Yesterday, an interview with Cardinal Raymond Burke was released in which he spoke of the waning role of men in the Church. It came across that the cause of this was a 'feminization of the Church' which had been overrun by radical feminists with a radical agenda. This is nothing new being said, I have heard this multiple times. The belief that since 'women have filled the sanctuaries' and the hand wringing about girl altar servers being the cause of the drop in priestly vocations and so on. I'm not buying it. I am not buying the notion that men in the Church are some damsel in distress held captive on a ship overrun by Amazonian pirates. The women stepped in (and thank God they did) because the men abandoned their posts. They abandoned their posts generations ago by abandoning being the spiritual leaders and heads of their home that the Scriptures demand they be. That abandonment has spread like a horrific disease throughout every institution including the family, the parish, and society as a whole. If it is to be corrected, it isn't by blaming women and driving them out, it is going to be by men stepping up and be the leaders they are called to be.
I caution though against falling into the two traps of pseudo-leadership. A spiritual head of the home is to be a model of the Father, neither falling into being a tyrant nor an enabler. Isn't is odd that the two greatest misconceptions of God fall into God being either the tyrant or the enabler? The Scriptures present us with a Father who has a firm hand, a deep love, the strength of patience, and a burning desire for the good of his children. The tyrant rules by force, too weak to model or produce a compelling argument to cooperate. The enabler abdicates responsibility and plays both the fool and the coward in the life of those charged to his care. Neither of these are models of Christian fatherhood, neither in the family or in the parish. I say this because dysfunctional fathers are not sole to marriage, but are so often running parishes as well. Of all the titles a priest can be given, father is the one that is supposed to remind him day in and day out of the awesome responsibility he has.
The answer to what ails us is for men to start being the dads , both lay and cleric, that God has created us to be. This is not to diminish by one iota the role of the mom. She shouldn't have to do both jobs though. Over the years I have talked with many women who do both jobs (even with the man living in the home) and while they do their best at fulfilling the roles, they desperately wish their husband would step up and take his role so that the mom can do hers better. Gentlemen, it is time for us to step up!
How do we do this? How do we grasp the nobility that is spiritual fatherhood? First and foremost by being a man of God. It means following those traits of God the Father aforementioned. You put yourself last! Your children and wife come first. Period. If you are a priest, your parishioners come first. Period. You actively look out for their entire good. You realize your primary responsibility to be a provider and protector, both spiritual and physical, of those God has placed in your care. Your wife and children (or parishioners) should see in you a model of the strength of faith and the pursuit of holiness. Know that if you are willing to turn to God, a Father who loves us and wants what is good for us, and seek the wisdom, courage, and strength to fulfill your mission, He will give it to us. I find the most powerful petition I have every morning is asking God to help me a better father.
If the dearth of priests is to be ever answered. it will by men reclaiming their duty as spiritual leaders. Young men will follow the example of the fathers, for good or for ill. So, men, you ARE a spiritual leader, for good or for ill! Where are we leading? That goes for the parish as well. I know it sounds harsh, but my brothers, neither being a business man nor a show man inspires. They look to us to be strong spiritual leaders who model the strength and compassion of the Father. In either the home or the parish, that is much more than speaking a good game. It is actively living it. It is in taking an active interest and forming the bonds of relationship...you know being a father is a familial relationship?
So dads...do you do spiritual leadership? Do you ever lead prayer in the home. Do you ever pointedly model Christian discipleship? I'll be blunt...it is not primarily the mother's job to take the kids to church...it is yours! It is not manly to abdicate responsibility because I bought into a worldly view of being a man (which is actually acting like a perpetual boy) . I'm not going to go easy on men because I don't on myself. Men don't need to be treated with kid gloves...they man up. Be a better husband and father...model the selflessness, self-control, and compassion necessary to pull this responsibility off. My brother priests, we cannot model our spiritual fatherhood by being prisoners of our rectories waiting like a businessman for the people to come to us. We must get out among our flock and be shepherds actively concerned for the guidance and well being of our flocks...they are the families which we have been given the duty of caring for.
Blaming the women for our own dereliction of duty is an act of weakness and cowardice. We dishonor the effort and sacrifice they put into faith by trying to step up in our role AND their role. We will stand before God, each of us, and have to answer for the role we played or didn't play in caring for those placed under our care. I hope all who read understand this: the base is exactly the same for a good priest as it is for a good husband/dad. If the models aren't living up to the responsibility, how on earth can we expect healthy fruit? No more blaming the women...man up and take your responsibility to those placed under your protection and care. If we truly want to see our society thrive and our church thrive...it will be by being the men we are created to be.