The Generational Gap
Why are we here? Why do you and I sacrifice our time and precious sleep to be here at 6 a.m.? Perhaps it is because we subconsciously sense that there is something deeply troubling with our culture, that our children are under attack, and that our families are very vulnerable to the wiles of the wicked one. Due to the social-techno revolution, our kids speak an altogether foreign language. As children, many of us thought that our parents were out of touch—that they simply didn’t “get it.” Today’s kids live in a culture saturated with screen names and provocative selfies—a virtual world that speaks in a virtual language that most parents simply cannot see or detect, let alone relate to. Our children are consumed with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, hook-up apps, porn apps, violent video games, and unrestricted streaming YouTube. The largest group of porn users are teens between the ages of twelve and seventeen. They live (or die) on a steady diet of daily porn. Studies are now revealing that by nineteen many young men—because of porn use—experience erectile dysfunction, and as they age, they prefer pornography over a real person. Social technology is the new normal context in which to meet another. Young people now in their twenties would rather hook up via social media apps than court or date someone, because the pressure to have a meaningful conversation and actually socialize normally is too intense. The generational divide between us and our children is alarming, diabolical, and intentional. The family has been redefined and what was once known as the traditional family—father, mother, and children—is often viewed by young people as a fairy-tale ideal. Young people understand broken marriages, divorce, single parenting, children living with parents with multiple partners, and homosexual parents, as the new norm. Meanwhile, the “good dads” are doing their best to raise good kids by having their children attend Catholic or parochial or private schools, believing that this type of education should “do the trick” and make their children upstanding, successful, moral citizens. Unfortunately, the stats tell a different story: some 80 percent of those who leave the Catholic Church do so before age twenty-four. The satanic tsunami is rolling in and most of the world is hanging around to take pictures. Who can stop the black tide of death from sweeping away our families?
Understand Your Call
The evil one has achieved the redefinition of the family, the twisting of the meaning of the sacrament of marriage, and the moral decay of most of our children by using a simple tactic: “If you bind the strong man of the house you can plunder his goods” (see Mark 3:27). And again, “Strike the shepherd of the family and the sheep will be scattered” (see Matt. 26:21). Satan’s goal is simple: Bind the strong man, the human father, the head of his family with disordered attachments. Strike him down with distractions and addictions, By doing so, the evil one can plunder his family at will, having his way with his wife and children. As Ephesians 3:15 conveys, the human father is ordained by God to be the very symbol, icon, and transmitter of God the Father’s generosity, strength, power, love, and glory to his children. Our fatherhood is not an accident, but rather created by divine design to communicate the Father’s presence, love, power, and intimacy to our children. This is our job. That’s it. This is the goal and reason for our vocation: to reveal to them the Father in order that they may love him and experience his love for them. But, as Our Lady of Fatima related, souls are falling into hell like leaves from trees. And as Our Lord said, “the road to hell is broad, smooth and easy, and many go that way” (see Matt. 7:13). To become the very transmitter of God the Father’s love to our children, we must be courageous enough to assume our charitable authority, to lead our family by means of self-sacrificial love. Children raised by a selfish father often become selfish adults, and children raised by self-sacrificial leaders often become leaders who sacrifice themselves for the sake others. St. Paul says that husbands are to love their wives in the manner that Christ loves the Church (see Eph. 5). That is, with self-sacrifice, dying to his disordered passions with the purpose of loving his wife with Christ’s love: “This is my body given for you.” When a man loves his wife in this way, his children catch this vision of love and begin to embody this love in their own lives. When men truly become icons of God’s fatherly love and assume their charitable authority to sacrifice themselves on behalf of their family, their marriage changes, their family changes, they change their friends and their friends change, their local church begins to change and eventually the broader, universal Church changes—and changes the world.
The Gift or the Giver?
So what’s holding us back from achieving this? We often become confused and believe that we need to fix our kids. Actually, we can’t fix our kids. We can only work with God to fix ourselves, and being repaired by God, our children’s relationship with God can begin to be repaired.
