11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 2008
Every once in a while, we have a happy coincidence where the readings assigned for a particular day also very much fit a civic celebration that happens to fall at the same time. The readings that we have heard proclaimed are not assigned for Father’s Day Weekend, but very much fit the theme of the Divine Paternity of the Father, Jesus giving his Apostles to the Church that they might be shepherds, and the call to Father’s today to share in these dimensions.
First, the Divine Paternity of God the Father: This is something that I think we as Catholics can take for granted, we forget just how special of a thing this is that we are drawn into a relationship with God. Here, we are treated to a very warm first reading, an almost tender voice of God who is profoundly interested in us, His sons and daughters: “I bore you up on eagle’s wings,… you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other peoples.” God the Father desires to draw us to Himself, to have this unique and powerful relationship.
Here in this passage, He is shaping, forming, nurturing us, His children. I almost get the sense that this is the moment in time when God starts to let go of the bicycle seat as the people of Israel learn to ride on their own, they are being formed as a nation, their freedom is about to be guaranteed. Yet, God never leaves them, He is always present to guide and protect. As they are faithful, He is faithful. During these first years, they flourish as the promises that God made before them on Mount Sinai are still fresh and present.
However, as often happens in families, there are those tumultuous teenage years. The joy at first learning to ride the bike is replaced by the angst and desire to be out on their own. This seems to be what the people of Israel went through during the decline and fall of the Kingdom. The connection with God was not strong, God was too distant and the people rebelled and wanted to be like everyone else.
Into this vacuum, Jesus steps in and recognizes that we were like ‘sheep without a shepherd.’ To remedy this problem, he appoints these twelve men who are called to be shepherds, who will carry on His message and ministry in his name after he is gone. Again, as part of God’s master plan, he does not want us to be left to our own misery, but desires that we be drawn deeper into relationship with Him as Father. Knowing our weaknesses, He appoints these men, who have handed down their authority to their successors right down to today in the bishops and in the priests. So it is through the Sacrament of Holy Orders that God is still present with us, leading us a shepherd leads his sheep. What a wonderfully warm and caring image of our God, that he provides for us the leadership of those whom He has chosen and have set aside all that they might give their lives as Christ did, so that others might live. It is awe-inspiring to me who live this mystery every day, and as Jesus instructs us, we should pray that more men, especially, have the courage to take up this call. (As well as women to religious life, but that is a slightly different call.)
One final aspect that I want to address on this Father’s Day is the crisis of fatherhood in this country especially. As vocation director, I am often asked what some of the causes of the current vocation crisis are. Certainly there are many different aspects that can be highlighted, but at the root of much is that the men in this country have failed as fathers and dads. We have been emasculated. Recent research has pointed out that those raised without a father present in the home are much more likely to end up involved in the violent crime, drop out of school, and parent a child at a young age; which often just serves to perpetuate the unfortunate cycle. (As a caveat, one of my dearest friends is a single mom of a now college aged son. While she has never married, she admits that she had to be very forthright in providing good, holy role models of men for her son to emulate in his life. While it was not easy, it can be done, so please do not take what I say as an absolute condemnation of single moms, I just want to focus on fatherhood for today.)
Dads: be good dads! Do you realize that you are an image of God to your children, much more so even than your wives? They way that you relate to your children, and they relate to you, will impact them for the rest of their lives, and their relationship with God will be greatly modeled on their relationship with you! (Not to but too much stress on you!) Teach your children the ways of faith, model the heroic striving for virtue, be kind and courteous to everyone you meet. Your children (or grandchildren) are watching you! Be stern if you have to be, because sometimes we need that swift strong kick on the backside to get us out of our own way!
Take God as your model. He shapes and molds each one of us. So must you shape and mold your children, be concerned for your wife’s holiness, and be an example to your co-workers and friends. We need good strong dads in this world, strive to be the greatest, and treasures will result.