Bishop Anthony Homily: Father’s Day, Sunday 7 September 2014
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time + Father’s Day, Year A, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 7 September 2014
Welcome to Mass this morning at the Cathedral. Today we celebrate Father’s Day, where we rightly praise fathers for their work in raising and forming the next generation.
This weekend, the Diocese of Parramatta is holding the Bishop’s Father’s Day Appeal for Retired and Sick Priests, to support our priests who have dedicated their lives to serving the People of God. I ask that you please give generously in the Father’s Day collection.
The most famous father in contemporary pop culture is undoubtedly Homer Simpson. Although he can be lovable and funny and is devoted to his kids, he’s often ignorant and boorish, he drools over food and women, abuses his neighbours, skips church and is an all-round bad role-model. His catch-cry “D’Oh” is supposed to excuse his part in whatever goes wrong. His method of disciplining his son Bart is by choking him mercilessly. If Homer is typical of today’s dads, the family is in a sorry state.
Many psychologists and sociologists in recent times have reported on multiple ill-effects on children and the broader society of poor fathering and absent fathers. Too many children grow up in unstable families with multiple men only temporarily or altogether lacking in their lives as role models. Some are just slobs like Homer; others abandon their wives and children for younger, more desirable partners; in extreme cases men pressure women into killing their babies in the womb. Surviving children are often disadvantaged psychologically and socio-economically. No wonder that pop culture can be so cynical about fathers.
Yet that’s not the only take on paternity. The soap-maker Dove recently produced a tear-jerker commercial for Father’s Day. Over sentimental music we see children at various stages of development yelling out for their daddy’s assistance, from a toddler learning to swim, to a young girl woken from sleep by a nightmare, to a daughter whose car has broken down, to one dancing with her dad on her wedding day.
Whether Dove can persuade men to use skin softening products or not, the company is certainly proposing a higher ideal for men than being lovable buffoons lacking self-control. Instead, the ad asks men to be dependable, to be around for their kids, to protect and provide. It’s hardly a revolutionary message: it’s an ancient wisdom that Christians share with many other cultures and religions. But it is one that needs to be recovered today.
Christians have an extra take on these things. Jesus called out to His Father for assistance on more than one occasion. He taught His disciples in need to pray to Our Father (Mt 6:5-13; Lk 11:1-4) and St Paul records that ‘Abba’ or ‘Daddy’ was the word the early Christians were privileged to use for God (Rom 8:15). When He was exhausted, Jesus would go off to a lonely place to talk to His Heavenly Father. In the Garden of Gethsemane, facing the horror of imminent crucifixion, He begged His Abba to protect Him (Mk 14:36). Jesus knew that all things were possible for His all-seeing, all-loving, all-powerful Father. In His humanity He trusted that all would turn out for the best as it was in his Daddy’s hands. When it became clear that He was being asked to offer Himself up in sacrifice for humanity, Jesus willingly acceded to the Father’s will.
Of course, all our efforts as human dads – whether it be the nurturing of biological fathers, the emotional-protective care of child-minders, extended family and friends, the moral fatherhood of those who seek to be good role models and to stand up for life and love in the public square, or the spiritual fatherhood of godfathers and clerics – all these forms of paternity in some way stem from and are measured against the fatherhood of God. God the Father is always and only the Father in relation to His only-begotten Son, donating His entire essence to Him; put baldly: without the Son He is not God the Father. This is why Jesus can say that all that the Father has is His (Jn 16:15). God also expresses a kind of paternity over all creation, as its origin and transcendent authority (CCC 239). And He has TLC for us as His children. The Father creates and redeems and inspires us, like the Dove Dad and more, raising us up to eternal life in God’s family (Mt 6:32). The Christian Gospel suggests that human fathers – biological, emotional, moral and spiritual ones – are all to image this divine care, donating their very selves for the wellbeing of the little ones.
Our readings today point to a particular aspect of paternity that is often be overlooked, even by such aspirational accounts of fatherhood as the Dove commercial. To adopt the language used by Ezekiel in our first reading, fathers are sentries or guards of their households (Ezek 33:7-9), not guarding them from intruders only, but guarding them against dangers to their character. As Paul suggests in our epistle the home must be a sanctuary of love where the internal logic of love – the ten commandments – are lived and taught (Rom 13:8-10). And that will require, Ezekiel’s suggests, that we sometimes correct those in our care.
At that point the TV ads freeze. In a world where nothing is right or wrong anymore, where it’s all opinion and no-one wants to impose on others, parents and the rest of us can lack confidence as moral guides. Yet Jesus in our Gospel today says we must warn our brothers and sisters in peril of doing something wrong (Mt 18:15-20). Not out of judgmentalism, hypocrisy, a desire to control or holier-than-thou pride, but in all humility trying to steer them back onto the right track, for their sake not ours.
Fraternal correction is an essential part of the job-description of being Christian, if one that we must be careful not to like too much. The Scriptures often talk of God disciplining His children (Prov 3:12; Acts 17:11; Heb ch 12), and it is always a loving if firm correction rather than an angry revenge, always done for the good of the child – so the child will be good – not for some other motive. I remember when I was small asking my own Dad what he wanted for Father’s Day and he would always say, “just good children”. This statement and his own example of fatherhood have doubtless informed my own spiritual paternity as bishop and priest. Interestingly, in an episode where Homer Simpson disciplines Bart by refusing to let him see a movie after he played up, we are shown a ‘flash-forward’ to when Bart becomes a Supreme Court judge because of the good direction he was given early.St Thomas Aquinas taught that for Christians disciplining or correcting others is not primarily an act of justice or truth telling, important as these are, but of kindness, of fraternal charity. In such acts we are not merely trying to set things right, we are trying to build up our child, sister, colleague, to be all they could be and should be, to be saints. It is a kind of therapy or of spiritual healthcare, an expression of love. God bless our fathers and all of us who share in their paternal care in our world.
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