God is the Giver of all good gifts. As a good Father, he attracts us to him by granting us many, many gifts. However, we fathers often become inordinately attached to the gifts rather than the Giver—until the gift runs out, then we return to the Giver to ask for more gifts. We subconsciously believe that we can more readily live without the Giver than the gifts that He provides. For example, God created sexual intercourse to transmit a spark of His divine love. Sexual intercourse, regardless of how good it is, is not God—but from God. God created sexual intimacy to be pleasurable, erotic, and intimate to communicate a spark of the eternal fiery love he has to offer each of us. Often, when we encounter a spark of the divine via a limited creature, we—in our own weak and fallen nature—tend to fixate upon that limited creature with the expectation that it will become the source of unlimited divine love. We become addicted to the creature and neglect the Creator; we idolize the gift rather than worship the Giver. Life has been created to be a cycle of attachment, which gives way to detachment, which fosters the ultimate attachment to God. God lures us to him with his gifts. It begins early, with our Legos and our baseball cards, then proceeds through our physique, our health, a girlfriend, cars, money, wife, house, children, and so on. God gives us these things to show us his love. Then, after time, he asks us to detach either a little or completely from the gifts, one by one, in order to make room for our attachment to him, the Giver. We lose our physique; our attributes sag as our chest moves south and becomes side rolls; we lose our hair; we lose our jobs; perhaps even more painful, our house; and perhaps most painful—our wives. But often we scratch and claw to hold on to the gifts and remain attached to them in a disordered, addicted manner; we simply won’t let go. When we refuse to let go, the attachment to the gift becomes a skandalon, the Greek word for bait, a snare, a stumbling block, or a trap.
Avoiding the Skandalon
For example, I have an affinity toward nicely trimmed, full lawns that appear more like carpet than grass. Every spring I have great hope and expectation that this will be the year that my lawn will be plush and full. It begins that way, but by summer it looks more like the Gobi Desert. Several weeks ago, hoping to mask the dried-out look, I decided to mow the lawn. As I was mowing, the left front wheel of my push mower fell off the axle. My mouth dropped. The weld had snapped and no immediate repair was possible. I stopped mowing my lawn, right? Wrong. I couldn’t let it go; I couldn’t detach from the ideal of having a nice lawn. I continued to mow with my three-wheeled lawn mower, then suddenly the front axle got caught in the blade, bending it and blowing off the right front wheel. My John Deere was now missing two front wheels and an axle. Did I stop mowing? Of course not. I continued mowing with a two-wheeled lawn mower. I could have cut off my leg, or at least a foot. Often, the very thing that stops us from becoming icons of God the Father is our disordered attachment to little idols; we cling to them as they cling to us. We consume them and they consume us. They become a skandalon, a snare, a trap, robbing us of true communion with God. We can have such disordered attachments to overeating—eating when you don’t need to; to pornography; to an emotional or physical affair; to belittling, demeaning, or abusing our wives or our children; to spending too much time in front of the TV, computer, or cell phone…. Can you go a night without looking at your mobile phone? If not, you may be addicted. Disordered attachment to sports, our personal health, our bodies, money, or our ego are also common skandalons. A friend of mine has an incredibly competitive spirit and hates losing. One day on his commute to work in his minivan, he came to a stop at a busy, multilane, four-way intersection. As he waited at the red light, a young man driving a sports car pulled alongside him in the right-hand turning-only lane—but he had no intention of turning right. The young man looked at my friend, communicating the message that he was going to fight for the first spot in the single lane that was directly across the intersection. My friend, anticipating the green light, began to inch his van forward. The young man in the sports car did the same. Both continued to nudge their way forward, when a green left arrow appeared. Although their lanes still had a red light, they both blasted forward into the intersection. While my friend slammed on the brakes, suddenly realizing that he had just run a red light, Mr. Sports Car pressed on, blowing my friend away. My friend was fuming at him, but also at himself for being so immature as to endanger his life and the lives of others. He was attached to his competitive ego. Exactly one week later, at the same time of day, at the same location, my friend pulled up to the stop light and the man in the sports car pulled alongside him again. As their vehicles sat nose-to-nose waiting for the light to turn green, Mr. Sports Car flashed a smirky grin at my friend as if to say, “I’m going to cook you again, punk.” My friend said that it took nearly everything in him to restrain himself, remain calm, and let the man blow him away and steal the lane ahead. Soon enough, the sports car was out of sight, flying through a school zone. As my friend drove through the school zone minutes later, he was quite satisfied to see that Mr. Sports Car had been pulled over by Mr. Policeman.
