I AM the spiritual head of my wife and children. When I said, “I do,” I entered into a Sacrament in which I promised to love and honor my wife until death. That I would raise the children God may give us according to the Faith. This is my role, it is my duty. It is the first matter upon which I will be judged at the end of my life, after whether or not I have loved the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, and strength.
But most men think their duty is to bring home the bacon. To make ends meet. To fix the front door. These things are perhaps the duty of the moment. But they are not the ultimate goal. cf. The Heart of God A married man’s prime vocation is to lead His wife and children into the Kingdom by his leadership and example. For, as Jesus says:
All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. (Matt 6:30-33)
That is, men, God wants to father you. He wants to provide for your needs. He wants you to know that you are carved in the palm of His hand. And that all the struggles and temptations you are facing are not as powerful as His grace available to your soul…
…for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)
Cling to that word, brother. For the times we are living in call for men to be courageous, not fearful; obedient, not unfaithful; prayerful, not distracted. But do not be afraid or shrink back from this standard you are called to:
I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me. (Phil 4:13)
Now is the hour that Jesus is calling men back to our proper roles as priests in our own home. For never before have our wife and children needed the head of their home to be a real man, to be a Christian man. For, as the late Fr. John Hardon wrote, ordinary families will not survive these times:
They must be extraordinary families. They must be, what I do not hesitate to call, heroic Catholic families. Ordinary Catholic families are no match for the devil as he uses the media of communication to secularize and de-sacralize modern society. No less than ordinary individual Catholics can survive, so ordinary Catholic families cannot survive. They have no choice. They must either be holy—which means sanctified—or they will disappear. The only Catholic families that will remain alive and thriving in the twenty-first century are the families of martyrs. Father, mother and children must be willing to die for their God-given convictions… What the world most needs today is families of martyrs, who will reproduce themselves in spirit in spite of the diabolical hatred against family life by the enemies of Christ and His Church in our day. —The Blessed Virgin and the Sanctification of the Family, Servant of God, Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
How, then, can you lead your family to become an extraordinary family? What does that look like? Well, St. Paul compared a husband and wife to the marriage of Christ and His bride, the Church. cf. Eph 5:32 Jesus is also the High Priest of that bride, cf. Heb 4:14 and so, reversing Paul’s symbolism, we can apply this priesthood of Jesus also to the husband and father. Thus…
…let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. (Heb 12:1-2)
REMAINING ON THE VINE
Whether it was as a boy in the temple, or at the beginning of His ministry in the desert, or during His ministry to the throngs, or before His Passion, Jesus always, always turned to His Father in prayer.
Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)
In order to be an effective and fruitful priest in our own homes, we must turn to the source of our strength.
I am the vine and you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
Everything begins in the heart. If your heart is not right with God, then the rest of your day risks falling into disorder.
For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy. (Matt 15:19)
How can we be leaders of our families if we are blinded by the spirit of the world? Our hearts are put right when our priorities are put right, when we “seek first the kingdom of God.” That is, we have to be men committed to daily prayer, for…
Prayer is the life of the new heart. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.2697
If you’re not praying, your new heart is dying—it is being filled and formed by something else other than the Spirit of God. Unfortunately, daily prayer and a personal relationship with Jesus are foreign to many Catholic men. We just aren’t “comfortable” with prayer, especially prayer from the heart where we speak to God as one friend to another. cf. CCC n. 2709 But we have to overcome these reservations and do what Jesus commanded us to: “pray always.” cf. Matt 6:6; Luke 18:1 I have written some brief meditations on prayer that I hope will help you to make it a central part of your day:
And if you want to go deeper, take my 40 day retreat on prayer here, which can be done anytime of the year.
Take at least 15-20 minutes a day to speak to the Lord from the heart and read the Word of God, which is His way of speaking to you. In this way, the sap of the Holy Spirit can flow through Christ the Vine, and you will have the necessary grace to begin bearing fruit in your family and in the workplace.
Without prayer, your new heart is dying.
