Pillar IV: PROVIDING
Giving Everything – Leaving nearly nothing
Recently, a friend of mine, a father of nine children—all grown and living on their own—confessed that he was vexed by the fact that not one of his children is faithfully practicing their Catholic faith today. He described how he sacrificed for them, working long hours—even weekends—in order to provide them cars when they became old enough to drive; how he paid for their college educations; how he purchased a second home on the beach to ensure that the family had the best summer vacations; how he loaded them with Christmas gifts each year. As he shared his thoughts, he openly confessed, “I gave them everything and left them with nearly nothing.” How can this be? How can a father work tirelessly in order to provide such material gifts only to have his children abandon their spiritual Father? It appears that the baby boomer generation of American men were often driven, compelled and plagued by the ideal: “I had it hard—but I am going to ensure that its different for my children.” The men who labored on their father’s farms for food, chopped wood to have heat during the winter, dug wells for water, bought oil for their lamps, were convinced that they would provide in a way that would ensure that their children were not crushed under such burdens. Our fathers worked diligently, intelligently, many long and hard hours to ensure that we could flip a switch in order to have light, turn on a faucet and have water, and never have to worry about having food or heat. And some of them, in doing so—without realizing it—did us a disservice: they provided for us materially, while often forgetting that such provision of material goods were at the service of providing for us spiritually. Today, many of these men, like my friend, review their fatherhood, their lives, the years of hard work and look at this in light of their children’s lives and think, “I gave them everything and left them with nearly nothing.”
The three enemies of the three ideals
During our last FOSJ meeting, we discussed that a father leads by loving and loves by leading. To ensure that the family becomes what it should be, a father must assume his charitable authority and fulfill its three expressions of protecting, providing and teaching. To choose not to protect, to provide and to teach is to choose not to love. If we desire to overcome the world and lead our families to heaven, we must fulfill our duty of protecting. If we desire to empower our families—our children—to overcome the flesh and live by the Spirit, we must fulfill our responsibility of providing. If we desire to defeat the devil and lead our families from rebellion, we must instill obedience to God in our wives’ and children’s hearts by means of teaching. Today, we will discuss how a father truly provides for his family to ensure that they live by the Spirit—by the law of self-giving love—which affords true freedom.
The Enemy of Providing
The enemy, the flesh, relentlessly tempts the human father to fixate upon that which is material instead of using the material as a means to focus on the spiritual. St. Paul tells us that “They who are according to the flesh mind the things of the flesh, but they who are according to the spirit mind the things of the spirit. For the inclination of the flesh is death, but the inclination of the spirit is life and peace. For the wisdom of the flesh is hostile to God, for it is not subject to the law of God, nor can it be. And they who are carnal cannot please God. (Rom 8:5-8) And our Lord stated, “the Spirit gives life but the flesh is of no avail.” (See John 6:?) So, there is a tremendous battle between the flesh, that is, concupiscence—disordered carnal appetites— and the spirit, which longs for truth goodness, peace, life—God. The cravings of the flesh lead to death, while the Spirit gives life. We fathers are called to use our talents, energies, skills—our very intellect, will and passions—to provide food, shelter and clothing for our families. There is, however, a grave temptation to believe that by providing materials goods, we have done good enough. Jesus, however, asks us, “is not life more than eating and clothing?” Too often, we fathers route ourselves through a series of cycles of days, months and years, which involve working, eating, and sleeping, only to begin the process again—with the sole purpose of providing for the flesh. This type of providing robs the father and his children of the very vitality and vibrancy of life afforded by the Spirit of God. Indeed, such provision for the flesh, leads to the death of the child, for the child upon receiving such provision, begins to believe that the meaning of life is to acquire goods rather than using foods to acquire the Spirit.