Humility and Detachment
What’s the point? St. Teresa of Avila said that the virtues of humility and detachment always go together, “they are inseparable virtues,” and that “humility is impossible without detachment.” She also said, “the one who has more humility will be the one who possesses [God] more; the one who has less [humility] will possess him less.” As my friend exemplified, true humility is detaching oneself from one’s disordered passions and ego in order to attach oneself to God. Our vocation as fathers is dependent upon us being capable of giving our wives and children more of God, which in turn demands that we become humble, which in turn demands that we become detached from disordered attachments. We must overcome the skandalon—the trap, the snare.
The Lowest Place
Whether we like it or not, how we live profoundly effects our children’s behaviors, attitudes, moral aptitudes, and futures. If you are detached from disordered passions, your children will more likely overcome temptations to be attached to sin. So what can we do to begin closing the generational gap and to assist our children in speaking less of the virtual language of the world and more of God’s language of sacrificial, self-giving love? The answer is surprisingly simple, yet challenging to fulfill: take the lowest place. Our Lord said, “whoever receives one such child for my sake receives Me” (Matt. 18:5). “For he who is least among you, he is the greatest” (see Luke 9). In other words, our Lord is telling us that fatherhood is perhaps the greatest calling, for if we spiritually adopt our children, we will receive God in them and became the greatest in the kingdom. However, directly following these words, Christ provided a stern warning: “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it were better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck, and be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matt. 18:6). The stakes are high—winner takes all; loser will be drowned in his sin. Fatherhood is very important to Christ, because his children are very important to him. Our Lord continued, “Woe to the world because of scandals! For it must be that scandals come, but woe to the man through whom scandal does come! And if thy hand or thy foot is an occasion of sin to thee, cut it off and cast it from thee! It is better for those to enter life maimed or lame, than having two hands or two feet. in hell” (Matt. 18:7). In other words, it is imperative that we fathers begin detaching ourselves from personal sin, disordered attachments, and become attached to God.
Three Simple Steps
There are three basic steps to becoming effective fathers who are capable of transmitting God the Father’s love to our children:
First: Recognize your call to greatness. Realize that you have been given one of the greatest callings and challenges—to be a father in God the Father’s image, and to spiritually adopt your children in the name of Christ. This is the most important thing you will ever do, and your salvation depends upon it.
Second: Avoid the skandalons, the traps, the snares. Avoid being addicted to the smartphone, the porn sites, the unnecessary time in front of the mirror or TV, the second or third dessert, the gossip about your enemies, the gossip about your friends. You get the idea. Replace the time in front of the TV with time spent with your child. Give up the smartphone while at home and eat dinner with your wife and kids. Engage them. Hug them often. Tell them that they are loved.
Third: Become the least by taking the lowest place. To lift something heavy, one must get under the object. To lift your family to heaven, you must take the lowest place by sacrificing for them. When you do this, they are far more likely to see God the Father in you and turn their hearts to the Father of heaven. A young man recently related to me that his father told him that he was fat, that he was a boy who would never be a man. As the young man said these words to me, his voice began to quiver and his chin began to shake. He could hardly restrain himself from sobbing. He wants what every boy, every man wants: a dad who is willing to humble himself to ensure that his son or daughter is built up rather than torn down. Taking the lowest place simply means that we lower ourselves spiritually and enter into the heart of our children and begin to understand their need for love, for God, for hope—and strive to give that hope, encouragement and love to them. Then perhaps we can close the generational gap.