Saturday, December 19, 2015

Time to Man Up! Of Dads and Fathers

This morning I got to talking with a parishioner after Mass (yes, a Saturday morning Mass...they still happen) and our conversation was mainly about two things: A pregnancy crisis center that is opening soon here and about the state of priestly witness.  We were talking about how in the Center that was opening we had to follow the example of other centers we had been exposed to and be sure that we had something that reached out to the dads of these children in giving them the tools to be good dads. Both of us sit on the Board for this center. My parishioner is a lawyer and related how he sees the detrimental effects of men being absent in duty or negligent in duty as dads; how that is passed from generation to generation.  We are hoping that among the things we do in this center, is be a voice who calls these men to step and be the dad these children are going to need.   The dad being the best man he can be, the best dad he can be, and growing into a man of faith are all part of an equation that we know can and will stem the tide present in this culture of fatherlessness.  We know children with good fathers are afforded a better life that those who don't. 

This will take some work.  Our young men today are been largely emasculated and taught to be numbed: their role is to play video games, have sex, and complain about  how unfair life is. Our culture has tricked them into accepting little, killing ambition, and becoming destructively self centered.   Calling them beyond themselves and into nobility is so important and necessary for a healthy culture.  That behavior needs to be modeled. A dad with little ambition will train his children to be the same.  A dad who finds anything that makes him move beyond himself (faith, responsibility) troublesome and unworthy of his time will train his children to be the same.  A man who numbs himself through obsessive behaviors or sinful behaviors will pass the same down to his kids.  To reverse trends will require men to get off the couch, put down the gaming control, and get about the business of being a man.
You'll notice though, there were two subjects this morning; I have not forgotten the other.  They are intimately tied together.   They are tied so closely together because the same dynamic is in play within a parish: the faithful witness or lack thereof will resonate in a parish, either producing great good and engendering great harm.
Just as the leadership of the dad in a family is central to the passing on of faith, so the leadership of the priest, called father for a definitive reason, is central to passing on of faith.  There are a few places worthy of reflection here.  First, does the priest actually believe that he is, by the grace of God and power of the Holy Spirit, confecting the Body and Blood of Christ?  Does the way he celebrates Mass, touches the sacred Species, and shows reverence give a witness to profound belief?  If it doesn't, how, then, will those sitting in front of him come to belief themselves?  Yes, we can point out ex opere operato (essentially, if the correct form and matter are used, the sacrament becomes what God  designs regardless of the personal holiness of the priest), but if the witness of the priest to the reality of the Eucharist is not present, how then can we engender belief and devotion?  Does the priest give ample access to his parishioners in time and energy; making himself available to them through confession and getting out among them in pastoral visits?  If the only time his parishioners are given any consistent access is for that 1 hour at Mass, what does that say?  
 I believe the way we constrict times for confession is the equivalent of taking a bullhorn out and saying, "It's not important!"  Wow.  The central reason for the Christ even is the forgiveness of sin and the reconciliation it brings about.  We will hide behind the words, 'by appointment' which largely deny the penitent the option of anonymity and largely say. 'if you can get ahold of me, we'll do it.'  Imagine that dynamic within a family.  It would be destructive.  Face time, though, is not limited to confession and  Mass.  Most priests have actual degrees in theology; do we share that wisdom and learning with our parishioners?  Do we darken the doors of classrooms and classes?  When we  are silent on the passing on of the faith, we have only ourselves to blame for the lack of faith.  Many priests will point to the 2002 scandals as why they do not go around teens and children.  Let's be honest, it wasn't like most priest delegated the kids off the a legion of nannies in the form of youth ministers to do their job completely for them.
There is much more I could write on this.  Perhaps someday I'll write that book.  However, ponder this.  We know that the lack of dads will engender the next generation of men to not see marriage and being a dad as connected with sex.  It will be pleasure in the moment; a woeful cancer spread.  By the same token, a priest who is not a father to his parishioners will leave the possibility of young men in his parish entertaining the possibility of priesthood almost dead.  Dads and Fathers, our belief matters.  Our presence matters.  Our interaction with those placed in our care matters.  If we hope for change in the problems that plague our parishes and homes, it will begin with men stepping up and being the dads, the husbands, the priests, and the men we are called to be.  If it seems I am being a bit demanding of men, trust me, it is the standards I hold myself to.  I don't always achieve them, but they are the goals, day in and day out.  So, it is doable, hard but doable.

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