Pillar III: Embrace THE CHILD
Jesus’ mission: To restore Fatherhood
Over the last several FOSJ sessions we’ve been journeying through the four pillars of the human father’s spirituality: first, embrace silence; second, embrace woman; and today we will be discussing the third of the four pillars—embracing the child. During our last session, we heard that Christ’s first public miracle occurred at a wedding, which is a certain sign of His fidelity to the restoration and redemption of marriage. One of our Lord’s first steps toward healing the human race, was, and is, to heal marriage. As with Christ, the human father’s first step to saving his family—after embracing silence—is to embrace woman—particularly our wives, to whom we must strive to remain yoked. Our Lord’s second public miracle recorded in John’s Gospel was the healing of the royal official’s son. The father of this dying son heard that Jesus had returned to Cana, where He transformed the water into wine, “and went to Him, and besought Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.” “Jesus said to him, ‘Go thy way, thy son lives.” The man believed and his son lived. If Jesus’ first public miracle was a sign of His desire to heal marriage, we can assume that Christ’s second miracle is a certain sign that He is intent on healing the relationship between fathers and their children. Christ demonstrates the outline for the plan of salvation: as He entered the silence of the womb of Mary and the hidden silence of Nazareth for most of His young life, so also, we must embrace silence; as Jesus desired to heal marriage, so also we must embrace our wives and remain faithful to them; and as Christ returned the son—mentioned above—to his father, so also we must strive to embrace our children. In order to successfully embrace our children, we must, like the royal official, take action in three ways: first, he went to Jesus—He sought Him out—and traveled from Capharnaum to Cana; second, he begged Jesus to heal his son; and third, when it appeared that Jesus may have been denying the father’s request, the father persevered. This father interceded on behalf of his child, and if we also expect our children to experience God’s healing mercy, peace, love and salvation, it is imperative that we intercede for our children by “going to Jesus,” “begging Jesus” on behalf of them, and persevere in interceding for our children. In other words, we fathers are called to move beyond biological fatherhood and embrace our spiritual fatherhood.
Biological and Spiritual Fatherhood
Fatherhood is not merely biological, but spiritual. Consider what happens when a father is physically, morally, or emotionally absent: 85% of youth in prison come from fatherless homes. Children from fatherless homes are 32x more likely to become runaways and 6x more likely to commit suicide. 68% of children from two-parent households, who have strained relationships with their fathers will drink, use drugs and engage in premarital sex. Being physically present is not sufficient—we must strive to be a present, a gift of self, to our children. Christ gives us the key to spiritual adoption: “And who shall receive one such little child in my name receives me.” (Mt 18:5) By receiving the child as though the child is Christ, we fathers actually receive Christ within us; and if we receive the child as Christ, the child will be more likely to receive Christ. St. Joseph was called by God to spiritually adopt and embrace the Son of God as his own. This is God’s definitive statement on the necessity of fatherhood: God the Father chose a human father to be the father of His Divine Son. God the Father “needed” Joseph because God the Son needed a human father. God the Father “needs” you to father because your children need God the Father. This is confirmed by God’s last prophetic utterance in the Old Testament: “He shall turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers lest I come and strike the earth with anathema.” (Mal 4:6) The time is now. This is the day, this is the generation of fathers who are turning their gaze toward their children and reforging the chain of fatherhood. In that chain of fatherhood, the human father is the link between heaven and earth, between God and His children. The human father is the face of the Father that our children cannot see; the voice of the Father that our children cannot hear, he is the touch of the Father that our children cannot feel. It is imperative that we become that face, voice and touch of the Father, and embrace our children by first identifying them as a temple of the Holy Spirit; second, by giving our children the materials, which will assist them in the project of building themselves into a temple of the Holy Spirit; and third, charge and bless our children to fulfill the mission to become living temples of God.
Identifying the Child as a temple of God
The first manner in which we are called to embrace the child is by identifying the child as a temple of God. To identity the child as a temple of God demands that we have supernatural vision, and great faith in Christ’s words, “Whoever receives a child in my name is receiving me.” Christ lives in our children. It is our duty as fathers, to not only believe this truth, but we must also express this truth to our children. When our children do good, we can confirm that good, or when they do evil we can make them aware of that evil by saying the words of St. Paul, “Do you not know that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit?” We are called to be the voice of the Father that our children cannot hear, by encouraging them, explicitly drawing attention to their gifts and talents, but most importantly, by audibly expressing to the child that the presence of God lives within him. By doing so, the human father awakens his child to his personal dignity and potential. Usually, if a father expresses to his child the child’s potential for greatness, the child will become a great person. If, however, the human father tells his child that he is a good for nothing, he more than likely, will become a good for nothing. Let’s make the theological practical. Can you identify three gifts—talents—that each of your children has? When was the last time your encouraged and congratulated your child for having and using these gifts? Do we beat down our children verbally, with negative speech, or do we curb our negativity and say only those things which will encourage them? When we discipline our children, do we focus on the evil they have committed, or rather focus on the fact that they are “better than that?” Do we transmit in some sense the question: “do you not know that you have the Holy Spirit within you?” Do we strive to convince them of the message: “You are made for more—you are better than this.” “I believe in you.” “You have an incredible heart—do not let evil diminish that goodness within you.” If we reveal the reality to our children that God lives in them, they will more likely to live for God.