Therefore, be serious and sober for prayers. (1 Pet 4:7)
In Part I, I addressed how some men wish to rule rather than serve their wives. Jesus showed another way, the way of humility. For even…
…though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:6-8)
If we are priests in our own home, we should emulate the priesthood of Jesus, which culminated in offering Himself as the priestly sacrifice.
I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. (Rom 12:1)
It is this example of self-effacing, self-sacrificing love that is our most powerful influence in the home. It is also the most “narrow and hard” way cf. Matt 7:14 because it demands an unselfishness that is rare today.
Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak. —St. Anthony of Padua, Sermon, Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. III, p. 1470
What are ways we can do this practically? We can change the baby’s diaper instead of leaving it for our wives to do. We can close the toilet lid and put the toothpaste away. We can make the bed. We can sweep the kitchen floor and help with the dishes. We can turn off the television and take a few of those items off of our wive’s To Do list. More than that, we can respond to her criticism with humility instead of defensiveness; watch the movies she would rather watch; listen to her attentively instead of cutting her off; giving attention to her emotional needs rather than demanding sex; loving her instead of using her. Treat her as Christ has treated us.
Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet… (John 13:5)
This is her love language, brother. Not the lust language that belongs to the world. Jesus did not say to the Apostles, “Now, give me your body for my divine purposes!” but rather…
Take and eat; this is my body. (Matt 26:26)
How our Lord turns the modern view of marriage upside down! We marry for what we can get, but Jesus “married” the Church for what He could give.
LOUDER THAN WORDS
St. Paul’s summary of the qualifications of a bishop can very well apply to the priests of the “domestic church”:
…a bishop must be irreproachable… temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not aggressive, but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity… (1 Tim 3:2)
How can we teach our children the virtue of self-control if they watch us get drunk on the weekend? How can we teach them decency if in our language, the programs we watch, or the calendars we hang in the garage are trash? How can we reflect to them the love of God if we throw our weight around and are quick-tempered rather than gentle and patient, bearing our family members’ faults? It is our responsibility–our privilege, in fact, to witness to our children.
Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the “first heralds” for their children. —CCC, n. 2225
Do not be afraid to ask forgiveness when you fall! If your children or spouse fail to see a virtue demonstrated in you at a certain moment, let them not fail to see your humility in the next.
Man’s pride causes his humiliation, but he who is humble of spirit obtains honor. (Prov 29:23)
If we have hurt our family members, all is not lost, even if our sins are from long ago in the past.
…because love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Pet 4:8)
FAMILY PRAYER AND TEACHING
Not only did Jesus take time alone to pray; not only did He humbly lay down His life for His children; but He also taught them and led them in prayer.
He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. (Matt 4:23)
As said above, our teaching must first and foremost come through our witness in the everyday matters of life. How do I handle stress? How do I view material things? How do I treat my wife?
Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses. —POPE PAUL VI, Evangelization in the Modern World
But we do well to remember the prophet Hosea’s admonition:
My people perish for want of knowledge! (Hosea 4:6)
Too often, many parents think that it is the role of their priest or Catholic school to teach their children the faith. However, that is a grave mistake that is being repeated over and over again.
Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues… Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them. —CCC, n. 2223
You have probably heard the popular phrase, “The family that prays together, stays together.” attributed to Fr. Patrick Peyton This is true, but not absolute. How many are the families who have prayed together, but today, are in shambles as their children have all but abandoned the faith after leaving home. There is more to the Christian life than rattling off a few prayers or racing through the Rosary. We have to teach our children what is right and wrong; to impart to them the basics of our Catholic Faith; to teach them how to pray; how to love, forgive, and discern what is most important in life.
Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God… They must be convinced that the first vocation of the Christian is to follow Jesus... —CCC. n. 2226, 2232
Even then, our children have free will and therefore can choose the “wide and easy” road. Nonetheless, what we do as fathers will impact their lives, even if our children’s own committed conversion comes much later in life. Practically, what does this involve? You do not have to be a theologian! When Our Lord walked among us, He told parables and stories. The Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the Workers in the Vineyard… simple stories that convey a powerful moral and divine truth. So too we should speak at a level that our children understand. Still, I know this intimidates many men.
