Fatherhood of God—the faster we will arrive at a civilization of love and a culture of life rooted in the transforming power of the Father’s endless mercy and love.