To Be a Catholic Father

My friend Neil presented the following talk at our men’s group this morning. As a Catholic father, I found it very inspiring. 

Guest post by Neil Corcoran
Good Morning and thanks for having me this morning. I’ve had the pleasure of attending a handful of St. Mary’s Men’s Group Saturday morning meetings over the past couple of years. And, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that it literally has only been a handful of meetings that I’ve attended. However, the reason why it’s been so few is because of the very topic I speak about to you this morning – FATHERHOOD. You see, I’m a father of seven children…

As you might imagine, Saturday mornings tend to be a mildly busy time for us in the Corcoran household. There’s soccer, basketball, softball, diapers, housework, food shopping, and the list goes on and on and on.… AND, there’s even an occasional early morning bike ride workout for Dad – imagine that? – One goal I have is to stay in relatively decent health and shape so that I have at least a few more years to continue to live out my vocation – being a husband and Father. So, please accept my apologies for not being a more “regular” member of your group…and at the same time please know I’m extremely grateful for your welcome this morning… I’m honored to be here. Thank you.

So, what are you going to hear about Fatherhood from me this morning? Well, perhaps let me first tell what you’re not going to hear. You are not going to hear an overly theological, scientific, or philosophical view about Catholic fatherhood. Likewise, you’re not going to get a history lesson on the role and contribution of Fathers since the beginning of time. And gentlemen, please don’t expect an in-depth study of Biblical quotes and citations on Fathers, or any reference to the so-called “great” or recognizable Fathers in our world today. I don’t mean to minimize any of that nor do I take it for granted. But to me, the vocation of Fatherhood – its meaning, its mission – is fairly simple and straight forward, not necessarily easy, but certainly clear. There’s really no need to overcomplicate it. The fact is Fatherhood has been and always will be, until the end of time, a vocation that can’t be understated in terms of its importance, its value, its contribution to the greater good. That said, what you are going to hear from me about – what I’d rather spend a bit of time attempting to do with you this morning – is sharing one man’s perspective, one’s man’s journey, and one man’s experience, complete with the joys and the challenges – on being a Father, A CATHOLIC FATHER…. today.

As I speak to you today, most of you who are Fathers – in fact I may venture to guess that all of you who are Fathers – have been Fathers longer than me. But, where you have me beat in longevity, I think I have you beat in quantity! And with that quantity, I think I can offer a qualified perspective. I became a Father close to 16 years ago when my wife Julie and I welcomed our first of seven children, Patrick, into the world. We were married at an age that’s considered young by today’s standards – we were 23 and 24 years old – and almost a year to the day of our first wedding anniversary, Patrick was born. A 7 and ½ pd, small bundle of love who is now approaching 16, is 6 feet tall, twice as wide as me, and dare I say… might be able to “take” the old man in a friendly father-son wrestling match in the driveway. Life sure does go by fast.

My journey to Fatherhood was for a time, heading towards, a different type, but certainly a no less important type of Fatherhood, the priesthood. For several years during my time at Providence College, I discerned the priesthood. And although I absolutely KNOW that God, in his Divine Providence, called me to the Fatherhood that I now live, I am forever grateful for that period in my life when I looked deeply into who I was, a child of God, and what it was that God was calling me to do. I grew increasingly closer to the Lord, to his son Jesus Christ, and I developed an enormous sense of respect and brotherly love for the Dominicans – the Friars of Providence College – and for all men who we call “priest”, who we call “Father”. I admire those men more than any others on the planet. That period of my life had a profound impact on me and my understanding of what it is to be called, to have vocation, and for God to have a “plan” for each of us. I remind myself daily that my vocation in life – Fatherhood – is in fact God’s plan.

I mentioned a few moments ago that my perspective on Fatherhood is a simple one, not always an easy one to live, but a simple one to understand. Let me explain. To me, to be a Father, a true Father, a Catholic Father in it’s most fundamental state is to be a Christ-like man, to bear witness to the love of Christ and our ultimate father, the Lord, and to be a man of compassion, love, and mercy, to our children, our wife, and all those around us.

When I look at St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, entrusted with the safety of the newborn Christ and our mother Mary, I see the very definition of Fatherhood; I see the epitome of what it means to be a Catholic Father. Soft spoken, trusting, trustful, faith-filled. We often hear a lot about Mary’s “Yes”… that is, the Virgin’s complete giving of herself to God…”Let it be done to me according to thy word”. It changed everything. Well, in the same way, Joseph gave his complete self to the Lord and his plan; he trusted the Lord, and in his own way gave his “Yes” to the Lord. What a role model St Joseph is for us, for all Fathers, for all men! I often try to think about what Joseph must have been thinking 2000 years ago, when presented with what could accurately be described as a stressful situation. I think of this situation, Joseph’s situation, and more importantly I think of his willing, selfless, and unsung response during the times when I’m faced with Fatherly stress, with the trials and tribulations and worries of Fatherhood, of providing for and sheltering 7 children, educating them, making the right choices, keeping them safe, parenting them to become faith-filled Catholics. I take great comfort in Joseph during these times – I look to follow his example, his YES, his trust of the Lord and the Lord’s plan for him.

