A Slide Presentation given at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Lincoln, NE on 25 July 2000
Fatherhood in the 00s and the Prophet Malachi
St. Peter's Catholic Church
25 July 2000
Since the nineties are over, I will speak tonight on fatherhood in the "double zeros." Unfortunately fatherhood is heading for the "zeros" these days. Even our secular society is recognizing the problem of fatherhood or better yet the lack of it. Recent books and articles, like David Blankenhorn's FATHERLESS AMERICA or "Dan Quayl was Right", are waking up some people. More and more fathers are abandoning their families through divorce or relinquishing their role as leaders of the family. However this is not new, the Prophet Malachi had to deal with a similar problem but with God's help. After returning from the Babylonian Captivity, the Judean fathers were divorcing their wives from youth and marrying the younger local, pagan girls.
Most of the material in this talk is taken from Stephen Wood's book, CHRISTIAN FATHERHOOD. Stephen Wood is the founder of "St. Joseph's Covenant Keepers", a Catholic fathers group. Another interesting book is Dr. Paul C. Vitz's FAITH OF THE FATHERLESS. Dr. Vitz is a professor of psychology at New York University and was an atheist until his late thirties. He takes Fraud's projection theory against Christianity (i.e. God is merely our projection from a need for security) and turns it into a theory for atheism. According to Vitz, the major pushers of atheism in the last three centuries suffered from defective fathers; whereas, most of the great defenders of Christianity in the same time period had good fathers. Defective fatherhood can cause children to become atheists.
Crisis of Fatherlessness
Now for the bad news: The situation for fatherhood is bad but getting worse. According to statistics from 1998, half of American kids are raised without dads. Almost a third of all American babies are born out-of-wedlock. Abortion is not the answer to this problem. Even though correlation does not prove cause-and-effect, there is a strong indicator that fatherlessness encourages crime.
But what is causing fatherlessness? Are more fathers dying or simply abandoning their families? Probably not. After the sexual revolution of the 1960's, sex out-of-wedlock has become more fashionable. As a result, more children are being born out-of-wedlock. More men are no longer taking responsibility for their actions. Another major problem is divorce. In America, half of first marriages will end in divorce. This divorce statistic is no better when restricted to only couples claiming to be Catholic. It is estimated though, that the divorce rate among couples practicing NFP is less than 5%, so there is hope. Unfortunately divorce tends to perpetuate itself. Divorce rates among couples who came from broken homes tend to be higher. These high divorce rates are helping to produce a "Fatherless America."
In this talk I will address several challenges. I have not met these challenges myself, but I am working on them. I am neither a perfect husband or father. But with the grace of God, I hope to strive towards these goals day by day.
The "Blame" Vector
Who is to blame for the crisis of fatherlessness? Supposedly men enjoy blaming other people. First we could blame feminism and more generally egalitarianism. It is assumed that men and women have no significant differences, except their genitals. We are assumed to be equal in all aspects. This is an extension of the thought that the different colors of our eyes or hair make no significant difference in our personality. Now both of these philosophies have diminished the importance of men in the role of fatherhood and leadership in the family. Even though men and women are equal in dignity, our psychologies are significantly different but complimentary.
Secondly mass media has commonly portrayed fathers as dolts. Even though done in good clean fun, these impressions have their effects. Also welfare laws have ironically encouraged fatherlessness. The government has become a better provider than some fathers; therefore, some men are taking advantage of the situation.
However, the blame falls ultimately on us. No matter what the odds are against us, we can still choose and work at being better fathers. In the future, we may be required to be good fathers to our children's children, especially in the epidemic of divorce. We are called to make the difference. We can be the solution to fatherlessness. We have a great challenge before us.
One major setback is a little thing called "SIN." Here is a cute neumonic: "sIn". Sin is our freely chosen rejection of God. In sin, we freely choose the created over the Creator. Ultimately I choose myself over God. Sin is the overemphasis of "I". I put myself in the center of reality. Sin is selfishness and self-centeredness. As C. S. Lewis wrote: "Sin is acting as though 'my will be done' instead of 'Thy will be done.'"
