* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
12 Ordinary Time
Gratitude Week 2: Fatherhood
(June 20, 2021)
Bottom line: Self-giving begins with gratitude. We are grateful to God for creating us in his own image, male and female. On Father's Day, we say, "Give thanks to the Lord, for his love is everlasting."
Happy Father's Day! We are praying for our dads, living and deceased. In the bulletin you will see a picture of my dad fifty years ago when I gave him my first priestly blessing. The theme for this Sunday is gratitude for our dads and for the gift of fatherhood. Our Psalm verse says: "Give thanks to the Lord, for his love is everlasting."
Gratitude for fatherhood is not so easy. We are in the middle of storm like today's Psalm describes::
His command raised up a storm wind which tossed its waves on high. They mounted up to heaven; they sank to the depths; their hearts melted away in their plight.
We feel storm tossed today, especially regarding fatherhood. To get our bearings we have to go back to the beginning. Here's what the Bible says:
God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:27)
The big question for us is, what does it mean to be male or female? Some guys are very manly, They work hard to get strong muscles. Other guys are more on the wimpy or nerdy side. The varieties of masculinity are limitless. Let me give my own example.
You can probably guess that as a kid, I was not one of the "jocks". I loved baseball but when they were choosing teams, I usually got chosen last. One day that changed. When the two captains came out of their huddle, one of them chose me first! I was bowled over. I still played right field, but I felt like my athletic abilities were finally being recognized. That was the happiest day of my young life. My happiness, however, did not last. Next day, I learned that when the captains huddled, they agreed instead of choosing last me and some other wimpy kid, they would choose us first!
As I grew older, I realized that masculinity did not mean fulfilling some macho stereotype, but something much deeper - what we see in the verse following Genesis 1:27. After creating us male and female, God gives his very first command, "be fertile and multiply." (Gen 1:28) Or as one translation says, "have many, many children." the Masculinity involves the world-changing possibility of becoming a father.
That sounds a little scary. It is, but it brings joy. I've seen the joy of dads when he realizes his wife is pregnant. And then to see the birth of his child. Some couples suffer terribly because they cannot have a child, but in general God wants to give parents the joy of children. I've realized that joy myself, but in a different way. Last January at the Mary Bloom Center in Peru they had a celebration for my 50th anniversary of priesthood. It involved food, dances and a Mass. It expressed gratitude for spiritual fatherhood. Something similar will happen here in August.
A guy might retire from his job, but he cannot retire from paternity. Our lives are not about self-expression; our lives are about self-giving. We are made for fatherhood and motherhood. That's the call and responsibility God gave us when he created us male and female.
Again, this doesn't mean there is some stereotyped way of being masculine or feminine. The Bible does not give a list of what men should do and what women should do. In fact, the Bible breaks stereotypes. For example, it highlights some great female warriors like Deborah and Judith.
Jesus himself breaks stereotypes. Today we see him in a boat asleep on a pillow. To be a spiritual father, you don't need to be a workaholic. It's OK to take a nap. But Jesus is ready to hear the needs of his family. They cry "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" Jesus then calms the sea. He says, "Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?"
Well, we do have a way to go in terms of faith. Next Sunday will help us. Many of feel deep hurt because our children have distanced themselves from the faith. How do we pray for them? How do we see Jesus at work in all this? That's for next Sunday.
On this Father's Day we thank God for the gifts of masculinity and femininity. They make it possible for a person to become a father or a mother, to have children - physical and spiritual. Chesterton said, "When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude."
When I was growing up, we took masculinity and femininity for granted. Today we are challenged to take them with gratitude. Remember: life is not about self-expression; life is about self-giving. Self-giving begins with gratitude. We are grateful to God for creating us in his own image, male and female. On Father's Day, we say, "Give thanks to the Lord, for his love is everlasting."