Sunday, June 21, 2015

Some Messages for Fathers

(Twelfth Sunday of the Year (B):  This homily was given on June 21, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Job 38: 1-11; 2 Corinthians 5: 14-17; Mark 4: 35-41.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twelfth Sunday of the Year 2015]

What messages does the Lord have in these readings for fathers?

When I prepare my homily for Father’s Day weekend each year, that’s the question I always reflect on.

For reasons that should be obvious.

Now I will admit that when I did that this past week in preparation for this Sunday’s Liturgies, my first reaction was to think, “Gee, there’s not much here.”

Which is ALWAYS the wrong reaction to have when it comes to the Word of God!

That’s because God ALWAYS speaks to us whenever the Scriptures are proclaimed at Mass (or whenever we read them in private, for that matter!).

The problem is that our “spiritual ears” aren’t always open—as mine weren’t open the other day, at least initially.

But after I spent a little time with the three passages—reflecting on them, thinking about them and praying over them—I came to realize the Lord actually has a number of important things to say to fathers through these texts.

(And that includes spiritual fathers as well as natural fathers.)

Take, for example, that first reading from the book of Job.  Most of us know at least the basic outline of Job’s story.  He was a good man—a very good man—who had one really bad day: a day on which he lost all his animals (they were either stolen or killed); all his children (they died when the house they were in collapsed during a terrible windstorm); and his health (he was afflicted with a horrible skin disease in which painful boils appeared all over his body).

And he knew he hadn’t done anything seriously wrong!

Three of his friends proceed to drop by and give him some terrible counsel, telling him that he must have done something to bring this evil on himself, and that he’ll figure out what it is if he thinks long and hard enough.

But Job continues to assert his innocence.

In the midst his pain and frustration, he eventually cries out to God, demanding to know why he’s been allowed to suffer all these things, and in chapter 38 (which is where today’s first reading is from) God gives him an answer—although it’s not the answer Job is looking for.

The answer goes on for a number of chapters, and in it God basically says to Job, “Who are you, little man, and what do you know?  Don’t you realize that there are some things in this life that you will never fully understand?—because you don’t have the capacity, with your finite human mind, to fully understand them.”

What an important lesson for fathers to teach their children!  I was speaking to Fr. Michael Sisco this week, and he told me about a funeral Mass he had said the previous Saturday for an 18-year-old girl from his parish who had died suddenly and unexpectedly—while exercising!  She was a former altar server of his who was known as a really nice girl—a girl who donated her time to a number of local, charitable causes.  And her death remains a mystery because the medical examiner couldn’t find a reason why she collapsed and died the way she did.

How do you make sense of something like this when it happens?

The answer is, you don’t!  And young people need to know that!  They need to be taught by their fathers—and mothers—that some things in this life are mysteries and will always remain mysteries.

At least on this side of the grave.

But we can know all that we NEED to know!  We can know all that we need to know in order to attain the ultimate goal of this earthly life—which is, of course, eternal salvation.  This is also something every father needs to teach his children, lest they lose their way and despair in the midst of all the tragic things that they will not be able to understand.  That’s why our second reading from 2 Corinthians is so appropriate for Father’s Day: because it reminds fathers (and the rest of us) of the core of the Gospel message, namely, the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Fathers, how often do you talk to your children about Jesus, and about the truths of our Catholic faith—truths that will help them to navigate their way through this sometimes difficult and very confusing life?  They need you to do that!

And there’s another message for dads in that reading.  It comes specifically in these lines: “[Jesus] indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

“So that they [your children] might live for him.”  Not for you, dad—or for you, mom—but for him: for Jesus Christ.  Your role as Christian parents is to help your children to know the Lord and love the Lord and serve the Lord, and to encourage them to do what GOD wants them to do in their lives—not what you as parents want them to do.  What you want them to do with their lives and what God wants them to do might be the same thing, but it might not be the same thing.

And in the latter instance a good Christian father needs to yield to the heavenly Father—always!

This truth, by the way, applies to spiritual fathers as much as it applies to natural ones.  You know, because we’ve had so many vocations to the priesthood and religious life from our parish and community in recent years, there are some who think that I put pressure on young people to enter the seminary and the convent.  But I don’t!  I simply tell young people that they need to prayerfully discern what God wants them to do with their lives, and then follow THAT plan.

Because what matters most in this life is discovering and carrying out the will of the Lord, not the will of Fr. Ray (or any other human person).

All that I’ve said so far is, in a certain sense, summed up in this gospel story of Jesus and the apostles on the Sea of Galilee.  The message here for dads is: Make sure Jesus Christ is in your “boat”, and then do your best—your very best—to get him into the “boats” of your children.  It says in this text that the apostles “took Jesus with them in the boat”.  Had they not done that—and had they not cried out to Jesus in their distress—they might have died in the storm that night.

We take Jesus into our “boat”—that is to say, our life—(and we keep him there) when we build a strong personal relationship with him that’s rooted in baptism, and nurtured by prayer and the sacraments.  And if we ever make the mistake of throwing Jesus “overboard” (so to speak) by committing a serious sin, we can always get him back in our boat by repenting and getting to confession.

Dads, are you doing these things in your own personal lives?  Do your children ever see you pray? Do you lead them in prayer by bringing them to Mass EVERY weekend?  Do you lead them in prayer by saying grace before meals?  Do you set an example for them by getting to confession regularly—even if you don’t have a serious sin on your soul? 

If they can see that Jesus Christ is truly present in your boat; in other words, if they can see that you are building a strong personal relationship with Jesus Christ in your life—a relationship through which you are finding the strength you need to face the storms of your life—chances are they will follow your example.

Which will make all the difference in the world in terms of how successfully they deal with the trials, the difficulties—the storms—of their lives.

I’d like to end my homily now by first apologizing to the Lord for thinking that he hadn’t provided any messages for dads today in these three Scripture readings (I should know better!); and then by asking him to bless all the fathers here present by giving us the grace that we need to live these messages faithfully.

And I ask all of you who are not fathers to join me in making this request, because if we dads actually do live these messages faithfully, you—and especially you young people—will be the primary beneficiaries.