The proper Way to Provide
The human father enables his family to overcome the flesh and live by the Spirit by placing his occupation at the service of his vocation. The human father’s identity is not derived as much from his occupation as from his vocation. At work, a father is replaceable, while at home he is irreplaceable. The human father’s identity is not founded upon what he “does for a living”, but rather, for whom he is living. By means of his occupation, a father is fund-raising for his ministry—his family. The family is not at the service of work and goods, but rather, goods and work are at the service of his family. Grace builds upon nature, therefore it is imperative that we use the goods of which we provide to provide a path to the ultimate good. A father provides three main goods: food, shelter and clothing. It is vital that we use these goods of food, shelter and clothing to mark out—for our children—a path to the ultimate Good. How do we do this? A way to determine if goods are mastering us, or if we are mastering our goods—if we are providing for the flesh at the expense of the spirit, or providing for the Spirit by means of the flesh—is by using a simple four step process: analyze, admit, ask and act.
To become great fathers and raise great children it is imperative that we analyze why and how we are providing. We must ask ourselves questions like, “What is the motive behind my act of providing? Why do I work late? Why do I want a different job? Why am I striving to earn more money? Why do I want a bigger house or newer car? Why am I feeding my children? Why do I desire more goods? Am I providing these goods to fulfill a spiritual end, or am I using materials means as an end in themselves?” In other words, what is my motive behind providing? Are my ideals becoming idols? Motives matter. Our interior life, beliefs and motives give our exterior life form. Do I provide a home for my family only to protect them from the elements, or more importantly, that my home be a refuge to protect them from the evil one—that is, my home becomes a domestic church, a place that fosters the fulfillment of the project of the child being built into a house— a temple—of God? A simple way to evaluate this: Is my home peppered with images or our Lord, our Lady or the saints? Is the TV the center piece in the living room, or is the Bible? Do we use the home as a place of familial prayer—or is it a boarding house for athletes and future college students? Is my home a place to play and pray, or simply a place of play?
A father provides food not only to nourish his child’s body, but also as a symbol and reminder of the heavenly Father’s generosity—particularly the Father’s provision of the Bread of Life, which nourishes and saves the child’s soul. A simple way to evaluate this: Does my family consistently eat dinner together? Do activities have priority over family dinner? Do I lead my family in thanksgiving to Almighty God for his provisions? Do I use food—like taking my children out to eat individually— as a means to know my children?
A father provides clothing in order that his child be protected from physical exposure, but also to ensure that his child begin to comprehend God the Father’s desire to protect his child from the shame of lust A simple way to evaluate this: Do we tell our daughters and sons that the true meaning of the body is to express their inner mystery and dignity, while also expressing something of the mystery of God? Do we encourage them to dress modestly, upholding their dignity, or do we encourage them to submit to the fads and the latest immodest styles? Do we encourage them to wear clothes that draw attention to them? These are difficult questions, which must be asked in order to determine our motives for providing.
After analyzing our motives and determining whether we have made some of our carnal ideals idols—that is, we have chosen the good over He Who is great—it is crucial that we admit our error to God—especially in the Sacrament of Confession. It is vital that we state our condition in all humility, as it truly is: “I am carnal, of the flesh. I’m materialistic and have allowed my fleshly appetites to drive me and effect my leadership. My desire to acquire is a result of my pride.”
Our Lord promises that “whoever asks, the Holy Spirit will be given to him.” (Lk?) We fathers, after analyzing and admitting, must ask God for Christ’s redemptive grace to heal us of pride, false ambitions, vain-glory and covetousness, which as St. Paul state is idolatry. (Col 2?) Christ will provide the prompting, the grace and the means to “walk humbly with God” , “Learning to live in all circumstances” (Phil ?), being thankful for all that the Lord has given—and not given.
Following the prompting of the Holy Spirit, we ought to adorn our home as a domestic church, with holy reminders of our God—perhaps even having a small table, which serves as a mini-altar with a Bible enthroned on it. We ought to make family dinner a priority, leading the prayer of thanksgiving, teaching our children that it is God the Father Who truly provides. We ought to assist our wives, by encouraging our children to dress in a manner that upholds their dignity and honor.
St. Joseph our Protector
St. Joseph provided for his family and yet, all that he provided materially was at the service of providing for Jesus and Mary spiritually. Joseph fed bread to the Bread of Life and from that Bread we have all received eternal life. Our God has endowed us fathers with the noble, heroic and challenging task of using material goods to direct our children to the eternal God, in order that they may mature and do the same.