This marks the third segment in our series: The First Mark of a Great Man: Silence. Silence is one of the most essential characteristics of a powerful, peace-filled, resilient man. As we have discussed, silence has two forms: exterior and interior. The enemy and his kingdom of noise constrains most men from ever achieving any real sense of exterior silence. His motive is simple: he is bent on denying us the freedom of hearing the Father’s voice, because if we hear His voice, we will begin to know God—and knowing God, we will come to know ourselves, our mission, and our call to greatness. Recently, I stumbled across a comic conveying a distressed male patient lying on a couch while his psychologist advised him, “Shut off your cell phone, GPS, iPod, and Bluetooth headset, then let me know if you still hear the voices.” Indeed, the first step in hearing God is shutting down and unplugging from the kingdom of noise. The second step, as discussed during our last session, is establishing strategies to carve out periods of interior silence for the purpose of hearing the Vox of the Father. However, I think that even after we have removed the deadly kingdom of noise and have dedicated ourselves to periods of interior silence, many of us discover a greater challenge: we discover that there is more than one voice rattling around in our heads. At least this is the case with me—yes, I hear voices—“but my little voices assure me that I’m quite normal.” As St. Ignatius relates in his Spiritual Exercises, those interior voices, or interior thoughts, have three potential sources: God, the devil, or us. It is imperative that we sift through these voices and discern the voice of the Father. However, this may prove to be extremely challenging. Many of us, including myself, are internally wounded, and those wounds from the past cut very, very deep and will often haunt us, reminding us of our weakness, our past failings, our failed opportunities, our inferior nature, our insecurities and utter vulnerability—all of which condition us to be susceptible and more willing to receive and believe the voice of the enemy.
How the Enemy Enters
For example, Kyle is one of three brothers whose dad owns a successful auto body shop. Kyle’s dad expected that all of his sons would take up his trade and spend their adult lives employed in his garage. Kyle, however, had ambitions to attend college and become a teacher. His dad shamed him for his decision, consistently mocking him, referring to him as a “schoolgirl” or “college idiot.” After decades of being a successful, highly effective teacher, being made chair of his department, winning numerous awards, and profoundly impacting children’s lives, he still struggles to shake the ever-nagging, haunting sense that he is a failure, that he is not a real man, that he is not the chosen son in whom his heavenly Father delights. Bill, one evening when he was four years old, attempted to kiss his father before going to bed, to which his father responded, “Real men don’t do that.” Bill confessed that because of this event he struggles to be affectionate and intimate with his own children. Troy, was playing catch with his dad at an early age. After failing miserably in his attempts to catch the ball, his dad scolded him. Troy ran into the house, threw his baseball mitt in the trash, and never played ball again. He believed that he failed his father, and from that day on has consistently viewed himself as a disappointment to his father. Recently, a friend shared that his dad rarely calls him and though the two of them live in the same town, his father never stops by “just to visit.” As he told me that his dad doesn’t spend time with his children unless he is asked to, he confessed, “I simply feel like my dad doesn’t care. I’m not important to him. His life really doesn’t include me. It’s like he’s put in his time raising me while I lived at home and now he’s done with being a dad.” The truth is that regardless of our age, we are never done being “dad.”
