A 13-year-old boy, Peter, was anxious, even compulsive, melting down whenever his parents asked something of him, especially to get off his iPhone or iPad and re-engage in the human race–specifically, his family life. I know this is not extremely uncommon. I was working primarily with the mother, who was having difficulty engaging her husband. He seemed too busy, and she hesitated to bother him. Having low expectations of men is a chronic problem in my pastoral counseling practice, especially around family and spiritual life. Men live up to high expectations at work, but not at home. While the wife believed that leaving him alone was loving, generous, and kind, it was actually the opposite—it was not working for his good, for love, and it was not helping him get to heaven. Low expectations do not help a man become the best version of himself. He needs a challenge; he needs to be needed! But he also needs to know what to do without being nagged.
What should we expect from men?
The Abba Prayer for Men at AbbaChallenge.com answers this in an outline form. In the prayer I suggest that the summit of being a man is spiritual fatherhood lived out in chivalry as priest, prophet, and king. I would like to focus on our priestly role through which we link the human and the divine. What does this mean? For one thing, when we love our friend, spouse, or kids—working for their good—we connect or link them to God, because God is love.
Priests enact liturgy
As priests, all baptized men are called to enact liturgy, though certain Church liturgies such as the Mass are reserved for the ordained priesthood. Liturgy is the means through which God forms his people into his children, his disciples. Liturgy is built into creation, the story of which ends in a liturgical event, the Sabbath rest. Fathers, before they worshipped the golden calf in the desert (Ex. 32), were the priests who led their families spiritually. So what is the liturgy of the baptized priest? I think liturgy is a ritual and/or routine that communicates love. If you are married and/or have kids, you are the priest in the domestic church!
We are perpetually engaged in liturgy, a/k/a, service or work: we have morning and bedtime routines, customary hellos and goodbyes, birthday celebrations, anniversaries, etc. Not all rituals and routines communicate love, however. So if we have problems in our relationships, as with Peter, we need to evaluate and reform our liturgies so our love is better experienced by our kids and spouses. Dr. Greg Popcak, in an excellent book, When Divorce is Not an Option, cites over 60 years of research and hundreds of studies showing that rituals of connection increase satisfaction in life and relationships and significantly decrease depression, substance abuse, promiscuity, and behavioral problems. The liturgy of the domestic church is powerful formation!
Pray: Shockingly, only 17% of Catholic couples actually pray together, according to a recent CARA study. If you are married, pray with your wife! If you need help getting started, keep it simple, picking a few intentions and saying an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory Be. Add more as your comfort level increases. Pray with your children. Fathers praying with and for their kids are immensely powerful! Do it! Certainly go to Mass every week and to confession with your family each month.
Work: These are not chores you do separately, but things you do together, such as preparing meals, setting the table, or cleaning rooms together with your wife and/or kids.
Play: Try playing cards, taking a walk, reading aloud together, or wrestling with the kids! Family game night or date night with the wife are weekly versions.
Talk: Family meals are a starting point. You can ask what was the high point and low point of everyone’s day. Driving with teens can help them open up. For more suggestions, get the book!
Let’s acknowledge our current liturgies and pick one area to work on to more fully live out our baptized priesthood.
What happened to Peter? I worked with both parents and told them they needed to reform their liturgy with their son. I also stressed that it would be more powerful coming from Dad. When Dad knew what to do, he started with ping-pong and added other activities where they could talk more. In two weeks Peter was a different kid—not perfect, but much more open and following his parents’ requests. If you find yourself saying this is typical teenage behavior, you have ineffective liturgies in place. In the battle of liturgy vs. the iPhone, the right liturgy wins! The right liturgies communicate the love you actually intend. This is the message our culture—and your kids and wife—are aching to hear and experience.