I remember dining with Bishop Eugene Cooney several years ago. We were discussing the preaching crisis in homilies and how many Catholics feel today that they are not being fed from the pulpit. He responded, “I don’t see how any priest who spends time in prayer and meditation on God’s Word cannot come up with a meaningful homily on Sunday.” cf. Interpreting Revelation And thus we see the importance of prayer in a dad’s life! Through our own struggle, healing, growth and walk with the Lord, illuminated by an interior life of prayer, we will be able to share our own journey through the wisdom God gives us. But unless you are on the Vine, this kind of fruit will be difficult to find indeed.
Bishop Cooney added: “I don’t know a single priest who has left the priesthood who didn’t first stop praying.” A sober warning for those of us who “don’t have time” for this foundational aspect of Christian life.
Here are some practical things you can do each day with your family to bring them into the transforming presence of Jesus:
Blessing at Mealtime
…he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. (Matt 14:19)
More and more families are dispensing with Grace at mealtime. But this short and powerful pause does several things. First, it is a mortification as we put the brakes on our flesh and hunger to recognize that our “daily bread” is a gift from “Our Father”. It puts God again at the center of our family activity. It reminds us that…
One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. (Matt 4:4)
This does not mean that you have to necessarily lead every prayer, just as Jesus entrusted his disciples to distribute the bread. In our home, I often ask the children or my wife to say grace. The children learned what this involved by hearing how mom and dad have said grace, either with spontaneous words, or the ancient “Bless us O Lord and these Thy gifts…” prayer.
Prayer after Mealtime
Grace at meals, however, is not enough. As St. Paul says,
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word. (Eph 5:25-26)
We need to bathe our families in the Word of God, for again, man does not live by bread alone. And the Word of God is powerful:
…the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. (Heb 4:12)
We have found in our own home that after meals is a good time to pray since we are already gathered together. We often begin our prayer in thanksgiving for the meal we’ve had. Sometimes, we’ll go around in a circle, and everyone from the top to the toddler gives thanks for one thing they are grateful for that day. This is, after all, how the people of God would enter the temple in the Old Testament:
Enter his gate with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! (Psalm 100:4)
Then, depending on how the Spirit is leading, we will take a spiritual reading from a saint or the Mass readings for the day (from a missal or the internet) and take turns reading them. First, I usually say a prayer spontaneously asking for the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and eyes to hear and understand what God wants us to. I usually have one child read the First Reading, another the Psalm. But in keeping with the model of the sacramental priesthood, I usually read the Gospel as spiritual head of the home. Afterward, I usually take one or two sentences from the readings that apply to our family life, to an issue in the home, or simply to a renewed call to conversion or a way to live out the Gospel in our lives. I just speak to the kids from the heart. Other times, I ask them what they have learned and heard in the Gospel so that they are participating with their minds and hearts.
We usually close with offering intercessory prayers for others and our family’s needs.
I have written elsewhere here on the power of the Rosary. But let me quote Blessed John Paul II in the context of our families:
…the family, the primary cell of society, [is] increasingly menaced by forces of disintegration on both the ideological and practical planes, so as to make us fear for the future of this fundamental and indispensable institution and, with it, for the future of society as a whole. The revival of the Rosary in Christian families, within the context of a broader pastoral ministry to the family, will be an effective aid to countering the devastating effects of this crisis typical of our age. —Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Apostolic Letter, n. 6
Because we have toddlers, we often break the Rosary into five decades, one for each day of the week (and because we often include other prayers or readings). I announce the decade of the day, and sometimes comment on how it applies to us. For example, I might say when we meditate on the second Sorrowful Mystery, the Scourging at the Pillar…”See how Jesus silently endured the persecution and beating that they give Him, even though He was innocent. Let us pray then that Jesus will help us to bear one another’s faults and to remain silent when others may say hurtful things.” Then we go in a circle, each saying a Hail Mary until the decade is done.
In this way, the children begin to journey in the school of Mary toward a deeper understanding of Jesus’ love and mercy.
Because we are human, and thus weak and prone to sin and injury, there is a constant need for forgiveness and reconciliation in the home. This in fact was the core purpose of Jesus’ Holy Priesthood—to become an offering that would reconcile the children of God with their Father.
