Mercy Always Has a Cost
This is the third installment in our series “Father of Mercy.” During our first session, we discussed that if we could simmer down God the Father’s attributes to a single descriptive word, that word would be mercy. During our last session we discussed the idea that mercy is love’s second name. In other words, God is Love and Love expresses itself through mercy. It can be concluded that if God the Father expresses love by means of mercy, then mercy is also the human father’s most powerful way of drawing his wife and children to God. Mercy is magnetic—just as Christ forgiving his enemies from the cross magnetically attracted, and still attracts, sinners. But mercy will always cost us something, just as Jesus’ act of mercy cost him his very life. If an act of mercy does not cost us something then it most likely is not authentic mercy. During our last session we also discussed how we as fathers are to apply mercy by integrating justice with mercy and mercy with justice. Justice without mercy is domination. Mercy without justice is neglect or indulgence. There are many ways that we fathers can integrate justice with mercy, but for the sake of brevity we will outline three ways in which we can be merciful to our children: first, protect to inject; second, forgive to live; and third, be the face that transmits grace. Today we will discuss the first of the three: protect to inject.
Protect to Inject
The human father is called to protect in order to inject, which simply means that fathers are to protect their children when they are younger, with the purpose of building them, shaping them, and preparing them to become courageous, noble, virtuous, resilient, compassionate Christians who inject themselves into the world and the Church. As fathers, it is our duty and responsibility to identify the enemies that have the potential to destroy or damage our children’s souls. But how do we do this? This is difficult to answer. However, there may be one simple, overarching way in which we can protect our children. We discover this remedy in the life of St. Joseph. Recall that after Herod ascertained the time of Jesus’ birth, he dispatched soldiers to destroy the child. Joseph, being warned in a dream of the murderous threat, fled secretly by night to Egypt, saving the child and his Mother. This is an allegory for fatherhood. Herod is a symbol of Satan, who desires to destroy our children. Joseph is a symbol of all fathers, who save their children by means of the secret, hidden vocation of fatherhood. Joseph’s example grants us several key insights: first, that there is an enemy who desires to destroy our children; second, that we fathers must take this threat seriously; third, that the weapon to defeat the enemy and save our children can be found when we enter into the hidden, secret, dark night of the fatherly vocation. Unfortunately, many fathers do not realize that there is an enemy, nor are they able to identify the manner in which the enemy attacks our children; and if they do realize that there exists an enemy, they often are afraid to confront him. Whether it is the pervasive media, the perversion of sexuality, peer pressures, or the allure of prestige and honor, the key to immunizing our children against the evil of sin is by doing all within our power to ensure that our children know with certainty that they are important to us, valued by us, and loved above all things, save our wives and God himself. In other words, you and I are the vaccine that helps our children resist the tenacious virus of the evil one’s temptations.
Our Most Important Possession
Imagine that after purchasing a new Mercedes SUV, your neighbor, whom you know only on a casual basis, asks to borrow your new wheels for the weekend. What would your answer be? No. Or perhaps, “Are you crazy?” So why do we hand over our children, who are of far greater value than that SUV, to people we barely know? A friend of mine recounted that each year, his grandparents would leave their eight children and their farm in the trustworthy care of the uncle who was the hired hand, and trek off to Arizona for three months. That uncle systematically sexually molested all of those children, and many of them, after coming of age, molested their nieces and nephews. Wounded people wound others. Perhaps even more cunning is the Herod of technological babysitting, whereby we fathers, not comprehending the malicious nature of the content available on the Web, hand over our children to that uncle, allowing him to have his way with their receptive, spongelike minds. As one friend said, “Sixty seconds of a YouTube video can destroy fourteen years of parenting. My friend’s eight-year-old daughter, Melanie, was chatting with her friend, who was boasting about the fact that she was able to surf Netflix without parental supervision. Melanie said that she wasn’t allowed to do that, and her friend responded, “That’s too bad.” Melanie then explained, “I don’t think so. My daddy wants to protect me—he loves me.” It is difficult to say “no” to our children. But if we spend quality time with them, love on them, and convince them that they are more important than anything we have going on, they will understand that “no” is a tremendous “yes” to loving them. An acquaintance recounted that on his graduation day his father did not allow him to carpool with his buddies to another graduation party located out in the country. He and his dad, instead, stayed home, had a couple of beers, played pool, and talked. On their way to the graduation party, the friends were struck by a car driven by a drunk driver, and they were all killed on impact. Sometimes our “no” is a tremendous “yes” to love.
What is the antidote to the insidious Herods of our world? A father defeats the Herods of the world by embracing the secret, hidden, dark night of fatherhood. Let’s be honest—it is all too easy for fathers to fall headlong into the trap of being noticed by men rather than being known by God. This disordered tendency can manifest itself in many forms: spending long hours with the mistress of work rather than with the ministry of family; sacrificing sacred family time and the building of the domestic church in order to be on church committees; becoming addicted to fantasy football rather than actually playing football with the kiddos. The respect of men, however, is shifting sand, upon which we should not build our kingdom. Curtis Martin, the founder of FOCUS, related that when he was starting FOCUS he met with Archbishop Charles Chaput and the archbishop looked at him and said, “This is all great, amazing really . . . but you know that if you neglect your family, you’ll go to hell.”
