Fatherhood and What It Means to be a Man
June 20, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1) Reading II (Galatians 3:26-29)
Gospel (St. Luke 9:18-24)
In the first reading today, we heard the very famous prophecy of the prophet Zechariah speaking about Our Lord on the Cross: They will look upon him whom they have pierced through, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they will grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn. It speaks about the mourning in Jerusalem and the greatness of that mourning, but then it goes on to tell us that there will be a fountain that is going to flow that will bring about the forgiveness of sins, that will bring about repentance and a change in one’s life. This is exactly what all of us are called to do: to come to our Blessed Lord, to allow ourselves to be bathed in the fountain that flows from His Sacred Heart, the fountain of His Precious Blood, the fountain of the water that cleanses us of our sins.
But it also requires one further step, and that is the change of our lives. We have gotten to the point now where lots of people will come to Confession and they will confess their sins, but they really do not have much intention of changing their lives. They fully intend to go out and sin again. If that is the case, their sins actually cannot be forgiven. Even though the priest gives absolution, if there is no intention at all of trying to change your life there is no forgiveness of the sin. Now assuming that we probably will fall again because of our weakness – we do know that – is different from intending to go out and sin again. There needs to be that true repentance which implies the intention to amend one’s life, to try to stay away from the occasions of sin so that we can truly grow in holiness.
It is in this vein also of looking at the need to change that I would like to address something very specifically regarding this particular day as the nation celebrates Father’s Day, and that is the necessity of the vocation that men have to be fathers. First and foremost, God has created males to be men. That is a real problem we have these days. That is, we have lots of males, but we do not have very many men. We are lacking gravely in that area, but we need also to make a distinction in that. What we need are gentlemen, Christian gentlemen, because if we put too much emphasis on what it means to be a man, we wind up with these unfortunate souls who want to think that they are “Mr. Macho” and they are nothing even close to what a real man is. A real man is not getting drunk. To be a real man does not mean to go out and do stupid things to try to prove that you are somehow macho or “cool”. To be a real man is to stand up for what is right, to lead, to direct, to be firm, to be decisive, to be strong for one’s family. That is what we need.
But we need gentlemen. To put too much emphasis on the “gentle” leads to very weak, effeminate, wimpy men. That is our nation’s problem today. We have women trying to be men and men trying to be women. I have not met one single person who is happy about that, yet we continue to press the exact same lie. Men are called to be the head of the family, the head of the household; therefore, the change needs to come right there. It is time that men have to stand up for what it means to be a man, to get rid of the effeminacy, to get rid of this wimpiness that has infected the males of our society, and at the same time to get rid of the machismo nonsense that has nothing at all to do with being a man and to find that proper balance between being gentle and being a man.
We see the example of what it means to be a true Christian gentleman by looking at our Blessed Lord. First and foremost, look at the Gospel reading today; it captures so much of it for us. We begin the Gospel reading today by hearing that Our Lord is out praying. The most manly thing we can do is to pray. Too many men think prayer is a woman’s thing, that it is somehow not for men. There is nothing less true in the whole world. Men and women pray differently, but there is nothing more important than prayer if you truly want to be the man God created you to be. It means that you have to come before the Lord and you have to speak to Him, you have to open your heart and allow Him to speak to you. And this is the point where that change, that repentance, has to come. It is not enough to be able to sit back and recognize that what we are doing is not always right. It is not enough to come to Confession and say, “Well, I sat in front of the TV and drank beer all night and it wasn’t too impressive. I abused my wife and kids. I screamed at them and I treated them badly.” It may be true, but the question is what you are going to do about it.
The Man is right there in the tabernacle. If we want to learn what it means to be a man, come to the One Who has lived it perfectly, come to the One in Whose image and likeness you are created and allow yourself to be formed into that image and likeness. Learn what it means to be a man by coming to Our Lord Who is the Head of the Mystical Body, the Church, Who is the Father, Who is the Husband of the Bride. He is the man from whom all of us must learn. He is the priest, so all the priests and bishops being the head of the family, the Church, have to learn from Him what it means to be a man. One of the most impressive things that I ever heard was when I spoke to a seminarian twenty years ago who had gone to a particular seminary and he called me up and said, “Guess what the rector of the seminary said at his opening conference? He said, ‘Our job here at this seminary is to form you to be men in order to be priests.’” The first order of business was to teach them what it meant to be a man. We have way too many priests and bishops who do not know what it means to be men. They will not stand up for the truth, they waffle all over the place, they will not call people to repentance, they refuse to pray, they have no backbone. So we need real men to be priests, to be the fathers of the family, the Church, to be the pastors of the parishes in the diocese.
