Sunday, June 20, 2010

Homily 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C; and Father’s Day

Even though Father's Day is a secular holiday – in the Church, today is the Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time – it can give our fathers the opportunity to step back and take a fresh look at their fatherhood, to see how things are going, to see how inline they are with the Fatherhood of God. This includes, of course, natural fathers and grandfathers, but also spiritual fathers, those aspiring to be spiritual fathers, and anyone who serves as a "father figure." Our readings in today's Mass, through the generosity of the Holy Spirit, have much to say to fathers. This message is one of: Conversion.

When we hear the word "conversion" we often think of "converting" from Protestantism to Catholicism or from Judaism to Christianity, for example. But what I mean by "conversion" is that call from the Lord, to continually, daily, turn our hearts away from sin and toward him. Conversion is another one of the ordinary practices of Ordinary Time for every Catholic. God gives us the grace to see and acknowledge our sins, to repent and turn to Him for mercy and forgiveness, and to change our lives, trusting in his help. This we do progressively, every day.

Our starting point for conversion is the cross. Remember from our first reading: "They shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn." The Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 1432, explains that "It is in discovering the greatness of God's love that our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from him. The human heart is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced." The cross, or to be precise, the crucifix, is the ultimate sign of love. This sign, so vivid and real, should motivate us, every time we look at it, to love God and each other with the same love that it shows, and to never want to offend that love. The cross is the standard for love and the standard for fathers today.

One father that I am good friends with told me a story about a novel he was reading. It wasn't the greatest novel in the world but he was nearing the climax and was anxious to see what would happen. His wife and daughter were out running errands so he settled into his chair and picked up his book. But then the phone rang which turned into a task he had to follow-up on, on his computer. He finally got back to his chair only to have his wife and daughter come home five minutes later.

My friend's wife wanted to discuss a couple of things with him and his daughter wanted to tell him about her day. But he sat there, book in hand, glancing up at them, and down at his book, and up again… giving them the signal that they were interfering with something very important. But then he asked himself, "Who do I love more? This book? Or my family?" So he sat his book down, scooped up his daughter into his lap and let her tell him all about her day. Then he had a delightful conversation with his wife. The sacrifice was worth it. He had an enjoyable moment with his family and they saw once again the primacy they have in his life.

This is what our Lord meant when he said "to all": "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." The cross cannot be ignored, it is essential for continual conversion toward a good fatherhood that mirrors the Fatherhood of God. If my friend had never given the cross much thought, never contemplated sacrificial love, his heart may have been blinded to the day-to-day sacrifices he needs to make in order to increase and express his love for his family. He wasn't called at that moment to give his life for his family. He was simply called to put down his book. He chose to love his family more, so he took up that cross, and showed them his love.

It is conversion brought about by these day to day crosses, or lack thereof, that either makes or breaks fathers in this country. Dr. Gregory Popcak, a Catholic marriage counselor, writes about how people often ask him what the greatest problem in marriage is. They expect him to say alcoholism, or contraception, or pornography, or infidelity. To be sure, these are huge problems that should not be ignored. But he writes that in most marriages that are struggling, one spouse or the other loves their comfort zone more than their spouse.

Now, neither my friend's wife, nor his daughter would have concluded that he didn't love them had he continued to halfheartedly listen to them. But, in a small way, their relationship would have been diminished. What was a one-time hint could have easily grown into a full-blown message: "What I want, when I want it, is more important than you."

Spiritual fathers too, are not exempt from the need for continual conversion toward better fatherhood by taking up the daily cross – by choosing sacrifice out of love, over lesser things. How easy it is for me to have a full day: morning Mass, preaching, parish activities, taking Communion to the sick, assisting at a funeral, then attending an evening meeting and finally coming home and plopping down in front of the T.V. If the Church is truly my bride, a bride I love and want to give my entire life and heart too, undivided, then I should never be eager to get away from her. A true father and husband, natural or spiritual, identifies himself not by his comfort zone: "I am a guy sitting here watching T.V… or reading my book… or whatever," but by what he truly is: "I am a father and husband!" He lets his fatherhood and love for his family inform everything he does and every way he interacts with them.

I could choose to relax, but relax with my bride who I love, the Church. I could spend some time in prayer, reflecting on the day. Or I could call a parishioner who I know is alone, or do some spiritual reading. This is what Jesus is talking about when he says, "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." He is referring to our worldly life and our eternal life. A father who wishes to save his worldly life: the life of his own choosing and pleasures, free from any sacrifices of love, will lose his spiritual life and the spiritual lives of his family over whom he has been placed as their provider and protector. But a father who, with the help of grace, works through daily conversion, through daily taking up his cross, to lose his own life of choices and pleasures; who prefers God and his family over himself, will save his spiritual life and the spiritual lives of his family.

We fathers need to help each other out. I was happy to learn that there is a men's group that meets every Friday morning at McDonald's to discuss scripture and support each other. This is an excellent way to ensure that we are taking up our crosses daily and making sacrifices of love. If you are a father who has too often neglected the cross, today is the day to take it up. Look at the crucifix again. Repent at the foot of the cross and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There you will learn what true love is and will be given the grace to embark on continual conversion. The cross must be the focal point of our Churches and families. The restoration of true, authentic fatherhood, natural and spiritual, and the salvation of our families depends on it.

Listen to this homily: Recorded mp3

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