Pope John Paul II once said about St. Joseph: …that, “What emanates from the figure of Saint Joseph is faith. Joseph of Nazareth is a “just man” because he totally “lives by faith.” He is holy because his faith is truly heroic. Sacred Scripture says little of him. It does not record even one word spoken by Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth. And yet, even without words, he shows the depth of his faith, his greatness. Saint Joseph is a man of great spirit. He is great in faith, not because he speaks his own words, but above all because he listens to the words of the Living God. He listens in silence. And his heart ceaselessly perseveres in the readiness to accept the Truth contained in the word of the Living God. We see how the word of the Living God penetrates deeply into the soul of that man, that just man.”

For me, the most striking piece of Pope John Paul II’s characterization of St Joseph is that St. Joseph is great in Faith because he LISTENED.. he LISTENED to God. He isn’t great because he had all the answers, or thought he had all the answers, or thought he could tell those around him that he had the answers. He’s great because he listened. What a beautiful contrast to what the world and society would suggest to us today! In a world where manhood, masculinity, and by extension Fatherhood are too often measured by the volume of one’s voice, or perhaps the boldness or brashness of that voice – in other words, telling other people what to do, the notion that I’M in control here, I’M the boss, I’M in charge and I’ll be damned if anyone ELSE’S PLAN is going to take MY plan for MY life off track …. Well, in contrast to that, St Joseph provides us Catholic men, us Catholic Fathers with the truest example of Fatherhood – A fatherhood and a life rooted in and entirely dependent on Faith – Faith in the Lord – Faith that comes not through speaking, but through listening to and embracing the Lord and his plan. Faith and trust that trumps any plan we have for ourself – Faith that totally submits us to the Lord and puts HIM, not us, in charge. Gentlemen, as Catholic Fathers and Catholic men, let’s emulate St Joseph, carrying out our vocation with complete fidelity and selflessness.

Having said that, I must admit I have moments in my Fatherly vocation when I think “OK, I’ve got this under control, I can do this on my own – I don’t need any help… and then something goes sideways and I quickly realize that I failed to remember that “I NEED God – I NEED his help – I don’t have a chance without him”. For without my embracing his presence, I lose perspective on the situation, on the moment… I become out of balance, frustrated, stressed, or otherwise un-loving. And the crazy thing is that these moments and situation are not particularly stressful or monumental in and of themselves. It’s that I make them such because I lose sight of Christ. I compare this to situations which should seemingly be entirely stressful and anxious, like times our children were born. But, I approach those situations knowing I’m not in control – knowing it’s in God’s hands, not mine … and I feel completely at peace and in sync with God’s plan for me, my vocation of Fatherhood. My opportunity is to see God and his plan for me in everything, situations both big AND small, and completely submit to him ALL the time.

You know, we’re living in a different day and age today than we were even 30 or 40 years ago. Back then, the family with seven kids wasn’t considered the circus act that they are today. I must tell you – guys, I’ve heard it all. I’ve heard all the questions and comments, and gotten all the looks, the majority being ignorant and rude ones, about my family and its size. Things like: “You have 7 kids, Don’t you know what caused that?” or “You know, there’s ways to prevents that from happening”, or one of my favorites: “Are you DONE having kids?”, or the best of all time: “You must be either Irish or Catholic”. And my typical response to that one… “No, I’m actually Irish AND Catholic, and you must be Dumb AND Stupid”. I actually used to get angry in my earlier years when folks would comment on my family; I’d scream back at them, or otherwise write them off as someone I’d never speak to again. And then, at some point, I realized that most people who are asking those questions or making those comments don’t see Christ, don’t think they need him. And so, now, I pray for them, pray that they recognize their need for Christ. And for every 10 offensive comments I field, they are more than offset by the occasional comment that we get along the lines of “your family is beautiful”, “your kids are so good to each other”, or “you’re doing a great job”. Those go a long way. And although I take no satisfaction in hearing the many people say to me that they “wish they had had more children”, I usually just respond with, “Well then, you should have!”

Tomorrow is Father’s Day. Then, and everyday, I remember my Father – he was a special man. I am grateful to have had such a wonderful Father, a Father ,who like St. Joseph, spoke when he was spoken to, led by example, and never wavered from his faith. My Dad died 10 years ago at the age of 63, far, far too young in my estimation. A son of Irish immigrant parents, he grew up in tough, Irish Catholic Charlestown, the 5th of 6th children, my Dad handed so much down to me… his work ethic, his love of Irish history and the Irish cause, his loyalty to family and friends, his interest in being a “student” of everything, his undying devotion to his wife – my Mom – and to me and my 5 brothers and sisters, but most of all he handed down to me his example of faith and fatherhood. And that’s a gift that I now owe to my three sons and those around me.

And so my brothers and fellow Fathers, the counsel and encouragement I’d offer to any Father, young or old, would be above all TO LOVE.