Not only are we deep in problems, but we are also crippled by sin. We fall short of the glory of God. I am a sinner. Hopefully I am a repenting sinner but a sinner nevertheless. However, I am not alone in sin. As St. Paul reminds us: "all have sinned." Fortunately Jesus Christ came and died for us in order to redeem us from our sins. By the grace of God, we can overcome sin.
Hope and Warning
As stated in the Book of Ecclesiastics in the Bible: "Nothing is new under the sun." [1:9] Even though modern books on the subject claim fatherlessness to be something new, it really has occur many times in history. One example of the breakdown of fatherhood occurred during the time of the Prophet Malachi in the 5th century B.C. After returning from the Babylonian exile, the Judean men were divorcing their older wives and marrying the younger local pagan girls. The Prophet preaches both hope and a warning in Malachi 3:23-24.
Notice that the Prophet does not mention mothers. He is not being a male sexist. The women were not at fault. The men were guilty by dropping their responsibility to their families in order to satisfy their pleasures. Instead of remaining as faithful leaders in their families, they were abandoning their wives and children. God became angry. Now the doom in this passage should not merely be seen as God making a special visit for punishment. The doom in one sense is a natural consequence. Respect and authority in the family are important for a stable and flourishing society. In the Fourth Commandment, God says in Exodus 20:12 "Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land "This is one of the few commandments with consequences attached to it. Even though this commandment is directed towards children, fathers must practice proper authority and protect the authority of the mother, especially with sons.
Dad as Head of Family
This leads us now to the most favorite Bible verse for wives: Col. 3:18. Unfortunately people today tend to get snagged on the first sentence and refuse to progress further. In our egalitarian culture, a "submissive wife" is seen as blasphemous. However, St. Paul continues by commanding husbands to love their wives. In my professional life, I am expected to be subordinate to my supervisor, but I am not expected to love my supervisor. St. Paul's command is more demanding of husbands than wives. In Ephesians, St. Paul commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. But what did Christ do for the Church out of Love? He gave His life on the Cross in submission to His Father's will. St. Paul is not giving husbands or fathers the license to be oppressive or power-maniacs.
St. Joseph should be a role model for all Christian fathers. Consider the Holy Family. Who was most important? Jesus is God the Son. No one ranks higher than God. Mary is the Queen of Heaven and Queen of all Saints. Obviously St. Joseph ranks definitely at the bottom of that list. But God still expected him to lead and protect that important family. In the middle of the night, Joseph had to drop his profession and take his family immediately to Egypt. Mary had to be submissive. Mary asked no question but followed. Just imagine for a second: Waking your wife up in the middle of the night and telling her that in a dream, we must drop everything including the job and move at once to Mexico or Canada. That would be radical. Finally Pope Pius XII present a good complimentary model for motherhood and fatherhood as stated above.
We must consider leadership in the Christian vision and not in the secular vision. The Christian idea of leadership is not concerned about power, domination or manipulating others. Christian leadership involves service to other people and self-sacrifice. This is clearly expressed by Jesus to His Apostles in Matthew 20:25-26. Christian leadership is not hoarding power or imposing our will on others. It is Servant Leadership. This may sounds like a paradox, but it is the only self-correcting form of leadership. Dr. Paul Vitz states this, as seen above. The male drive for power must be channeled toward servant leadership. We must direct our energy towards service to others instead of exploiting or using other persons as things. This is especially true within our family. It should be noted that one title for the Holy Father, the Pope is "The servant of God's servants" (servus servorum Dei)
Now what are some examples of Servant Leadership that we could start practicing? Perhaps I could take leadership in changing dirty diapers. I seriously doubt that my wife would be threatened by that.
Dads Against Divorce
Now this is a sensitive issue, but one aspect in our service to our family is COMMITMENT. For our family to flourish properly, we must have a committed relationship with our wives. St. Paul says: "Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness towards them." A solid marriage relationship is the bedrock of the family. Now I am not advocating the branding of a scarlet "D" on the foreheads of those who have gotten a divorce. But we must take a strong stance against divorce. My parents, who are far from being perfect, made it clear to us that divorce was not an option for them. Marriage for them was "for better or for worse " However, many of my friends entered marriage with the idea that if thing do not work out, there is the divorce option. Once again, the Prophet Malachi has strong words against divorce in Malachi 2:16.
