Sunday, June 21, 2015

Trust Your Father

   Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

I was in a small town in Vermont the other day,
and stopped to check out a small bookstore there.
That’s where I picked up this little book:
How to Build A Fire, 
And Other Handy Things Your Grandfather Knew.
It’s a book filled with 
what was once common knowledge,
passed on from one generation to the next.
There are chapters on how to change a tire,
how to drive a nail, and how to shine shoes;
on how to apologize, how to ask for help,
and how to bounce back after failure.
I’ve noticed an increasing number of books like this
being published these days.
The books themselves are great,
but they point to a troubling trend:
that this kind of wisdom 
just isn’t getting passed down
by fathers and grandfathers anymore.

I wouldn’t be the only one to share the opinion
that America is facing a bit of a crisis in fatherhood.

Thumbing through the book,
and reflecting on the gospel reading for this Sunday,
I got to thinking:
Isn’t that what Jesus is doing with his disciples in the boat?
He’s fathering them!

Now, most folks hear the word “fathering”
and think in biological terms.
That’s ironic, of course,
when so many sexual encounters today are sterile,
whether they’re naturally so
or because we’ve effectively neutered them—
ironic, too, in an age when, should a child be conceived,
it’s increasingly likely to happen in a clinic,
rather than the marriage bed.
Biologically speaking, we’ve nearly succeeded
in making fatherhood obsolete.

No, I’m not talking about the fathering
which produces the human body;
I’m talking about the fathering
that fosters the growth of the soul.
That’s getting to be a lost art, too.
We neglect to teach boys and young men
not only manners and mechanics;
we fail to teach them what most contributes to authentic manly virtue:
we fail to teach them how to be men of faith and prayer.
Where are all the guys in church?
Many accuse the Church of being male-dominated…
…but just take a look around the pews
and you’ll get a rather different picture.

It’s in this deeper, truer, spiritual sense
that we find Jesus fathering his disciples
while their boat is tossed about on the sea.
As the disciples are making the crossing,
you could say that Jesus is taking their training wheels off.
By his actions even more than his words, he’s saying:
See what confidence I have in the Father?
I can curl up on a cushion and sleep right through the storm!
I need you to have that kind of confidence in me.

But they’re terrified!
“Do you not yet have faith?” Jesus asks them.
The faith Jesus wants to hand down to these, his spiritual sons,
isn’t so much a matter of committing doctrines and rules to memory;
it’s about learning to trust.
“Having faith” is really just another way to speak of “taking risks”—
being willing to put it all on the line
because you’ve put your complete trust in God.

Storms will always come: trials, scandals, and dangers;
troubled relationships and poor health (whether ours or a loved one’s);
financial struggles and an increasingly violent world.
But for us as for those disciples at sea,
the worst storms are swirling about within the boat,
not swamping it from outside.
Yes, life is hard
but it’s harder still if we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by fear
or despair of things getting better;
if we carry on as if everything depends on us alone
or try to taker and maintain total control;
if we lack for faith.

I was fathered by a pretty great dad.
Perfect?  No…but what dad is actually expected to be?
Among all the things he taught me—and is teaching me still—
I’m most grateful for the gift of my Catholic faith.
Dad didn’t teach me the faith by giving me sermons
or performing great acts of piety.
You know what stands out in my memory?
The fact that, growing up on a farm,
when there could have been many compelling excuses,
we never, ever missed Sunday Mass.
No matter how many things went wrong in the barn,
or how many chores remained still to be done,
we dropped everything to get to church.
The work could wait; our duty to God could not.

These last couple of years,
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what it means to be a father.
(Now, don’t worry:
I’m not about to reveal that I have some secret love child!)
“Father” is more than a merely customary title given to priests.
It points to a real relationship between a priest and his parish.
He’s the head of the family—even if he’s not its most senior member.
And just like any other dad: he’s not perfect…
…but what dad is actually expected to be?
I’ve come to learn that,
even when I’m doing what I’m sure to be right,
it won’t always be appreciated at the time.
What teenager—our fine graduating seniors, included—
has ever agreed with every decision dad makes?
But how many an adult looks back and reluctantly admits:
Go figure!  My father was right!
God appoints priests to father his family,
not so that he can keep his children happy,
but so that they might become holy.
As your father,
I’m so incredibly humbled when you trust me—
not because of who I am or what I myself can do,
but because you put your faith in the one who called me.

My new book might have a chapter
on “How to Banish Monsters Under the Bed,”
but Jesus has shown us that he can quiet
even the most violent of storms.
Let us be renewed in the faith of our fathers!
Let us place our full trust in him
whom even wind and sea obey.

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