The Freedom to Love
Though a human father can inflict a wound on a child, there exist countless sources for our wounds. These wounds cut deep, and can cause us to operate from the tremendous disadvantage of not being capable to discern the true voice of God. Often, instead of hearing the Father’s voice, which is the voice of encouragement, hope, generosity, and the call to glory, and whose fruit is trust and love, we instead hear the voice of doubt, distrust, discouragement, which eventually leads to despair, acceptance of failure, mediocrity, and a life of banality. The battle at hand is the battle to trust the Father. This is the original and perennial battle. This was the original man’s—Adam’s—battle. In the beginning, God granted Adam “dominion over all of creation” (see Gen. 2). From this we can deduce that God is a generous, benevolent Father who freely gives to man all that He has. Our Lord Jesus, as the full expression of the Father, says to each of us, “All that is mine is yours.” However, in order to afford us the choice to freely receive that divine generosity, the Father gave us an option to love as God loves, or to love ourselves above God. The test to determine which we would choose was the test given to Adam and Eve, to overcome the temptation to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Indeed, God indicates that “All that is mine is yours—except the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This is the only thing you cannot have.” In other words, God said, “I alone have the ability to determine good from evil. You are a creature, and if you are to embrace true love, you must comply with what I have already determined as good.” God did not give us the tree of knowledge as some dirty trick, but rather as a means of giving us the option to choose and prove our love. Without this option, God would have coerced or forced us into loving Him. But God doesn’t force us to love; He always gives us the freedom to choose love. But we chose slavery instead of freedom, selfishness instead of selflessness; we believed the lie of the Father of Lies, who targeted and tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit with those beguiling words, “No, you shall not die the death, for you know that in that day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). It was in that moment that Satan inflicted the ever-haunting “father wound.” The enemy attempts to convince us, as he did our first parents, that God doesn’t want us to succeed, that He doesn’t want us to share His glory, that He is “keeping something from us,” that he wants to suppress us. As Pope John Paul II said, “Original sin, then, attempts to abolish fatherhood.” The father wound that cuts so very deep in each and every man is sometimes transmitted by human fathers, but always originates from the Father of Lies, who attempts to convince us to mistrust the Father, to doubt His generosity, to disbelieve that God has created us and destined us for His glory.
It’s Difficult to Trust
A couple of years ago, Elizabeth, my three-year-old daughter, asked if I could give her a piggyback ride. I put her on my shoulders and began walking down our sidewalk. Overwhelmed with fear, she suddenly clung to me with all her might, emitting a high-pitched shrill, as she yanked my left ear with one hand nearly tore my nose from my face with the other. (Evidently she grabbed a hold of my largest and most prominent facial features.) I attempted to reassure her that she would not fall and that she was safe with me. She scrammed even louder, demanding that I set her down. By now several of my neighbors were watching—with a little too much satisfaction. Exasperated, I finally begged her, “Elizabeth, don’t you trust me, don’t you trust your papa?” To which she yelled emphatically, “No!” I was actually crushed. She didn’t trust me. She didn’t trust her father. This event caused me to consider whether God isn’t offended by our distrust of Him. As our Lord related to St. Faustina, “The thing that offends me the most is when souls do not trust me.” In fact, Jesus also shared with Faustina, “The greatest obstacles to holiness are discouragement and worry.” In other words, the largest obstacle to becoming a father of glory is distrust of the Father.
Discerning the Voice of the Father
So how do we discern the voice of the Father?—the voice that unlocks our ability to trust in Him—which is what gives us the power to power to fulfill our vocation as fathers with determination, zeal, and fervor? Our Lord, in His Sermon on the Mount said, “What man among you would give his son a stone when he asks for bread or a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more does you heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him” (Matt. 7:11). Our Lord is asking us to reflect on our love for our children and understand that the love we have for them, and the desire we have for them to succeed, is the Father’s love living in us—a divine, fatherly love that always desires great things for His children. Recently, I was in Florida and had the opportunity to see the ocean. As I peered out over the tremendous expanse of mighty water I began to reflect on God’s ocean of mercy—mighty, deep, and limitless. As I stood on that beach, I began praying an Our Father and when I came to the words, “Give us this day our daily bread,” I was inspired with the thought that for 45 years our Father has indeed provided daily bread. I began calculating the immense totality of His provision, multiplying 45 years by 365 days by 3 meals a day, and realized that God has up to this point in my life provided nearly 50,000 meals—if not more—and has never neglected to do so. I then proceeded to the phrase, “Forgive us our trespasses,” and considered that the “just man falls 7 times a day,” and that I, being far from a just man for most of my life, have sinned more than 7 times a day. I estimated that I have probably sinned easily at least twenty times a day, totalling approximately 330,000 sins over the last 45 years, and the Father has forgiven them all. There is no doubt that our Father is generous. The evil one is constantly telling us that God is keeping something from us, but more likely, because of our mistrust of the Father, we are keeping ourselves from Him. This past summer I saw a sign that said, “I love the sound you make when you shut up.” I think we can apply this to the voice of the devil.
