Tag Archives: fatherhood

The Dignity of Dads

17 Jun

fffHow do our children experience the tangible love of God? Pope Francis reminds us in Amoris Laetitia of the importance and dignity of being a parent when he said, “The love of parents is the means by which God our Father shows His own love.”

Aside from the obvious mission of participating with God in the creation of life, each parent has a daily mission to make God’s love concrete by the way they love their children. Spending quality time, providing food and shelter, teaching virtue and morals, showing affection, offering forgiveness, and even using proper discipline are all ways children grow into the experience of God’s love.

As we celebrate Father’s Day, take stock of the qualities your dad or husband has that reflect God the Father, and acknowledge the noble mission of fatherhood. Pray for all dads, and take the time to affirm the great qualities you see. In this current culture, dads need all the encouragement they can get. Especially in this Year of Mercy, remember that no earthly dad is perfect.

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

My Brother Louie

17 Nov

As we meditate on the Gospels, it’s only natural that we would try to imagine what the various biblical figures looked like, beginning with Our Lord Himself. One character I find especially intriguing is Zacchaeus, whose encounter with our Lord is recorded in today’s Gospel.

Whenever I think of Zacchaeus, I picture Louie De Palma, Danny DeVito’s character in the popular 1980s television series Taxi. We know that Zacchaeus was not only short, but also dishonest, despised, and resourceful. He was hardly the sort of character we might choose to emulate, any more than we would aspire to be like Louie De Palma. Yet I’d suggest that Catholic laymen do well to meditate on the call and conversion of Zacchaeus.

Perhaps the call of the rich young man is better known, so we might compare the two accounts. The rich young man keeps the commandments but wants to know what else he must do to attain eternal life. Good question! Jesus’s response–sell everything, give to the poor, and follow Him–was more than the rich young man bargained for, at least for the moment. We understand in Our Lord’s response the call to evangelical perfection, particularly as lived by consecrated persons who embrace radical lives of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Jesus’ response to the rich young man is instructive to all of us as we strive to follow Him single-heartedly. But what about us “rich” middle-aged men, with wife, children, job, mortgage, credit-card bills, and student loans? Are we supposed to sell everything, give the proceeds to the poor, and only then follow Jesus? How does Jesus’ universal call to discipleship relate to Catholic men who are to remain “in the world,” but not of it?

Enter Zacchaeus. Continue reading

St. Joseph, a Saint for Our Times

19 Mar

St. JosephSt. Joseph is one of the few saints to have more than one feast day. He also happens to be my patron saint, so when my wife and I were getting married, she asked which feast day I celebrated. Before I had the chance to answer, she mused out loud, “Definitely not St. Joseph the Worker.” She was right, though I’ve teased her ever since about this apparent commentary on my work habits!

The Church has traditionally honored St. Joseph during the month of March, so it seems appropriate this month to draw some insights from this great saint, especially today on his feast day.

At the outset of Luke’s Gospel, we read that part of John the Baptist’s role in preparing the people for the imminent coming of the Messiah was to turn the hearts of fathers to their children. In St. Joseph, we find a father whose heart is already exquisitely calibrated.

God was able to accomplish great things through this eminently faithful man of service. Priests, deacons, and laymen do well to pattern their lives after the beloved “Guardian of the Redeemer.”

While St. Joseph wasn’t a priest in the usual sense, this “just man” has much to say in response to today’s crisis of fatherhood–both the spiritual fatherhood of priests and the fatherhood exercised in the home.

St. Joseph was entrusted with the care of the Holy Family, the sanctuary of love where Jesus spent His hidden years. This family was, in embryonic form, the Body of Christ, containing both Christ and the mother of those who would come to believe in Him and keep His commandments (see Rev. 12:17). For this reason, St. Joseph, husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, is considered the patron saint of the Universal Church.

Some men think St. Joseph got it all wrong. This is the age of Viagra, no-fault divorce, and the “sexual revolution.” The goal seemingly is sex without responsibility, whereas St. Joseph accepts the serious responsibility of marriage and family while foregoing the pleasure of marital intimacy.

Yet, St. Joseph got it exactly right. He tells modern man that it is possible and necessary–in fact, noble and manly–to live in accordance with the Church’s teachings on sexual morality. Certainly this does not mean that all men, particularly married men, are called to perpetual continence. But all men according to their state in life are called to chastity and at certain times in their lives (e.g., before marriage and possibly at times during marriage) are called to continence.

