by Fr. Eric Flood, FSSP North American District Superior
When Our Lord walked throughout the Holy Land, He chose 12 men to be His Apostles to spread the True Faith throughout the known world. Our Lord did not choose the wise of the world; rather, many of the Apostles were fishermen with dirty jobs which required great labors, muscles, and not much knowledge. But after spending several years with Our Lord, grace built upon their nature and their lives of virtue would aid them in becoming strong Bishops with inflexible spines, ready to fearlessly discharge their duties in the face of difficulties.
In this month of June when we remember fatherhood, we turn to these first fathers of souls as an inspiration for all fathers to imitate. The Bible says to “act like a man; take courage and do [your duty]” (I Para. 28:20). Like Adam, men are required to work by the sweat of their brow, to defend the rights of women and children, and to provide for their family. But these manly qualities take time to learn, so like the Apostles who brewed into holiness over time, boys will need a constant example of what they must become like. Sons, it goes without saying, learn about their manliness from their own father. If the father is a virtuous one, the sons will most likely be virtuous, but if a father does not practice his Catholic Faith, the sons will probably follow the same path. Hence it is imperative that fathers are not ruled by alcohol, lust, or laziness, but by an upright and unselfish life if their sons are going to correctly mature into manhood. Just as the Apostles taught us that they needed the graces through the Catholic Church to be good Bishops, so, too a father of children needs the graces through the Catholic Church to be a good dad.
However, fathers need more than the promise of God’s graces, for they also have to be able to receive the graces into their Soul. Hence, if a father is not in the state of grace, then the graces cannot be received, and his fatherhood will become defective. However, if he is in the state of grace, then God the Father shares part of his All-powerfulness with the father in order to assist him within the life of his family.
We then reason that since so many fathers do not faithfully practice their Catholic Faith, many families are suffering as a result. Due to the increased temptations in the world, men are easily blown over by the winds of their passions. As sin abounds in this modern world, once God’s graces are lost, it is easy to become a lukewarm father or to be a mediocre role model to the family. But the strength with which fathers need to survive is readily available if they sustain a daily life with Christ. It is from the Sacraments, prayer, and fasting that men gain the graces to maintain their manliness. For which takes greater strength: to control the passion of anger or to throw a fist? to control lust or to give into pleasure? As greater strength is necessary to control the passions, then the man who controls the passions is stronger than he who does not control them; thereby his manliness is actualized.
Our passions require a balance, for we can fall into one extreme that passions are evil or the opposite extreme of “why bother fighting them, they are too strong for me to control.” The true man finds a balance, recognizes that he has passions and emotions, and then finds the willpower to rule over the tendencies of his lower nature. The vicious man, however, will be ruled by his passions, falls prey to them, and weakens to the point of exhaustion. For example, if a man yields to anger and bursts into fits of fury which make others tremble, he may picture himself as a strong lion, but in reality, he is really weak since he is not in control of his passions. Outwardly he appears strong, but inwardly he is feeble and has become a slave to his passions.
The attack on fatherhood is not just from the world, but also from the evil one. Since the devil has declared war on the Catholic Church, he will try to destroy family life since it is from stable, Catholic families that Souls more easily gain Heaven. Thus, we should not be surprised that the notion of a hard-working father who goes to Mass every Sunday has vanished and has been replaced by a father figure who does fun things, does not discipline, and gives license to sinful behavior. As a result, sons receive little direction in life and are not challenged to be responsible. In order to discover if fathers are faithful to their duties we can ask: how many 18-year-olds are ready for manhood with the responsibilities of life which now face them?
So much rests upon the father, and he has to be rooted in Christ by practicing his Faith. To show the importance of a practicing Catholic father, statistics show that if a father practices his Catholic Faith, then there is an 80% chance that his sons will remain faithful Catholics throughout their lives. However, if a father does not practice his Catholic Faith, then his sons have only a 20% chance of remaining a faithful Catholic. The same study showed that the statistic remained the same whether or not the mother went to church. May this serve as an inspiration for Catholic women to find a good practicing Catholic man to marry.
It is imperative, then, that fathers live as God demands. When God commits the care of children to a married couple, the success of the father will hinge upon the virtue of the father. Even though the duties of a husband and father do not begin until the first day of marriage, the preparation for being a virtuous father began before the wedding day. How the man acted before marriage will determine what kind of a father the man will become. Did he learn how to work diligently? Did he set reasonable goals for himself and then pursue them even when difficulties arose? Did he pay off his debts? Did he say the Holy Rosary every day? Was the courtship a time of virtue? If he did these things, after the wedding ceremony it will be easier to live in harmony with his wife, to work diligently, to finish the tasks around the home, to manage his money well, and to pray with his wife and children.
Lastly, as we are often inspired when we see our Priest praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament, so too, it is an inspiration for children to see their father praying at home. By prayer, the Apostles became strong Bishops who fearlessly discharged their duties in the face of difficulties; and by prayer, men can also become strong fathers who fearlessly discharge their duties in the face of difficulties.
This article originally appeared in the June 2008 edition of the North American District Fraternity Newsletter. To receive our free newsletter by mail, please visit our subscription page.