What’s the point? In the silence, in prayer, it is imperative that we discern whose voice, whose messages, we are receiving. It is vital that we sift through the messages and determine the truth. If in the silence you are receiving messages of doubt, discouragement, and distrust of God, you can guarantee that these messages are from the Father of Lies. If you are receiving messages of hope, trust, and encouragement, you can guarantee that these are from God the Father. Perhaps a qualifier is needed. If the Lord convicts us of our sins, it is only to give us the hope and encouragement to repent and become the person He has created and destined us to be. He does not desire to condemn us. However, the evil one is “the one who accuses them both day and night before the Lord.” The evil one lures us into sin, and then turns on us, convincing us to despair of God’s forgiveness. If God removes an opportunity from us, it is only to grant us greater possibilities. However, the enemy desires that you believe that God is against you, or simply neglecting you.
The Three Truths That Overcome Doubts
We all fail. We all sin. We would never grant anyone access into our minds and hearts because as one friend of mine said while pointing to his head, “I ain’t letting anyone in here. It’s a mess in there.” When we are a mess, when we are broken, when we sin and fail, how do we overcome the evil temptation to doubt and distrust God? It is imperative that we remember three essential truths: First, the foundation of your identity can never be solely founded upon what you do. You and I, by Christ’s Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection, are now adopted sons of the Father. God has chosen you first—before you could even breathe He desired you into existence. His choosing you is a free gift that you could never earn. If our sonship could be earned, then Christ’s sacrifice was in vain. Second, we must respond to the gift of our sonship by entering into friendship with God. What Adam did not do, we must choose to do. St. Thomas said that charity, the greatest virtue, is friendship with God. The condition of any friendship is that friends give themselves to the other. This is the greatest of all works—being a friend to God. Often we mistakenly focus on the good works rather than the God we are doing them for. Good works can easily become a snare if we identify ourselves primarily with what we do. If we make this mistake, our good works can become a god. As St. Paul said, “If I offer my body to be burned, but have not love, it is nothing.” We cannot identify ourselves solely by what we do. For example, my identity is not this apostolate. If my identity were primarily defined by this apostolate and it diminished or was removed from me, I could fall into despair, believing that my identity had been robbed from me. But this is not the case. My identity is that I am a son of God. God may ask me to live my sonship by participating in the Fathers of St. Joseph in order to bring myself and others into friendship with Him. In other words, we fulfill our sonship by responding to His free gift of adoption. If our successes are the source of our identity, then our failings will also be the foundation of our identity. But as John Paul II said, “You are not the sum total of your sins and failings, you are children of God.” Years ago, my daughters disappointed me. My disappointment seemed to cause them to be disappointed with themselves, and because of this they seemed to withdraw from me. We finally sat down and talked it over. Toward the end of the conversation I said, “When you do wrong, do you think that I love you less?” They paused and both responded emphatically, “No.” I then asked, “When you do something great, do I love you more?” To which they responded, “No.” “Exactly,” I said. “When you do wrong I may be disappointed in you, and when you do right I may be proud of you, but my love for you never changes.” The Father’s love for us never changes. The third truth is that we can only discern how God desires us to befriend him by discerning His voice in prayer.
The Love of the Father
There is a story of a father who had two sons, one older and one younger. Their tribe lived within close proximity of a jungle in which a cannibalistic tribe was known to reign. The father warned his sons never to enter the jungle, for fear that they would never return. One day, the younger son grew inquisitive and wandered into the jungle, quickly becoming lost and eventually falling into a pit from which he could not free himself. The day grew long and the father noticed that the younger son had not returned home. He summoned his older son and sent him to search for his younger brother. The older brother moved deep into the jungle, searching until dusk, when he finally discovered his brother in the pit. He extended his arm to pull his younger brother out, but the hole was too deep. Considering the situation, the older son jumped into the pit, lifted his younger brother onto his shoulders, and pushed him out of the pit. Suddenly they heard the pounding of drums and the howling of the cannibals coming to capture their prey. For a moment, the brothers stared into each other’s eyes, the younger brother frozen in fear. The older brother commanded him, “Leave now, before you die also. Go back to your father.” God the Father has sent his Son to dive deep into the pit of sin that each of us have dug for ourselves. The Son dives deep into our pit, lifts us upon His shoulders, and sets us free, sending us back to His Father, our Father, while paying the price with His compassionate heart for our miserable selfishness. God the Father is pure mercy and has done everything possible to make us realize that He has chosen us, desires us, loves us, and wants to share with us His glory. This is His message, His voice—a voice that encourages us to trust, to risk, and to believe that He can do great things in us. During prayer, it is this voice we must discern.