In the Old Testament, the image of a marriage relationship between God and the Israelites is common. God is the Husband, while the nation is His wife. Their idolatry is seen as adultery. The Prophet Amos is commanded by God to marry a prostitute in order to show His people their infidelity. God becomes angry with His people and even exiles them, but He does not divorce them. Instead He eventually sends them His only Son. God remains faithful, even though the people were not. In our family, fathers represent God the Father. Divorce can be interpreted by the children as total rejection. If their earthly fathers can abandon them, then perhaps these children will also come to believe that God will abandon them too. Divorce can bred false ideas about God's love and fidelity to us.
Tithing - God's Money Anyway
Another challenging task for fathers is tithing. Malachi not only states that we should tithe, but goes further by claiming that we steal from God, if we do not tithe. Now Malachi is part of the Law and Old Covenant. Jesus Christ did not abolish the Law but fulfilled it. As St. Paul says: "... you are not under the law but under grace." [Rom. 6:14] We may no longer be under the binding Law of tithing, but we still need to support the Church and give to charity. We should not give out of obligation but instead from a cheerful heart.
But what is tithing? It is giving 10% of your income to God through the Church or Christian charities. Some people consider 10% of their gross income, while others consider 10% of their net income. Giving 10% is very difficult. It should be noted that in the Old Testament, almsgiving and tithing were considered to be separate: 10% for almsgiving and 10% for tithing.
Tithing is not easy to do. Do not fool yourself. Please do not wait until the next pay raise to start tithing. Ironically the more money that we make, the less desire we have to tithe. Tithing can help us see money as God's money. We are stewards of God's money. We need to become cheerful givers. Tithing can help defuse financial arguments, since we become more aware that everything ultimately comes from God. We can also put our financial trust in God. As the coin says: "In God we trust."
God not only wants offspring, but "Godly offspring." As fathers, we are called to be spiritual leaders in the family. We should encourage our children to pray and go to church. We can best be spiritual leaders by setting good examples. We must also have a strong prayer life and attend Sunday Mass along with our children and wife. We must be like Joshua, who said: "we will serve the LORD" [Joshua 24:15].
This is my main personal concern. Even though we prayer together each night, go to church at least on Sunday, and send them to Catholic school, they appear to have little interest in God or faith. A few Sundays ago, the priest was talking about the importance of going to Mass each Sunday. After church, I asked my kids: "Why do we go to church on Sunday?" My teenage daughter retorted: "Because you make us go to church on Sunday!" My daughter further claims that religion is only important in how much she personally can get out of it. She appears to see religion as only personal therapy. I recently read that doing works of charity with your kids is the best way to keep their faith. I will try that. Fortunately there appears more hope from my sons; however, they are still younger. But another point of hope: my daughter is very similar to me. The grace of God can transform the most hard of hearts.
God's Saving Grace
Fortunately we do not have to do all this alone. We have supernatural help from God. With the New Covenant, we are no longer under the Law but under grace. As fathers we need to take advantage of these gifts from God. Since we are sinner (hopefully repenting sinners), we need to go to frequent sacramental Confession. Also we need to receive Communion frequently but worthily. If we are guilty of mortal sin, then we need to first go to Confession before receiving the Eucharist. As St. Paul says: "...whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord...For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself." [1 Cor. 11:27&28] The Sacraments of Confession and Communion go hand-in-hand with each other. The more we cut sin out of our lives the better fathers and husbands we will become. With the grace of God, we can be better leaders in our families in the areas of service to others, charity, good examples, prayer and worship.
A Prayer for Dads
I would like to close this talk with a Prayer for Fathers. This prayer is found in the Bible in St. Paul's writings
Thank you. May God bless you as good husbands and fathers.
1 March 2001