Monday, June 10, 2013

To Turn the Hearts of Fathers

Revised and reposted for new Sky View readers:

"Children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.”

To Turn the Hearts of Fathers:

The prophet Malachi foretold that the coming of the Messiah would make men better fathers. In his own words: “To turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers…” (Malachi 3:24) During the Old Testament era, the absence of the Holy Spirit left men’s hearts unaffectionate and aloof. Rulers were brutal to their citizens and fathers were often cold toward their children. As with everything, there are notable exceptions. However, it wasn’t unknown for Roman emperors, the Herod dynasty and other pagan rulers to eliminate their sons if they proved to be an obstacle. Even Absalom rose up and rebelled against his father, Kind David (II Samuel 13).

Before Christ, infanticide was also common in the most civilized parts of the world. And in worst case scenarios, human sacrifices were practiced on every continent. For instance, where the State of Illinois is today, there was an Indian tribe called the “Mound Builders,” also known as the Natchez Indians. This sun-worshipping tribe, it was recently discovered, practiced human sacrifice.

Even with Israel and Judah in the Old Testament, upon falling away from the exclusive worship of Yahweh and thus adoring other gods, succumbed to the ritual of child and human sacrifice. “They immolated their sons and daughters by fire, practiced fortune-telling and divination, and sold themselves into evil doing in the LORD'S sight, provoking him till, in his great anger against Israel, the LORD put them away out of his sight.” (II Kings 17:17-18) This is what unredeemed human nature is capable of. We take it for granted what Christ has meant to the world and the civilizing effect he has had on human beings. As Hilaire Belloc said, one thing stands out, the unquestioned prevalence of cruelty in the unbaptized world.

But out of this darkness, God promised that a new day would dawn for humanity. Seven hundred years before the Incarnation of Christ, the Lord spoke through the prophet Ezekiel: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.” (Ezekiel 36:25-26) Around the same time Ezekiel wrote his inspired words, the prophet Malachi foretold the mission of St. John the Baptist. As the precursor of the Messiah, he would have a special effect on fathers: “He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17) With natural hearts, after the coming of the Jesus Christ, men would turn toward their children and become the fathers they were created to be. 

In the Christian era, there was a new and generous diffusion of divine grace from heaven. With this, there arose a new understanding of God himself. But in days of old, God was known as Yahweh, the Almighty and the Supreme Being whose name was not to be pronounced. With the coming of his Son, however, the Almighty was also to be looked upon as a Father. St. Paul reminds us: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:15-17)

Supernatural fatherhood through the priesthood and the natural fatherhood, as it exists in the  the family, collaborate with one another so that the Divine Fatherhood of God may be more fully expressed. In many respects, the priest, in the spiritual order, ideally serves as a template and source of strength for fathers in the natural order. However, when a priest fails to be the spiritual father he should be for parishioners, this deficit has a ripple effect into natural fatherhood. With each younger generation that gravitates away from the blessings of Christ, fathers struggle to live out their vocation. That is, their hearts turn away from their children as it often happened in the unbaptized world. Perhaps this is why the website, could report the following statistics from 2009:

“According to 2009 U.S. Census Bureau data, over 24 million children live apart from their biological fathers. That is 1 out of every 3 (33%) children in America. Nearly 2 in 3 (64%) African American children live in father-absent homes. One in three (34%) Hispanic children, and 1 in 4 (25%) white children live in father-absent homes. In 1960, only 11% of children lived in father-absent homes. Children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.”

But the good news is that the font of renewal- that which turns the hearts of fathers toward their children -is at our disposal. God decreed, from all eternity, that fathering His Son would serve as the perfect template of natural or biological fatherhood. And that his Divine Fatherhood would be communicated through the Catholic priesthood. As Catholic seminaries generate more well-formed priests in the twenty-first century, natural fathers who sit in the pews are bound to benefit from this formation. 

The priest who presides over the parish is analogous to the father who presides over his children. Indeed, the parallels are remarkable. Just as the priest, a spiritual father to his parishioners, serves as a channel of sacramental grace for them, so too is the natural father, along with the mother, an image of God for his children. It is through this image that every child comes to know himself, the world and God. No doubt, the impress of the father's personality and character upon his children is a powerful one. It is almost sacramental in nature. As Pope Leo XIII said, "For, according to Catholic teaching, the authority of our heavenly Father and Lord is imparted to parents...whose authority, therefore, not only takes its origin and force from Him, but also borrows its nature and character."

These are deep mysteries of the Faith. For that reason, they are worth exploring. The Holy Trinity, by far, is the most mysterious of all the Christian doctrines. But it is still good to know that through the Holy Spirit, God the Father eternally loves and fathers his Son. Like a mother who binds the father and son together in love, the Holy Spirit is forever turning the heart of the Father towards his Son. It is from that loving relationship- the turning of hearts within the God-head -that the authority and love of fathers "borrows its nature and character." It is there that the balance is to be found.

In a secular age, fatherhood naturally loses its orientation and character. It is no exaggeration to say that hearts turn to stone. But with Christ, the hearts of fathers naturally turn toward their children because they first turned towards God.