As I reread (well, via Audible) Mere Christianity, I am overwhelmed by quotable material. I’d quote the whole thing but then that’d just be the book. I must take this brief moment now to strongly suggest you read (or reread) this book immediately.
Below is a quote I thought particularly good and is something good for EVERY Catholic to keep in mind…especially ones who feel complacent (or even prideful) in their faith.
“The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.”
Our society is increasingly confronted with destructive cultural philosophies and principles (or lack thereof). We could go through the litany of vices popular culture espouses but most of them stem from the simple fact that our culture encourages people to lead a purposeless or shallow life. If one asked the average American what the purpose of life is, likely they will reply “to be happy”. Of course being happy is a great thing but saying happiness is your life’s purpose is basically answering “I dunno, I never really thought about it”.
The pervading culture is a destructive force and it loves purposeless people because they are easy targets to suck money and effort out of. As with any destructive force, people, especially children, need a safe haven where they can be healthy and recharge themselves before going back into the world every day. Children need a place safe where virtues are taught and talents are nurtured. The natural safe haven is the home, not just for children but for everyone in the family. But for a home to be a safe haven for the minds, bodies, and souls of family members, it has to be set up that way by the parents. It doesn’t just magically happen.
Unfortunately many of today’s parents are still children themselves. This is a problem especially in the upcoming parents of the Millennial generation (my generation). Lacking purpose in their routines, lifestyles, and goals, they are unable to create a home culture that contrasts popular culture.
‘Modern’ men are either too deflated, obtuse, or bashful to step into their natural position as a leader. Our culture tells us that any sort of “roles” in the context of marriage are offensive and archaic. We are told that masculinity is inherently oppressive. So what do most unprincipled men with little defined purpose do? They simply exist. Many are active in their family but only insofar that’s acceptable to popular culture. They let the culture change them instead of seeking to change the culture within their home.
I know many good guys who are husbands and fathers but hold no opinions on married life or parenthood. Many men can talk for hours about sports, hobbies, TV shows, and other extracurriculars but cannot coherently explain why they celebrate Christmas. Many of these men are punctual for things like dinner reservations, sports events, or movies, but cannot imagine committing to making it to Mass on Sunday. There are many good men that have been duped into believing they serve little beyond seeking personal happiness and, when convenient, helping their family be ‘happy’. In turn, the children find it very hard to break this pathetic cycle when they grow up. So what can be done?
As we see in the marriage between Jesus and his Bride–the Church–there are indeed ideal roles for the two leaders of a family. The mother is called to be the ‘heart’ of the household. She embodies the subjective tenderness and love of the Holy Spirit. She, like the Church, gives to each of her children as according to their very specific needs. So what is the father? Well, he is the head of the household. Politically incorrect, right? But a heart needs a head just as much as the head needs a heart. There needs to be an objective beacon to help navigate love and tenderness in the proper direction. Tenderness without objectiveness is corrosive sentimentalism but objectiveness without tender love is overbearing.
I submit that we need a renaissance of purposeful and strong husbands/fathers to be spurred by the awesome and manly example Christ set for marriage/family. If it’s true that the family unit is the “domestic church” as Saint John Paul II often stated, there must be a pastor of this church. There is, the father. It is up to them to guide their family’s spiritual life as a pastor would. The family is where a man can most appropriately and efficiently exercise the duties assigned to him at baptism, that of a prophet, priest, and king. It is urgent that men fight the spiritual apathy that resides within them and, in turn, their families. It is urgent that men find their purpose in the vocations of marriage and fatherhood and navigate their spouses and children to heaven.
If, as society still seems to agree, men are well suited as the protector of their family, they mustn’t only protect their family from physical threats. They must step up as and protect their loved ones from the far more pervasive spiritual encroachments. There’s countless hazards that seek to devour the family and it is the father’s primary job to keep them safe.
The Household Pastor: Prophet, Priest, King
Of course, the first step for men is to get themselves spiritually healthy(er). If a man cannot walk what he talks, his family will know. How can he encourage the spiritual life of others if he has none himself? It’s hard to help people on an airplane until your own oxygen mask is first secured–don’t you pay attention on vacation? Only once men understand the importance of the interior life and the Church in their own routines are they able to help their family grow.
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Be a prophet. A prophet is somebody who simply helps reveal the truth of God. They seek to educate others. Fathers can combat popular culture by explaining to their children the Christian roots behind nearly everything around us. They can teach their children about Christmas and the other secularized holidays. Scripture can be read in the household and applied to real-life situations. Early on, fathers can teach their family how to pray. It’s important fathers learn about their faith so questions can be answered as they arise and if they don’t know the answer they should educate themselves immediately so they can provide one (I can’t stand ‘not knowing’, myself). They should strive to understand their family’s needs through a commitment to listen thoroughly to them.
Be a priest. A priest, by definition, is a person who makes sacrifices. Priests connect people to God through prayer, sacrifice, and witness. Men need to pray and fast for their families. Men sacrifice for their family by giving up many of the things that appeal to them so that the people around them can be more comfortable and healthy. Providing witness is also essential. Men can lead by example by being the first in line for confession, they should offer a glimpse of their own prayer life by not being bashful, they should show their children how to behave at Mass and how to receive Christ with reverence. Men should strive to carry their crosses with grace and joy–a reminder I need often!
Be a king. A king is someone who leads. A good king is someone who leads with humility and love as Jesus taught. Jesus, the King of Kings, calls us to be gentle, loving, assertive, and virtuous leaders. A father should be at the service of his family rather than the other way around. The Catholic Gentleman summed it up very well:
“It is not chest thumping domination. It is not forcing others to submit to your needs and wants. It is the exact opposite—it is washing your family’s feet.
Put another way, kingship means embracing the lowliest and most thankless tasks. It means changing diapers, taking out the trash, listening to your wife and understanding her feelings and concerns. It means patiently teaching your children virtue through example and loving discipline. It means washing the dishes and rocking a screaming baby. It means leading by example, never asking of your family something you are not willing to do or have not done already. In short, it means laying down your life for those entrusted by God to your care.”
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Finding purpose is the key to living fruitful and truly happy lives. Men must stand up and fight against the attempts to demoralize and desensitize fathers. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you need none of these reminders, so reach out to your buddies that might need some help being the best husband and father they can be in their own families. Ask them what the purpose of their marriage and family is. It’s said that we cannot keep our faith unless we give it away, we can start with our friends.
Saints Joseph and Michael the Archangel, please pray for the strength of Christian men, that we may have the grace to be virtuous, loving, and strong pastors to our families. Amen.