Friday, June 15, 2012

The Faithful Fathering of a Culture of Life


This week's column is by Stuart W. Nolan, Jr., managing attorney of LegalWorks Apostolate and a member of the Board of Directors of Human Life International.

As Father's Day approaches, it is fitting to reflect upon the relationship between "faithful fathering" and a culture of life. God the Father, the Author of all creation, is revealed to us through the Son, who is "the Way, the Truth and the Life" (John 14:6). We believe that no one can come to the Father except through Jesus; thus, a culture of Life must begin with the faithful fathering of a family life with Jesus - Who is Life - at the center, and with all parental teaching a reflection of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.

Secular society and media encourage men to fear fatherhood as an inhibiter of personal liberty. We are told to put off marriage and to delay childbearing until careers have been established, until financial security has been accumulated and until various self-actualizing goals have been achieved. But of course, this is smoke and mirrors. If the economic travails of the past several years have taught us nothing else, we should at least have learned that careers and financial security are never guaranteed. Control of one's career or of one's income is an illusion.

How much better off would we all have been had we focused first on the aspects of life that bring us true joy? Ironically, such aspects of life are invariably those that involve the emptying out of ourselves in service to others. Faithful fathering demands that we teach this truth to our children.

It should not surprise us, then, that attacks on marriage and on parenting surround us, and that the feminization of fatherhood has been an intrinsic part of the weakening of a family's defenses. For too long we have seen churches bereft of lay men, fathers disinterested in the faith life of the family and fathers unwilling to discipline their children. The less subtle attacks on the family - abortion, contraception and homosexual unions - gain traction precisely because the perpetrators of an anti-life culture have already convinced men they are not relevant to the faith lives of their children, or that they have no authority to discipline as a means of teaching their children. If fathers are absent from the faith life of the family and refuse to teach their children to love and to obey their fathers, including most of all God the Father, the first culture of life - that which takes root in the family - will never grow.

Abortion, contraception, and homosexual unions are not just "wedge issues" because the secularist journalists have decreed them to be mere provocations on uncomfortable topics. Rather, they are "wedge issues" because the enemy uses them to divide men from their Maker. That is, the enemy hopes to prevent faithful fathering at the very first steps toward a culture of Life, a culture in which men would embrace the role as co-authors in procreation, in the image of God the Father, Author of all Creation.

The evils afflicting modern America cannot be reconciled with the example of St. Joseph as a husband and father in the life of the Holy Family. St. Joseph's first instinct was not necessarily to care for a child who he knew was not, biologically, his offspring. But when the will of God the Father was made known to him in a dream, he obeyed. God had a special plan for St. Joseph, who would not have known true happiness by following a path apart from that plan. St. Joseph recognized that true liberty was not in becoming a slave to his fears, or even to worldly aspirations, but rather in obedience to God the Father.

Now, we know that St. Joseph was no reluctant father to Jesus. Rather, his obedience matured into conformity of will. St. Joseph embraced his role, and invested all of himself in becoming a faithful husband and father. He embraced the Gift that God had given to him by entrusting in his care Jesus and the Blessed Mother. Thus, faithful fathering is not merely the receptiveness to becoming a father biologically, but an embracing of all the responsibilities of a true father.

One of the most fundamental responsibilities of faithful fathering is to discipline the wayward child. There can be no teaching of obedience to our children where men cede this role. A child simply cannot learn obedience if there are never adequate consequences to disobedience. Moreover, a child is always learning from his parents, even if the parents are only teaching passively. Thus, a father who fails to discipline his child for disobedience has actually taught his child that disobedience is okay. This holds unfortunate consequences for the child, who most likely will eventually learn in a more difficult manner the lesson that was not taught right away.

Despite the importance of masculine leadership in faith life and in the family, these spheres too often are ceded to mothers or ignored altogether. Modernity preaches a masculine ethic devoid of faith life and ignorant of the need to discipline children. Just as obedience is inherently at odds with certain trends in American culture, discipline is inherently at odds with the trend in modernity's view of masculinity.

A faithful father embraces the gift of fatherhood, and embraces his obligations to bring his children to the Father through knowing and loving the Son. This is where our own faithful fathering becomes a true gift to our children, preparing them to be generous members of the Church.

As we unwrap our electric razors, screwdriver sets and dress ties this weekend, let's be grateful also for the gifts we have received from the Father, and recommit ourselves to bringing our families closer to Him.