And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5:18-19)
And thus, as head of the home, in communion with our wives, we are to be “peacemakers.” When the inevitable crises come, the male response is often to sit in the garage, work on the car, or hide in another convenient cave. But when the moment is right, we should gather the involved members of the family, or the entire family, and help to justly facilitate reconciliation.
Thus the home is the first school of Christian life and “a school for human enrichment.” Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous – even repeated – forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life. —CCC, n. 1657
BEING A PRIEST IN A PAGAN WORLD
There is no question that, as fathers, we face perhaps one of the greatest pagan tides known in the history of mankind. Perhaps it’s time to imitate to a certain degree the Desert Fathers. These were men and women who escaped the world and fled to the desert in Egypt in the third century. From their denial of the world and contemplation of the mystery of God, the monastic tradition in the Church was born.
While we cannot flee our families and move to a remote lake (as much as that may appeal to some of you), we can flee the spirit of the world by entering into the desert of interior and exterior mortification. That is an old Catholic word that means to subdue by self-denial, to put to death those things in us that oppose the Spirit of God, to resist the temptations of the flesh.
For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world. Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever. (1 John 2:16-17)
Brothers, we are living in a pornographic world. It’s everywhere, from life-sized posters in the malls, to television programs, to magazines, to news websites, to the music industry. We are saturated with a distorted view of sexuality—and it’s dragging many fathers into perdition. I have no doubt that many of you reading this are struggling with an addiction at some level. The answer is to turn again with trust in God’s mercy, and to flee to the desert. That is, we need to make some man-sized choices about our lifestyles and what we expose ourselves to. I’m writing you right now, sitting in the waiting room of an auto-repair shop. Everytime I look up, there is a half-naked woman on the commercials or in the music videos. What a poor society we are! We have lost sight of the true beauty of a woman, reducing her to an object. This is one of the reasons we don’t have television in our home. I, personally, am too weak to face a bombardment of such images. That, and it is often a mindless, numbing stream of meaningless drivel pouring out the screen that wastes time and health. Many say they have no time to pray, but have more than enough time to watch a 3 hour football game or a couple hours of nonsense.
It’s time for men to turn it off! In fact, I personally feel it’s time to cut the cable or satellite and tell them we’re sick of paying for their garbage. What a statement that would be if a million Catholic homes said “no more.” Money talks.
When it comes to the internet, every man knows he is two clicks away from the darkest sleaze the human mind can conjure. Once again, the words of Jesus come to mind:
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. (Matt 5:29)
There is a less painful way. Put your computer where others can always see the screen; install accountability software; or if possible, get rid of it altogether. Tell your friends the phone still works.
I can’t address every temptation we face as men. But there is one basic principle that you can begin to live now that, if you are faithful to it, will begin a transformation of your life you thought not possible. And it is this:
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. (Rom 13:14)
In the Act of Contrition we are to pray after we make a confession, we say,
I promise, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and avoid the near occasion of sin.
The temptations of our day are insidious, persistent, and enticing. But they are powerless unless we give them power. The hardest part is to not let Satan take that first bite out of our resolve. To resist that second glance at an attractive woman. To make no provision for the desires of the flesh. To not only not commit a sin, but to even avoid the near occasion of it (see The Tiger in a Cage). If you are a praying man; if you attend confession regularly; if you entrust yourself to the Mother of God (a true woman); and you become like a little child before the Heavenly Father, you will be given the graces to conquer the fears and temptations in your life.
And become the priest you are called to be.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. (Heb 4:15)
Family life can be restored in our society only by the apostolic zeal of holy Catholic families—reaching out to other families who are in such desperate need today. Pope John Paul II called this, “The apostolate of families to families.” —The Blessed Virgin and the Sanctification of the Family, Servant of God, Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
- When I have fallen into sin: The Great Refuge and Safe Harbor
- On following the will of God: The Mountain of Faith
- On “fleeing from the world”: Come Out of Babylon!
- Also, see the category in the sidebar called SPIRITUALITY for more writings on how to live the Gospel in our times.
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