The marital act is a sacred expression of one’s total gift to one’s spouse and must not degenerate into a merely recreational, selfish act of self-gratification. St. Joseph gives himself totally to Mary. He embodies true love and marital fidelity to his beloved spouse even in the absence of physical intimacy.

A significant element of fatherhood is playing good defense–in other words, protecting the precious treasures that have been entrusted to us. Wolves in many forms pose serious threats to families and parishes. Our response as men of faith must not be fear or anxiety in the face of such threats, but rather vigilance and courage.

During this month devoted to the Guardian of the Redeemer, may all of us fathers draw renewed strength from this holy hero. St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church, pray for us!

This article appeared earlier this month in The Leaven, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

Like Noah’s Righteous Sons

24 May

The relation of Christ and the Church is often expressed in marital terms. Christ is the Bridegroom; the Church is His Bride. By extension, the bishop (who acts in the person of Christ) and his flock have a spousal, familial relationship. The bishop’s ring symbolizes his “marriage” to the local Church. Moreover, the bishop typically wears a pectoral cross, not a crucifix. There is no corpus on his cross because the bishop himself is to be the corpus, laying down his life for his bride in imitation of our Savior (cf. John 15:13; Eph. 5:25).

Spousal, covenantal relationships do not involve a quid pro quo. My responsibility to be faithful to my marriage covenant is not dependant on my wife’s fidelity. I don’t assess my wife’s performance each day in order to decide whether she deserves my love. Rather, my commitment–and hers–must be total and unconditional.

This principle also applies to our relationship with bishops. And it should be noted that bishops’ obligations are weightier than our own. Yet the bishop may never say, “These people are a pain in the neck and oppose me at every turn; I will not love and serve them.” He will be judged ultimately on his fidelity to Christ played out through the exercise of his episcopal ministry, and not on the fidelity of his flock.

Similarly, we have a duty of docile reverence toward our bishops as our spiritual fathers. This duty flows from the Fourth Commandment.

Of course, we must not accept error, but with patience, fortitude, and charity we must always preserve unity in our pursuit of Christ’s truth.

Taking necessary corrective action with respect to one of our Church leaders is not a cause for rejoicing or something to be publicly proclaimed so that we can take “credit” for being some sort of orthodox gunslinger. Rather, like Noah’s righteous sons who covered their father’s nakedness notwithstanding his drunkenness (cf. Gen. 9:23), we should take appropriate action while remaining very conscious of the harm caused by publicly airing our grievances against our spiritual fathers.

If my own father were to do something untoward, it would be wrong for me to ignore it or to cover it up for him so that he can get away with it again. But it would also be wrong, and indeed a violation of the Fourth Commandment, to treat him as anything less than my father and to lead the charge in publicly disgracing him.

The foregoing is an excerpt from my article entitled “How to Talk to (and about) a Bishop,” which appeared in a past issue of This Rock magazine.

The Heart of a Father

19 Mar

The Catholic Church “heartily” celebrates the feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with the heart symbolizing the immense love of our Lord and His Blessed Mother for each one of us.

Yet, Catholic husbands and fathers might also consider meditating on the heart of St. Joseph, the third member of the Holy Family, whose great feast we celebrate today. His heart is an apt symbol of the love he contributed to the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation that was unfolding under his watch.

And now that same masculine vigilance and love, once focused on his beloved wife and the Christ Child, is bestowed on each one of us, as he is universally invoked as the patron of the Catholic Church.

At the outset of St. Luke’s Gospel, we learn that part of St. John the Baptist’s role in preparing the people for the imminent coming of the Messiah was to turn the hearts of fathers to their children so as to make ready for the Lord a people that was truly prepared for Him (cf. Mal. 3:23-24; Lk. 1:17). In St. Joseph, we find a father whose heart is already exquisitely calibrated.

His heart is always in the right place, and God was able to accomplish great things through this eminently just and faithful man.

St. Joseph’s fatherly heart jumps off the page throughout the biblical accounts of Christ’s childhood. Let’s take a brief look at just one such familiar episode: the Finding of Jesus in the Temple (Lk. 2:41-52), the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary.

“Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up according to custom” (vv. 41-42).

