Pope Benedict XVI was a man – a priest and a pope, and therefore a father – whose humble walk through life left a large wake – in my life, that of the world and of the Church. Others have written volumes on him. But you can get started here. I don’t intend to rehash what others have said about the importance of his priestly ministry, the work he did at the Second Vatican Council, how much his theology informed his close friend Pope Saint John Paul the Great’s encyclicals and other writings, the potential and actual ripples of his resignation, or the humility of his quiet retirement.
This series will take us through various writings of his and my interpretation of them regarding fatherhood. We will start with some of the theses in Behold the Pierced One, a wonderful book written in 1984, when he was still known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Two years later, it had been published in English by Ignatius Press and it is still available all over the world in various translations.
The center of a husband and father’s life is constant communication with the Father.
Then-Cardinal Ratzinger put forth a lot of thought based on this one thesis, and only in a few pages. I encourage everyone to go read what he has to say. It is profound.
But let’s look at what this means as husbands and fathers. And just as men in general.
How Christ taught us to communicate with the Father
Think about most of the major evens in the life of Christ that are depicted in the Gospels. At his baptism. Before choosing the Apostles. When he raised Lazarus. Before walking on water. When withdrawing from the crowds to be alone. In Gethsemane before his arrest. On the cross. What did Christ do? He prayed.
Let’s really think about that, though. As we’ve been told by the Council of Chalcedon, Jesus Christ is one person with two complete natures in a hypostatic union – fully man and fully God. That means that he, as a man, understood God. And it also means that he, as God, fully understood Jesus the man. So why would Jesus need to pray? Why do you need to call, or text, or meme-a-thon with your homie from the block? You largely don’t. Most of the time you know exactly how he’s going to react to your newest Crowder meme – change my mind.
The answer to this what it almost always is when things seem confusing in the Church – Love. You send the memes because you love your friend. Jesus talks to the Father because he loves and is loved by him. So much so, in fact, that that love is a Person in and of himself – the Holy Spirit. So, yeah. We are supposed to talk to God because we’re thankful, or needful, or sorrowful, or whateverful. But, if we follow the example of Christ, we should talk to the Father because, to paraphrase the O.C. Supertones, we’re in love, and he’s in love with us.
Men in general
Men will never truly be as masculine as they can be without communication and submission to the Father. Since it is true that the sum of created parts can never be more than the original form, our masculinity must be a lesser image of the Father. Since, according to the First Vatican Council, God is “omnipotent, eternal, immense, incomprehensible, infinite in intellect and will” all attributes of creation approach those aspects in varying degrees.
We are made to be powerful, long-lasting, intelligent (to our own capabilities) and willful (or be men of our word). To the extent that we all fail to be complete versions of these over our lifetimes, we should thank the Father for his example and continually ask him to help us fill those roles. But do you remember how crummy you felt when you pretty much ignored your dad as a teenager, except when you needed money? Your dad noticed it, too. The Father notices. He loves us anyway. But we are better people if we talk to him regularly out of love, and ask for things as needed and as a part of our normal conversations.
Entire books have been written on being manly within the parameters of the attributes of God that show through men. But I’m just going to leave it at this: power and strength, dependability and fortitude, wisdom and intelligence, and keeping our word don’t matter a bit. Not a single iota. Unless they are done with love as the driving force.
Fathers – while communicating regularly with the father – are to lead their families. Never forget that we are sending out our own apostles. Not in a selfish sense, but in a “I have taught you what I can and lead you as I may, now go and spread the love of Christ as I have loved you.” And if we’ve done our jobs approaching correctly, we will have effectively changed the world.
Imagine, if you will, a captain commanding his infantry company out on the front line. He can be a brilliant military tactician. His charisma can allow for an empathetic relationship with his men. The training and time he put into the company’s other officers can be demonstrably fruitful. But if he is not in communication with the battalion, how effective can his leadership actually be?
We can read all the Jacko Willink, Jordan Peterson, Robert Kiyosaki and Armin Brott books you can find. Get therapy to deal with your childhood demons. Find the perfect wife. And your household will likely run relatively fine, but it will matter very little, especially compared to how much it could matter, unless you are in communication with higher command. God will orient you properly.
Lead your children with purpose, or the world will lead them to its purpose.
Husbands – in addition to communication and submission to the Father – must love their wives. Not the gushy-Cupid-and-i’s-dotted-with-hearts love. The messy-Christ-and-dotted-with-sacrifice love. And that is impossible to fully do without being in constant prayer.
For, if God is Love, then any attempt to love without consulting the Father is laughably short on wisdom and tearfully long on hubris. Whether your ego is bruised because your wife didn’t cook the exact meal you wanted for your birthday or you’re suffering because you found the texts, God – the one who is repeatedly truly offended by each of us and makes it rain on the good as well as the wicked and the sun shine on the wicked as well as the good – has the capacity to love through you. Just talk to him, man.
But be aware that the talk might be your own personal Gethsemane. Your own personal cross.
One more thing before you go
And remember that “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” is not a cry of abandonment. It is short hand for Psalm 22, a Psalm of sorrow and faith. And a Psalm of messianic hope:
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why so far from my call for help,
from my cries of anguish?
My God, I call by day, but you do not answer;
by night, but I have no relief.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the glory of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted and you rescued them.
To you they cried out and they escaped;
in you they trusted and were not disappointed.
But I am a worm, not a man,
scorned by men, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they curl their lips and jeer;
they shake their heads at me:
“He relied on the LORD—let him deliver him;
if he loves him, let him rescue him.”
For you drew me forth from the womb,
made me safe at my mother’s breasts.
Upon you I was thrust from the womb;
since my mother bore me you are my God.
Do not stay far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is no one to help.
Many bulls surround me;
fierce bulls of Bashan encircle me.
They open their mouths against me,
lions that rend and roar.
Like water my life drains away;
all my bones are disjointed.
My heart has become like wax,
it melts away within me.
As dry as a potsherd is my throat;
my tongue cleaves to my palate;
you lay me in the dust of death.
Dogs surround me;
a pack of evildoers closes in on me.
They have pierced my hands and my feet
I can count all my bones.
They stare at me and gloat;
they divide my garments among them;
for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, LORD, do not stay far off;
my strength, come quickly to help me.
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the grip of the dog.
Save me from the lion’s mouth,
my poor life from the horns of wild bulls.
Then I will proclaim your name to my brethren;
in the assembly I will praise you:
“You who fear the LORD, give praise!
All descendants of Jacob, give honor;
show reverence, all descendants of Israel!
For he has not spurned or disdained
the misery of this poor wretch,
Did not turn away from me,
but heard me when I cried out.
I will offer praise in the great assembly;
my vows I will fulfill before those who fear him.
The poor will eat their fill;
those who seek the LORD will offer praise.
May your hearts enjoy life forever!”
All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the LORD;
All the families of nations
will bow low before him.
For kingship belongs to the LORD,
the ruler over the nations.
All who sleep in the earth
will bow low before God;
All who have gone down into the dust
will kneel in homage.
And I will live for the LORD;
my descendants will serve you.
The generation to come will be told of the Lord,
that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn
the deliverance you have brought.
Every time we allow ourselves to die a little in the service of others, but especially our wives, we are, I believe and the Church teaches, participating the suffering of Christ and uniting ourselves with him.
And that’s about as good as it gets in this lifetime, folks.