Giving the Child the materials to become a Temple of God
The second manner in which we fathers embrace our children is by providing them the materials needed to be built into a temple of God. The human father gives his child the necessary materials by means of his example. Our example is more powerful than our words, and our time spent with our children is more effective than lectures. As Mason Taupe said to his father, “I listen to 50% of what you say and 100% of what you do.” We provide our children the necessary materials by becoming the face of the Father that our children cannot see—precisely by spending time with them, gazing upon them, which gives them a certain confidence that the Father loves them, and this confidence enables them to gaze trustingly upon God the Father. The most confident human beings have this confidence in the Father, and this confidence is often transmitted through the human father. The human father becomes an iconic presence of the Father by working, praying and playing with this children. “Man can only discover himself by means of being a sincere gift.” (GS 24) This is the key to everything—to raising noble, virtuous, holy children—to teach them to be an authentic, sincere gift of self. It is the human father’s duty to assist his children in the cultivation of their gifts for the sake of others. The primary context by which the human father accomplishes this duty is by means of familial work as an expression of love. By working side by side with our children, framing walls, doing dishes, organizing the house or building barns—we teach our children how to become a gift for the sake of the family, without seeking selfish gain. However, it is imperative that they not only see us work in this manner, but work with us in this manner. Jesus and Joseph, in the humble workshop in Nazareth, crafted the cross of self-giving love. By working with one another—lovingly—we teach our children to sacrifice for the sake of the other. Joseph’s sacrifice taught Jesus how to sacrifice and become The Sacrifice that saved each of us. Second, we give our children the materials by means of our prayerful example: Holy Mass attendance, leading prayer before meals, morning and evening prayers and blessing our children. Thirdly, we need to play with our children. Whether it is actually playing games or participating in athletic activities, going on daughter dates, taking the boys hunting, or simply joking around with our children, we need to be present to them. It is vital that we stop, listen and look into their eyeballs and see the person who desires to be loved and known. Let’s make the theological practical. Do we spend weekly – or biweekly, one on one time with each of our children? Do we stop, and actually look into their eyeballs when they are speaking to us? Do we take our daughters out on dates, or spend quality time with our sons? Do we become perturbed by the incessant conversations with our children, or do we persevere in engaging them by engaging the conversation? Do our children trust us with their thoughts? If so, this is a certain sign that we have been spending quality time with them.
Blessing the Child to become a child of God
The third manner in which we embrace the child is by blessing the child to be built into a temple of God. By means of hugs, kisses, pats on the back—but perhaps most importantly—the daily blessing, we become the touch of the Father that our children cannot feel. According to tradition, on the eve preceding the Sabbath, the father of a Jewish family summoned his children in order to bless them. In this manner, Joseph blessed Jesus many times. If God the Son allowed Himself to be blessed by a human father, how much more should our children be blessed by us. The fatherly blessing is threefold: the human father, in the image of the Father is called to invoke the Holy Spirit upon his child that God’s presence may dwell within the child; second, the human father asks that God grant his mercy to his child, forgiving the child his sins; and third the human father asks that God grant His peace to his child—a peace that comes from fulfilling the will of God on earth that the child may be with God forever in heaven. Though we cannot perceive quantitatively the effect that our blessing has on our children, we have faith that his blessing has supernatural power.
The Triumph of Fatherhood
Recall that the last old testament prophecy spoke of fathers turning their hearts toward their children that the hearts of children may be turned towards their fathers. The first time God spoke in the New Testament, He transmitted a similar message through the angel Gabriel, regarding John the Baptist: “And he shall turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of the incredulous to the wisdom of the just; to prepare for the Lord a perfect people.” (Lk 1:17) Let our hearts be turned to that just man, St. Joseph, and allow him to guide and lead us and our families to become that perfect people. In the very last apparition at Fatima, St. Joseph appeared with the child Jesus, simultaneously blessing the world. The message of Fatima is: in the end, My Immaculate Heart will Triumph.” How will this triumph occur? When the human father turns to St Joseph, and as with Joseph and Jesus, the hearts of fathers and children are united—then they will become a blessing to this world, by means of their healed relationships. Society goes by way of the family and the family goes by way of the father; if you want to change the world, change the father. It is never too late. The time is now. Let us “go to Joseph” and become like him, a father on earth like the Father in heaven.