Recently I attended an annual father-daughter dance with my two daughters at a local school. I always appreciate such events because it reminds me just how important fathers are to their daughters. I got to talking to another dad that I’ve known for five years or so. He’s married with two children. Within the last two or three years him and his wife have been more involved in parish ministries. To be sure, the two of them have taken their faith more seriously. But he is a traveling man and as most men do, he’ll let his wife run the household spiritual activities.
I asked him if he initiated prayer in the evenings when he is home. He answered in the negative. I then asked him if he initiates conversation about Christ at home with his two children. Again, he answered in the negative. Incidentally, he went on to tell me that his family decided to go to the Stations of the Cross devotion on the first Friday of Lent at our local parish. His son, the oldest child, put up a little fuss, claiming that they had gone to Mass the previous Sunday. For him, the practice of the Catholic Faith was a once-a-week deal.
Due to my familiarity with the father, I told him outright that it was his responsibility to initiate family prayers to God, conversation about Christ and the Faith and even to teach (informally or formally) his children about the importance about living the Gospel during the week. I then added: "If you do not groom out of your son the notion his faith is only a once-a-week thing, then you will loose him to the world when he goes to college."
I can’t tell you how many relatives and friends of mine lamented that their kids no longer attended Mass once they got into college. And in almost every single case, these disillusioned parents had developed the habit of confining their spiritual activity or the expression of their faith to Sunday Mass (with an occasional prayer before they went to bed). But somewhere along the way their religion became routine. It was no longer a way of thinking and living. Rather, their Catholicism was something they did on a weekly basis.
What many parents did not realize- especially those who were parents in the mid-twentieth century -was that they came from an era or generation that was favorable to Christianity. Perhaps in the 1940’s and 1950’s going through the routine of religious practice was sustainable up to a point. After all, even Hollywood still assumed a respectful posture towards the Christian religion during that time period. But that kind of automated religious practice (one more out of habit than real devotion) was no match for the tidal wave the Sexual-Cultural Revolution created. Is it any wonder why so many priests and religious left their vocations in the late 1960’s? And is it any wonder why there was a precipitous drop in Mass attendance in the years to follow?
No. Children instinctively know that a spiritual cause which requires the commitment and sacrifice of maintaining high moral standards, such as the Catholic Faith requires, can be intelligible only if there is an ongoing relationship with Christ during the week. The participation of the Mass presupposes this relationship. If the home is devoid a Christian culture in the home where Christ is an honored guest- nay, not just an honor guest but the King of the Household -then I am afraid even the small sacrifice of getting up on a Sunday morning will not seem worth it for the "once-a-week Catholic” once he or she comes of age.
This is where the father comes in. Scripture should be enough to prove this point but I will just mention that there are credible studies out that show the impact a father has on his children’s spirituality, morality and even sexuality. A Swedish study (within the last ten years) showed that when fathers attend church (with or without the mother) on Sunday’s while their children are young, 44 percent of those children will follow suit in their adulthood years. Whereas when mothers attended church (with or without the father) while their children were young, only about 5-6 percent of children kept the faith in their adulthood years.
A father’s impact on the individual child is considerable. His role images God the Father. On the other hand, the mother has a great impact on the unity and relationships between family members. Her role images the Holy Spirit who binds the Father and the Son together in love. No doubt, both gifts overlap. But I do believe it is a great error to say that a father’s gifts are interchangeable with a mother’s gifts; as if neither are unique.
In the book of Genesis, we find that God breathed life into Adam directly. But Eve inherited the essence of her life from God but only through Adam. The same applied to the divine law. God had given his law to Adam before Eve was created and once Eve was created it was his responsibility to communicate that law to Eve; which he ended up doing because Eve recited the law when the Serpent tempted her.
From this precedent, a tradition developed where the father would serve as a kind of high priest of the family. Years later, St. Paul told St. Titus that a wife should be under the guidance of her husband so that the “word of God may not be discredited.” (2:5) Because this is so politically incorrect, there are, unfortunately, few commentaries on this. But why would the word of God be discredited in such a case? Herein lies the reason why so many families, and even the Church, are not as strong as they can be. The life-giving power of fatherhood- both supernatural/priesthood and natural/families –is no longer understood even among Christians. In fact, it is considered a threat when any emphasis is given to it.
Take, for instance, what St. Paul says in I Corinthians: “I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you. But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ.” (I Corinthians 11:2-3) To verbally cite this revealed truth in the words St. Paul would make many cringe. Why? Because headship and authority of the father is simply deemed to be a threat…even to the best of Christians. Yet, this interdependence between God and Christ, between Christ and man, and finally between man and woman is a God-given order or link through which God communicates himself to humanity. Disrupt this order and you begin to breakdown the Christian religion.
You see, the father is the primary mediator between God and his family. Political correctness, egalitarianism or even envy cannot undo this design. As Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI taught within the last century, the father is the head of the family and the mother is the heart. The father governs but the mother reigns. With that said, when the father is missing in action; when he does not lead the family to God; when he does not prepare his children for the world and most importantly, when he does not prepare his family for eternity, then he creates a void that is very! very! difficult to fill. God can undoubtedly communicate his grace to children through a single-mom. Although this works as the exception, it does not work as a rule.
In any case, the father’s role as the spiritual leader of the family is almost sacramental in nature; it is that powerful! Every day is father’s day. Every day is yet one more opportunity for the father of the family take up his responsibility as the high priest of the household. It is he who must make Christ relevant during the week for his family. He must become the gateway through which his children will enter the world; a world that has become unfriendly to its Redeemer. A degree in theology is not required for this sacred vocation. All it takes is two things: time and love. The rest will follow.