11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (God the Father, Reflected in Our Fathers)
If we were to succinctly describe Jesus’ mission, one of the things we would inevitably say—and correctly so—is that he wanted us to know the Father’s love and care for us. He speaks of it in today’s Gospel, that God is like the mature mustard plant, that provides shade and protection for the creatures that dwell within Him. Jesus wanted us to simplify our lives, to live more humbly, to care for each other—all so that we could better know the Father’s love and care.
And on this Father’s Day weekend let us consider how our earthly fathers are to be a sign for us of our heavenly Father’s love. It’s true with both of our parents—as we were children first of God the Father, we are/were entrusted to our parents’ care. It is/was their task—as it was for Jesus—to reflect for us, to teach us, and demonstrate for us, the Father’s love. And I realize that some of us may not have healthy relationships with our fathers. Some bear emotional and psychological scars, so much that it’s made it difficult for them to trust in a God, whom Jesus refers to as ‘the Father’.
I recently read an article that proposed idea that “in her nature, ‘woman gives life to others,’ while in his nature, ‘man gives his life for others.’” St. John Paul II clearly called on the man to be the first to lay down his life for the woman and her children by putting to death his desire to dominate. This is what Jesus did from the cross for his Bride, the Church, and for her children—that is, us. (https://www.dioceseoflansing.org/vocations/theology-body-spiritual-fatherhood).
Bearing all that in mind, I know enough fathers—and I certainly know the difficulties I put my father through—to know that fatherhood is a difficult vocation. First of all, there are too many bad messages and examples of what it means to be a man. Those messages would have us believe that to be a man, means to celebrate an unrestrained sexual appetite, even when it means de-valuing and using women; or to demonstrate your worth and power through the accumulation of material possessions, and other signs of status.
Fatherhood, giving your life for others, demands imitation of Christ. The article I referred to says that this is done in three particular ways: 1) to provide for children (that includes being present to them), 2) to protect them, and 3) to prepare them for life (ibid.).
That sounds commendable enough, but in thinking about the hopes a father holds for his children, I think of the first parable in today’s Gospel, in which we’re told of a man who scattered seed, unaware of how it would emerge from the ground. Sometimes fatherhood involves doing all the right things as best you reasonably can—giving his life for others: providing, protecting and preparing—and eventually facing the reality that our children still become entangled in difficulties we had worked to protect them from.
It sometimes leaves a father with feelings of failure: What did I do wrong? And some fathers regret that they were not as attentive to their task as they wish they had been. It seems to me that you can only do a few things: First, recognize that they were God’s children before they were yours. He has a vested interest in their well-being, and in trying to draw them unto Himself. Second, the only way to make up for any mistakes from the past, is to live better now—to reflect more and more, the joy and love of Jesus. Third, pray for your children, that they might know the most important thing: How much God the Father loves them.
In the ways we still can, let us reflect to our children the heavenly Father’s love, by how you live, giving your life for others. While fathers should prepare their children for happiness in this world, may they have more at heart, preparing their children for the next world. Our children need to see virtue in their fathers, even if virtue isn’t heralded in society. I’ve heard it said, the best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother (Bishop Carl Mengeling, the Bishop Emeritus of Lansing), and might well be true.
As we honor those who have been fathers to us, let us also pray for fathers, for strength in their difficult vocation. May they know our love, and may they look to God the Father for strength. And from that, may they show us God the Father’s love, by living like Jesus, by giving their lives for those entrusted to them—all for the kingdom of God.