We live in a time of confusion and increasing chaos, as traditional gender roles come into question. And so on this day when we honor our fathers I wonder who and what they are, were, and should be.
The animal kingdom has been busy this last spring, giving birth, and baby deer cross our front lawn. We humans share some of their generative biology – the male unites with the female to give life. Some animals form a kind of family, with a male taking on the protective role of father, at least for a time. Other animals don’t and the male moves on. Humans throughout history have formed families, having reasoned that society works better that way. Early families were often polygamous, the male having many wives to produce many children for the tribe. More people was good, not evil. More meant safety and better defense. More meant productivity and wealth. More meant a future for the community and nation.
Judaism and its child Christianity define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, united sexually and by vows of love and commitment before God. Marriage is considered generative, meant to produce children. Throughout Holy Scripture this relationship is replayed, as God the Father creates his people, God the Son unites with his Bride the Church, and God the Holy Spirit weaves them together in Love. God creates us not because he is lonely, but because he is Love. That’s what Love does.
And thus Love is sung to us throughout the centuries through the Church. It dances and weaves through her liturgies, reflecting light like a many-faceted jewel. Love calls us to love one another, the other, one who is not our self. The ultimate expression of love is marriage, where two different people love one another – different genders and different genes. They unite to generate life, to bring children into the world to love and be loved.
There are times when fathers take on mothering roles. And there are times when mothers must act as fathers. But in the Christian family, our bodies, our genders, define our primary purpose under God, the role that nature has given us. When this purpose is denied, chaos results.
Mothers are the inner home of love, for they carry in the womb the new life created. They then bear the child and create an outer home of love. Fathers beget this new life, determining it’s gender, and initiating its conception. And so two become one, generating a unique human being, one never repeated before or after. A mystery and a miracle.
This miracle of life is often taken for granted. And yet so sacred a union, so mysterious a bond, this bond between husband and wife, and between parents and children, that it is the foundation of our culture. As we see today the traditional family threatened and torn apart, we must work to protect and mend it, to heal its brokenness.
At the least fathers must be present, both in body and spirit. We don’t hear a great deal about St. Joseph in Scripture. He is a good man, we are told. He listens to God. He trusts God. He takes Mary as his wife. He shelters her and the Holy Child growing within her. He provides a living so the boy can become a man. St. Joseph is powerfully present. This is what fathers do, even stepfathers.
And so we honor stepfathers as well, and all those who have stepped into the silent absence with their presence and their love, and all of those uncles and cousins and friends who have acted as fathers to those children bereft, all priestly fathers, parish fathers, community fathers. I was once a single parent, and I am so grateful for the many fathers of our local church who were quietly present, strong in their faithful support.
When the traditional family is threatened, fatherhood is threatened. When marriage is no longer valued, fathers abandon their children. When fathers abandon their children, families are wounded, and civilization collapses.
I believe we are seeing signs of such collapse: children raised by one parent, usually the mother; children denied the bonding security of family love; children unable to create such bonds of family in the future, having no models.
Cult creates culture, and without Judeo-Christian institutions of temple and church, the traditional family will disintegrate. Fathers and mothers, united in matrimony, committed to love, are key to the institution of the traditional family. Today they are encouraged to abandon one another and their offspring to look out for themselves alone.
And so I honor true fathers who do what needs doing, silently, lovingly, sometimes unsung and even unloved. You sacrifice, you shelter, you make it possible for mothers to mother and children to grow up. We need you, for our children, our grandchildren, and the very future of civilization.