Some scriptural lessons about fatherhood: A homily for the Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C)

stjoeThe story is told of a small, very Catholic town. One day, a Protestant minister moved in. A young boy heard there was a new man of God around, and he came home to his family that day and said, “There’s a new father in town!” His brother piped up, “He ain’t no father! He’s got a wife and kids.”

Happy Father’s Day to all fathers present here. I want to reflect on fatherhood using some scripture verses that have come in front of me recently.

Deuteronomy – Last night, I stopped by the adoration chapel to utter some prayers in the silent hours of the night. There was a man there a few years younger than I, a young father, a friend of mine. He was doing the most important thing a man can do for his family. He was on his knees praying. He and I prayed Compline together, and the reading was from Deuteronomy 6. It goes like this: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.” That passage tells us a lot about fatherhood and discipleship. No man can be a good father who does not love the Lord–and I mean really love the Lord, like with his whole heart and soul and strength. Often there is a tendency to leave the “God stuff” to the wife. That is a fatal mistake. The mother plays an important part, but so does the father. Christian fatherhood is necessary, and it is manly business: it means loving God and family with all the power, all the resolve a man has. To be a man is to take up one’s cross for his family and God, as our Gospel says it today. And that kind of fatherhood bears incredible fruits.

St. Joseph’s silence in scripture – We’ve had a lot of baptisms lately, which is great. Yesterday I baptized Annabelle, Ximena, and Hope, and today I’ll baptize Kamyla and Josemarie. It is one of my favorite things to do, to baptize. There is a part at the end of the ritual of baptism when the priest prays God’s blessing upon the father. The prayer goes something like this. “Together with his wife, this man will be the first teacher of his child in the ways of faith. May he also be the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what he says and does.” That line gets me every time. A good father is a good teacher–and he teaches by example. There is something about a father’s example that indispensable. St. Joseph is patron saint of fathers, and he never says a word in the bible. Yet his humble example says everything.

Zechariah 12 – One thing that happens at baptisms is that, often it is a time when parents come back to the church. I see this all the time. Perhaps they have been away from the church a while, but then comes a baby and that baby brings them back to God. Our first reading comes from Zechariah, who was born in Babylon during the Israelite’s exile there in sixth-century B.C. He began to prophesy as a young man. He in fact prophesied in the house of Josiah, who became king of Judah at age 8. He, too, was quite successful. Interesting, isn’t it, how often it is that a father’s son or daughter leads him God, even though the father was supposed to show his kids the way. Perhaps fathers would do well to look daily for lessons they can learn from their children.

Psalm 78 – Nonetheless, the father is meant to be the primary guide. Two days I ago I was reading Psalm 78. It ends by saying that God guides us with a “skillful hand.” Of all the things a man’s hand does–building things, fixing things, making things, buying things–the most important thing it will ever do is guide his child. To heaven.

Matthew 6 – That hand also provides. Yesterday at Mass, the Gospel reading was from Matthew 6, one of my favorites. It talks about how worrying adds no time to our lives, benefits us in no way. It says, “Look to the birds of the sky. They don’t gather anything, but your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not worth more than these?” Growing up, I never had to worry about anything because my father provided what we needed. We learned how to be responsible, don’t get me wrong, but I never really gave much thought to where the food came from. I believe my dad is largely to credit for my easygoing nature, my “it will work out” approach to life and ministry. In other words, my trust and my faith in the Lord and his plan and providence, I owe it to my dad.

Isaiah 61:1-3 – Now there are various times when stuff doesn’t work out. There are times people we know make mistakes and fall down and even go to jail. Today’s corporal work of mercy is to visit and comfort the imprisoned, to free them if possible. A Christian father’s mercy never runs out. And it puts up the bail.

All of that is a bit disorganized perhaps, but maybe something will stick. Happy Father’s Day.