The key to assisting our children in overcoming the worldly enemies is to ensure that they know that they are more important than our work, our time, our initiatives, and our hobbies. To protect our children with the purpose of injecting them into the world is an act of mercy that has a great cost: our time and attention—which for most of us is very difficult to give.
Joseph: A Father of Mercy
The Church recently celebrated the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. The optional New Testament reading used in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass for the feast is taken from Colossians 3. First, it is important to understand that the Church purposefully uses this reading in the context of St. Joseph the Worker to convey profound truths regarding work, fatherhood, and the life of St. Joseph. Second, St. Paul in this section of his letter to the Colossians makes two bold statements that if reflected upon, believed, and lived, will aid us in our efforts to embrace the dark night of fatherhood in such a way as to draw down great graces for our family. The first statement in Colossians 3:4 is: “When Christ your life shall appear, then you too will appear with Him in glory.” This indicates that our glory as fathers and the glorious reward due to our works will most often not be made manifest until the end—when Christ finally appears in glory. When Christ does appear in glory, our dedication, service, and sacrifice will appear in all its glory and we also will be glorified with Christ—just as St. Joseph has been and is being glorified with Christ. This is a divine promise. The point is that we must overcome the grave temptation of being concerned with glorifying ourselves on earth. Rather, let us allow the God of heaven to determine our glory on earth.
St. Paul also states in Colossians 3:17, “Whatever you do in word or work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” St. Paul is encouraging us to realize that our work is not accomplished to earn the glory and respect of men. No—this is a death trap. Our work is accomplished for the purpose of serving Christ, who lives in our wives and children; and by doing so, we glorify the heavenly Father with our fatherhood. Our occupation is at the service of our vocation. We are not defined by what we do for a living, but for whom we are living.
We don’t remember St. Joseph for any works of carpentry. Yet today he is the most known and lauded father of all time—precisely because of his fatherhood. St. Joseph, as an icon of God the Father, was a hidden father, and by means of his hiddenness, the greatness of God’s Fatherhood is revealed. So it must be with each of us. A friend shared with me that the human father is like the stud behind the drywall. One cannot see the stud, but it holds up the drywall, the frame, even the structure of the house. Fatherhood secretly holds up the family, the Church, and society. Do you realize what this means? This means that you can go home and tell your wife that you are a stud.
Recall that mercy actually means having a compassionate heart that pays the price for another. As providers, we can often reduce paying the price to bringing home a paycheck. But, as a dear friend shared with me, there is many a man who has paid the price by working long hours for the sake of his family and is still today paying the price for neglecting his children. Mercy is magnetic.
As some of you know, my fourteen-year-old daughter, Anna Marie, has a severe form of cerebral palsy and, being confined to a wheelchair, is dependent upon her mother and me for everything from eating to bathing, cleaning her diapers to brushing her teeth. As Anna Marie drew close to her third birthday, she had not yet learned to sit up on her own, crawl, or walk. My family was invited to a friend’s daughter’s birthday party. As I often did, due to Anna Marie’s inability to sit up on her own without tipping over, I stabilized her by setting her on the floor, braced tightly between my legs. My friend called to his one-year-old daughter, announcing that it was time for her to open her gifts. The girl began to crawl toward him, then unexpectedly sat up straight, stood, and walked in a Frankenstein-like manner over to her dad. The party attendees all erupted in cheers, clapping and laughter at seeing this little girl walk for the first time. I also clapped and smiled—but on the inside I was tormented by the reality that my Anna Marie could not even sit up on her own, let alone walk. I left that party determined that she would learn to crawl that evening. When we arrived home, I laid her face down on the floor approximately three feet away from me, and kneeling down, I began coaxing her to crawl to me. Anna Marie didn’t budge. I called to her again, “Anna Marie, crawl to Papa—you can do it.” Still no movement. I became increasingly frustrated, prompting her to lift her head, move her arms, her legs—and yet she couldn’t move forward. Her little brain could not relay the message to her body to crawl. Then fear set in. I began to imagine, “What if she never crawls, never sits up on her own—never walks? What will become of her? What type of life will she live?” Anxious, frustrated, furious with the situation, I laid beside my daughter, moving her arms and legs for her, saying all the while, in a not-so-gentle voice, “This is how you crawl, this is how you do it.” Then realizing the hopelessness of the situation, I broke down. It was then that a thought from outside of me penetrated me: “Devin, do you see how you desire your daughter to crawl, walk, run? Yet she cannot. Do you see how you desire to help her to the point of lowering yourself to be beside her? Devin, I too want you and Anna to crawl, walk, run—with Me. But I not only lower Myself to be beside you, I come down to be within you that you may soar with Me.”
A great father, a great leader, must learn to condescend, “to go down” to his child’s level. Perhaps by playing checkers, rolling around and wrestling with his kids, dancing with the girls—regardless, it is imperative that we go down to their level in order to raise them up to God. This is the point of Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus. Recall that the angel proclaimed to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest. . . .” How could God becoming man be his glory? Precisely because God’s glory is self-giving love—condescension—lowering himself to our level with the purpose of raising us to him. Our children, whether we believe it or not, desire our validation, affirmation, and attention. When we have a compassionate heart that is willing to pay the price in order to supply these things, they are magnetically drawn to us, their earthly fathers, which, in time, will draw them to their true Father in heaven. And after all, isn’t that why we are fathers?