Love your wife and work at your marriage.
Love your kids and lead by example not by voice.
Create and protect family time as if your life depends on it – it actually does.
Be humble and selfless, Forgive, and be compassionate, and Pray.
And don’t ever expect a script or a playbook to be handed to you that will tell you how to be a good Father or how to act or what to do in certain situations. There is no such thing. Simply Love the Lord and his plan for you, and as St Joseph did so well, listen to the Lord.

Thank you for having me and for listening…. And To all the Fathers here this morning…. Happy Fathers Day!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Slam dunk of a post! Thanks Webster and Neil. Happy Fathers Day to you both and to all the rest of the dad's out there.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09011510563653401940 wdomburg

    As I speak to you today, most of you who are Fathers – in fact I may venture to guess that all of you who are Fathers – have been Fathers longer than me.Not all of us. My eldest children turn five in August. :)

  • Anonymous

    Very inspirational to me, a MOTHER! Vange

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16021781602272064901 Allison

    Neil: Thanks for this post. It was great.One thing though: not everyone who doesn't have a large family could have just gone ahead and had one, as you suggest.We have two sons. That is all. I struggled for years with infertility issues, plus we lost two children before their birth. Adoption was exorbitant; even Catholic Charities told me I was too old for a domestic adoption – at age 40.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16021781602272064901 Allison

    clarification: International adoption was beyond our budget and when we pursued domestic adoption a nun at Catholic Charities told me we were too old and she never had seen a birth mother choose parents more than 40 years old. Plus, it was against their policy. God bless you Neil.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17980585948522810597 Mary

    Great post!! Thank you.Your advice, with a few word changes, can be used by all parents or those thinking about becoming parents.Parents, love each other and work at your marriage.Love your kids and lead by example not by voice.Create and protect family time as if your life depends on it – it actually does.Be humble and selfless, Forgive each other as many times as it takes, and be compassionate, and Pray.And don’t ever expect a script or a playbook to be handed to you that will tell you how to be a good Father or how to act or what to do in certain situations. There is no such thing. Simply Love the Lord and his plan for you, your marriage and your family and listen to the Lord.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17980585948522810597 Mary

    Neil, I believe that your response to those who criticize or seem shocked when they see that you have seven children should be, "Yes, they are all mine. Isn't it amazing that I Neil, in God's eyes, is seen to be such a capable and loving father that he has allowed me to love and care for 7 of His children? When I stop and think of it, I am shocked, speechless, surprised, etc., etc., too. Thank you for noticing."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17980585948522810597 Mary

    Allison, I am so sorry for your struggles with infertility. That is a heartbreaking thing to go through on top of miscarrying. Bless you. Our Lord meant for you to have two wonderful sons in His timing which is the hardest thing for us to keep in mind when we wish for something so badly. We prayed for six children. Our Lord blessed us with one daughter after 10 years of marriage. She is 22 years old now and such a blessing to us. She has more than made up for the other 5 that we did not conceive. Life is according to God's will and not our own and to accept that takes a heavy burden off your shoulders. It places the joy of serving into your hands instead which has made all the difference in the world for us. It is true what you have said to Neil, that some cannot just go out and have seven children. It may be jealousy that causes them to lash out in the first place at those who have many while they have few. It happens often to those who want what you have and cannot obtain it. I can also see Neil's frustration being asked all the time about how many children he has, as though it is some kind of circus act. It can get very tiresome and irritating. I have found that at those exact times is when God wishes us to show Him in action. Because it is in my opinion that it wasn't Neil's verility that allowed him to have those children, nor was it his wife's fertility. It was God's plan for them both and God is waiting for them to use it to serve Him for its goodness. To produce 'fruit' from it, not irritation or frustration. Everything in our life has only one purpose and that is that whatever it is we do, we do it to serve God and to bear fruit to store for eternity. This is what I believe.

  • Carol

    I apologize for commenting a bit late after Neil’s post on Sunday, but I wanted to give it some time to think about what I was going to say and reflect on what I’ve witnessed myself in this family. I’ve known the Corcorans for many years now and watched their family grow in many ways. I’ve seen their oldest children grow into fine young Catholic teens. I’ve seen the middle girls look to their older siblings as good examples. The little boys? I’ve been touched to see them cross themselves at Mass, and although they don’t understand the significance of it, they are proud that they can participate in the Mass this way. Although the preschoolers don’t have the attention span as their older siblings, somehow, I think they know that despite what other activities and events might take place on Sunday, Mass is the center of their family’s day. Their children know that God comes first. Always. Who do they learn this from? Good, Catholic parents who live their lives with Christ as the center. I’ve been at the Corcoran dinner table and they have been at mine. Is it busy? YES, but it is also a great joy to see a family who says grace together and cares for one another as much as they do. That said, not every family is meant to have seven children; God has graced my husband and me with one wonderful teen daughter who we cherish tremendously. Fortunately, He has also blessed us with great friends who, through our friendship, allow us to witness the love that a large family can bring. I am grateful to God for all He has given my family. The Corcoran family is one of those blessings.


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