These verses may seem unremarkable at first blush, though as St. Joseph is carting the Holy Family from place to place in the first century we can be certain these journeys were much more onerous than a leisurely afternoon drive in the air-conditioned minivan. But even in his fidelity to the Jewish practices of his time, St. Joseph gives us a most timely lesson on the value of men being observant Catholics. Too often we find at Sunday Mass mom and the kids, but where’s dad? St. Joseph challenges us men to allow our love for the Lord and zeal for our faith to set the tone for the entire family.

Real men go to church! Continue reading

Guardian of the Redeemer

1 Mar

St. Joseph is one of the few saints to have more than one feast day. He also happens to be my patron saint, so when Maureen and I were getting married, she asked which feast day I celebrated. Before I had the chance to answer, she mused out loud, “Definitely not St. Joseph the Worker.” She was right (I celebrate March 19th as my feast day), though I’ve teased her ever since about this apparent commentary on my work habits!

The Church has traditionally honored St. Joseph during the month of March, so it seems appropriate to begin the month by drawing some insights from this great saint.

While St. Joseph wasn’t a priest in the usual sense, this “just man” has much to say in response to today’s crisis of fatherhood–both the spiritual fatherhood of priests and the fatherhood exercised in the home, which the Catechism calls a “domestic Church,” a community of grace and prayer.

St. Joseph was entrusted with the care of the Holy Family, the sanctuary of love where Jesus spent His hidden years. This family was not only a domestic Church but also, in embryonic form, the Universal Church, the Family of God, containing both Christ the Head as well as the mother of the “Body”–all who would come to believe in Christ and keep His commandments (cf. Rev. 12:17). For this reason, St. Joseph, husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, is called the patron of the Universal Church.

I suspect that many modern men think St. Joseph got it all wrong. After all, this is the age of Viagra, no-fault divorce, and the “sexual revolution.” The goal seemingly is sex without responsibility, and here St. Joseph accepts the serious responsibility of marriage and family while foregoing the pleasure of marital intimacy.

Yet, St. Joseph got it exactly right. He is a vitally important witness to modern man that it is possible and necessary–in fact, noble and manly–to live in accordance with the Church’s teachings on sexual morality. Certainly this does not mean that all men, particularly married men, are called to perpetual continence. But all men according to their state in life are called to chastity and at certain times in their lives (e.g., before marriage and possibly at times during marriage) are called to continence.

The marital act is a sacred expression of one’s total gift to one’s spouse and must not degenerate into a merely recreational, selfish act of self-gratification. St. Joseph gives himself totally to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He embodies true love and marital fidelity to his beloved spouse even in the absence of physical intimacy.

Priests act in the person of Christ. Our Blessed Lord is the bridegroom, the Church is His bride. In a very real sense, then, priests are wedded to the Church (cf. Eph. 5:32). Their chaste, faithful betrothal to the Family of God–and their fidelity to the teachings of the Church–renders their priesthood life-giving and fruitful.

The title I most frequently associate with St. Joseph is “Guardian of the Redeemer.” This is at least partially the result of Pope John Paul II’s 1989 apostolic exhortation that bears that name.

A significant element of fatherhood is playing good defense–in other words, protecting the precious treasures that have been entrusted to us. Wolves in many forms pose serious threats to families. Our response as men of faith must not be fear or anxiety in the face of such threats, but rather vigilance and courage. This holds true, too, for priests and bishops with respect to the treasures of our faith. As St. Paul exhorts St. Timothy, “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you” (1 Tim. 6:20).

During this month devoted to the Guardian of the Redeemer, may all of us fathers draw renewed strength from this holy hero. St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church, pray for us!

Everybody Loves Raymond!

10 Nov

Raymond dressed as Cardinal Burke this past Halloween

Today is the seventh birthday of my youngest son, Raymond. Filled with thanksgiving to our Heavenly Father, I will once again tell the remarkable story of how Raymond became part of our family. For those of you who have already heard it, tough!

Toward the end of October 2004, while I was still serving as president of Catholics United for the Faith (“CUF”), our Tucson CUF chapter underwent a name change, taking as its new patron the recently canonized St. Gianna Beretta Molla. All this took place in the context of a large, regional conference cosponsored by the chapter.

At the Friday night banquet, I was privileged to introduce the keynote speaker, Archbishop (now Cardinal) Raymond Burke of St. Louis. Even though the presidential election was only a week away, Archbishop Burke was not there to talk about the role of Catholics in political life, much less who should or should not be allowed to receive Holy Communion. Instead, he was there to tell us about St. Gianna, whose image was prominently displayed during the banquet and throughout the weekend.

