Lead by Loving; Love by Leading
If there is no one to lead, none will follow. A leader must lead his family from wrong, or wrong will lead his family. Our Lord says, “strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter.” It is imperative that we protect ourselves from being struck by Satan, lest the flock of our family be scattered. We fathers have been ordained with the distinct role to lead. Contrary to what the world tells us, this role does not deny the equal dignity between spouses. Consider the Triune God: The Father is a greater father than the Son, and the Son is a greater son than the Father. God is unity in distinction. In the human family, parents have distinct roles—even if those roles overlap and are shared , from time to time—by spouses. A father, regardless of whether he feels qualified, is called to lead his family. Consider St. Joseph, who was the least perfect member in the Holy Family, yet God ordained him to lead her, who is full of grace, and Him, Who is full of grace and truth. God does not call the worthy, but makes worthy those whom He calls. If we fathers do not assume our divinely ordained position of charitable authority, that is, to lead by loving and love by leading, we will allow our families to become susceptible to many temptations, which, if unchecked, will deteriorate the family, which consequently will lead to the deterioration of the Church and society.
The essence of man: to Initiate self-donation
Recall that John Paul II said that the body reveals the mystery of the person. A man’s body reveals that he is an initiator, a generator of self donation; he sets the pace of self giving love—not only for his wife, but for his entire family. This is his essential character. This power and call to initiate can build up or destroy families, persons and societies. Jesus, the greatest initiator of all time, said, “The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:56) St. Paul said, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Cor 8:1) As fathers, we must use our knowledge and power to initiate—particularly in areas of discipline—to build up, to love, to save and not to destroy—not to destroy our children, but to save them. So how do we initiate sacrificial discipleship in our children in order to save their lives? Let’s turn to Abraham and learn from his timeless example.
The wood of Discipline
After God commanded Abraham to trek to the land of Moriah and offer his son Isaac in sacrifice, “Abraham took the wood of burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father.” (See Genesis 22:7) Notice that it was the father who laid the wood, often seen by the Church Fathers as a type of the cross of Christ, upon the body of Isaac, his son. This wood is not only a symbol of the cross of Christ, which the heavenly Father laid upon His Son Jesus, but also is a symbol of the cross of discipline that every father is called to place upon the spiritual shoulders of his child. Abraham’s act of placing the wood upon the body of Isaac proclaims that every father has been ordained by means of his vocation, to initiate the first signs of sacrificial love in his child.
Claiming the Child that the Child may claim his father
To initiate our children in the ways of sacrificial discipleship can be difficult for many reasons. Often, we fear that we will lose friendship with the child and therefore avoid laying the wood of discipline upon our children, or that if our children resent the discipline they receive, they will resent their earthly father, and therefore eventually come to resent the heavenly Father. A father, however, who prepares his child to lose his life by means of sacrificial love, will not lose the children’s love, but rather, will enable his child to gain life, and thus will win the love of his child in the end. Listen to the words of Isaac, who, despite the burden of the wood of discipline, was moved to call out, “My father.” Isaac’s words proclaim that a child who receives the cross of discipline from his father will claim his father as his own. A father who disciplines his child claims the child as his own, and a child who is disciplined will eventually claim his father as his own, “for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” (Heb 12:7-8)
Disciplining by allowing ourselves to be Disciplined
To ensure that our children are not “illegitimate” children, we must discipline them, while also allowing ourselves to be disciplined. This is very important—in fact one of the keys to successful feathering. In order to give the cross of discipline to our children we must carry the cross of discipline given to us by the Father. If we are to place the cross of discipline on our children’s shoulders, we must carry the cross that has been placed upon ours. Hypocrisy is the one of the most malicious enemies in our efforts to raise other Christs—to effective sacrificial discipleship. Children, usually, do not follow hypocrites, and most often, will not offer themselves to the heavenly Father of an earthly hypocritical father.
So how do we defeat hypocrisy and lead our children in sacrificial discipleship? How do we use discipline to build up, rather than to destroy our children? Regarding the cross of discipline, Our Lord says that if we want to be His disciples, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. Notice, that in order to accept the cross of discipline we must first deny ourselves. This denial of self must always be for another, and ultimately for God. In other words, to deny ourselves is really to offer ourselves “for” the other. This is a father’s “of-for-ing”
Pope Emeritus Benedict, commenting on Our Lord’s words of institution spoken over the wine at the Last Supper—“This is my blood…poured out…for you”—says that the word “for” is the “key to not only [understanding] the Last Supper, but to the figure of Jesus overall. His entire being is expressed by the word ‘pro-existence’—he is there, not for Himself, but for others.” This is His “innermost essence.” “His very being is a ‘being-for.’ If we are able to grasp this, then we have truly come close to the mystery of Jesus, and we have understood what discipleship is.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Volume 2, p 134)
Of-for-ing: an offering for the other
This truly is the key to successful fatherhood: to deny ourselves in order to offer ourselves to God and our family. Denying ourselves without transforming the denial into an “of-for-ing” is simply self discipline, and there is little difference between this type of denial and the denial demanded to train the body for athletic competition or the mind for academic success. It is simply for selfish gain. Rather, we as fathers, deny ourselves with the purpose of offering love. This truth applies to every father and grandfather, regardless of your age or your children’s age. If we want our children and grand children to receive the riches, the freedom, the glory and the power of Christ’s Gospel, we must deny ourselves by making of ourselves an “of-for-ing,” that is, our being is “being for” the other. This type of love wins souls. We deny ourselves ego and self-preoccupation that we may offer ourselves without being preoccupied with self. We deny ourselves our time that we may give our wives and children our time. We deny ourselves of our lusts that we may offer ourselves in love. This is the human father’s “of-for-ing” and the key to raising saints. We are called by God to set the pace of self-giving love and initiate the dynamic of the “of-for-ing.” This grace can happen at any age—it is never too late. If not you, then who?