But we need real men who are in the families as well. What we see happening in the priesthood is merely a reflection of what is happening in society. Society has decided it does not need men. We have all these superwomen who can do everything. They can work full time, and they can come home and take care of the kids and do all the things. They do not need this guy around; after all, he is just lazy and he sits in front of the TV pressing the little buttons on the thing and drinking beer and being a fool. That is what the media presents men to be these days. It is time that men stand up and say that that is not true instead of giving into the societal norm and saying, “If that’s all they expect of me, I guess I may as well do it.” That is as foolish as the teenage kids who think, “Well, since they expect me to go out and be immoral, I might just as well be.” What a terrible disappointment to parents. If men are sitting around doing just what society assumes they are going to do – being selfish, being lazy, being foolish – what a terrible disappointment to the woman to whom he is married and to the children whom he has fathered.
It is time that men stand up and be firm. Look at what it says in the Gospel today: Our Lord rebuked them. Men must be disciplinarians, not to be abusive but to be firm, to be clear about what is right and wrong, to set the example first and foremost of what is right and wrong, and to call one’s children to lives of virtue. A man is to be the head of the household, the spiritual head of the household, and to be the spiritual director of his wife and children. How can you be a spiritual director to your wife and children if you do not pray, if you do not have a spiritual life, if you are not a step out in front? It is hard to direct from behind; you need to be walking ahead. One of the gifts God has given to men is to be able to look at the big picture, to be forward-looking. That is why the men have to be the head: to be looking forward, to be directing the family, to be leading things.
We look at what Our Lord asks of each and every one of us (whether male of female, it does not matter; but again, in the context, how critically important it is): to take up our cross daily and follow Him. You want to see what it means to be a man? Meditate on the Passion; look at what Jesus did for us. He did it out of love. That is what is required to be a true man: to love, but to love in a manly way. A mother’s love is entirely different from a father’s love. Her heart has to be soft and open and receptive to her children. A father’s heart also must be open to his children, it must be inviting to them, but he needs to be clear and firm and decisive. He needs to be setting the tone and the direction. In a society which has decided that it needs not fathers, all we have to do is look around and see the effects. If you look at all the statistics of crime, there is one thing that is even across the board. We would like to be able to say, “It’s a racial thing,” or, “It’s about poverty,” or whatever it might be, but it is not. The statistics all the way across the board demonstrate one single thing: the vast majority of crime is committed by young males who do not have a father – because they do not know what it means to be a man. They grow up in a woman’s world and they are trying then to prove that they are men by going out and doing stupid things because they do not know what it means to be a man, because they do not have the example and they do not have the discipline and they do not have the direction.
Our society’s attempt to suggest that we do not need men and we do not need fathers has demonstrated only the opposite: that more than ever we need true men, true gentlemen, and true fathers. I have never yet met a woman who does not want her husband to be a good, strong father. And I have never met a woman who has complained about her husband being a true gentlemen. I have heard lots of women complain about their wimpy, effeminate husbands. And I have heard lots of women complain about their overly macho husbands who are abusive and mean and distant. What we need are true husbands, true gentlemen, true men. One woman in a household is plenty, even if one is male. All that we need is one female, and we need a true man in the house. We do not need two females. It is time that men stand up and be men. That does not mean to throw your weight around and try to push everybody and act like a jerk. That is not what it means to be a man. It means to be confident in your own self and who God has created you to be, to take your role seriously, to lead, to be decisive, and to be clear. That is what your wife desires and that is what she needs. That is what your children need. They need someone who is going to be strong, someone who is going to protect them – not only physically, but morally and spiritually – someone who is going to be a leader, someone who is going to be a decision maker, who is going to be decisive and clear in the way that the family is going to be directed. That is what we need.
As we celebrate this day in honor of fathers, we recognize in a very specific way how important fatherhood truly is. All fatherhood comes from God, Saint Paul tells us, and so every single father has a share in the very role of God the Father and is brought into that and is to live it the way that God the Father does. So we have wonderful examples, the greatest examples of what it means to be a man and to be a father. Go to prayer; meditate upon the fatherhood of God; meditate upon the life of Jesus Christ to see what it truly means to be a Christian gentleman. That is exactly what God is asking of all the males He has created: to be a true man, to be a real gentleman, and to live the vocation – the glorious and exalted vocation – that God has given you to be a father, to be a husband, to take that seriously and to live it. Again, go to prayer. Look at The Man, Jesus Christ, and learn from Him. We need to recognize where we have failed as men, confess our sins, but then make that point to repent, to make a change in our lives, so that we will live the life we are called to live, to be the persons we were created to be, to embrace the vocation to which God called us, and to really truly be the men, the husbands, and the fathers that God has created us to be.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.