Archbishop Burke gave a moving overview of the life of this twentieth century saint: a wife, mother, and physician, who ultimately gave her life so that her youngest child, Gianna Emanuela (who visited KC earlier this year), could live. Her loving husband, Pietro, was present at her canonization. (For those interested in reading more about St. Gianna, I recommend this biography published by Ignatius Press.)

I was already somewhat familiar with St. Gianna, but I was struck by Archbishop Burke’s comment that she’s a powerful intercessor for infertile couples. Even though Maureen and I already had five living children, we have struggled with infertility throughout our marriage and by that time we had already lost six children in utero. We were open to another child, but our “window of opportunity” seemed to be closing.

So, hearing Archbishop Burke’s words, I was moved that evening to pray to St. Gianna for the first time, hoping against hope that our family would be blessed with another child.

The rest of the weekend conference was predictably both tiring and fruitful, and Sunday afternoon the CUF staff members who attended the conference boarded the plane for the trek back to Ohio. On the plane, I pulled out a journal I had been keeping for my (then) three-year-old son Samuel, and I wrote him a letter. It was October 31st, Halloween, the birthday of my dear brother Ray who, with my father Leon Sr., died in 1978. In the journal entry, I told Samuel about his Uncle Ray. I also mentioned that his mother and I were still hoping that someday he would have a little brother, if that was God’s will for our family.

It’s a Boy!

After two flights and a 45-minute drive, I finally entered my home after midnight and crawled into bed. A few hours later, there was much activity, as we all got up early Monday morning to go to All Saints’ Day Mass at our parish. Then, as a feast day treat, our family went to a coffee shop for breakfast to catch up on what had happened the past few days while I was gone. I remember thinking at the time that it was one of the nicest mornings our family had ever had, and I rejoiced to be back with “everybody.” But then I dropped everybody at home and drove to the CUF office. We were closed for the holy day, but I had a few things that needed my immediate attention.

As soon as I arrived at the CUF headquarters, I realized that I needed a phone number, so I called home. Maureen answered the phone. She sounded like she was in a state of shock. I asked her what was going on, to which she replied, “Honey, I just got a call from Florida. We are going to adopt a little boy.”

St. Gianna doesn’t waste any time!

Maureen explained more of the situation to me. The birth mother was due to deliver in two weeks, but she wanted to meet us before she went into labor. In addition, we had to get busy to prepare for this sudden addition to our family.

Later that afternoon we talked about a name for the little boy and we selected the name Raymond Leon, not only for the great Dominican canonist St. Raymond and “great” Pope St. Leo I, but also for my brother Raymond, my father, Leon, and Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke, who encouraged the prayer to St. Gianna.

We flew down to Florida that week to meet the birth mother, her family, and the social worker. The birth mother told us she chose our family specifically because of Samuel. She saw that we had already welcomed a biracial child into our family, and so she felt comfortable that her son would likewise be accepted and loved. We also made arrangements with a generous CUF family in Florida who would take in Maureen and baby immediately after the birth, since it takes about a week to get clearance to leave the state. The family was part of our new “Our Lady of Life” CUF chapter!

In His merciful providence, Our Lord ordinarily gives parents nine months to prepare for the rigors of childbirth and caring for a new baby. In this case, though, we had nine days, not nine months. After scurrying to get all our paperwork in order, we received a call on November 10th, the feast of St. Leo the Great, telling us that our son was born. Continue reading

Labor Management

1 Sep

For many men today, one would think a “holy hour” means being able to watch the second half of a game without interruption, and that a “retreat” is 36 holes of golf interspersed with appropriate beverages. In countless parishes I’ve visited, the women far outnumber the men in the pews (and in the sanctuary). Meanwhile, try getting a seat at the local sports pub now that football season is starting up again.

There are countless things competing for men’s time and attention and, frankly, we don’t always do a good job of prioritizing, of putting first things first. And what could be more important than bending the knee before Our Heavenly Father, the source of all fatherhood (see Ephesians 3:14-15)?

In this regard, I suggest that we take a lesson from St. Joseph as we begin Labor Day weekend. St. Joseph’s entire life was ordered to God. This enabled him to reflect in his actions an interior life that perfected his manhood and thus enabled him to take the right approach to his work. Continue reading