Last month I was invited by a friend of mine, who is a Deputy Head teacher in a boys Catholic school, to give a 20-30 minute talk on the various ways the Church supports and promotes healthy marriage and family life and why.
The key purpose of this presentation was to help the students prepare for a particular Religious Studies examination and the question regarding marriage would have about 6 marks attached to it. So it was a case of providing the students with some key things to utilise when answering the question in the paper. Bearing in mind these young chaps were about 13-14, the material didn’t have to be too detailed nor too heavy. So, in addition to speaking about why marriage in the Church is a sacrament which we call “matrimony” and how, as well as profiling some of the projects and programmes I facilitate to support matrimony, I played my favourite 2 minute clip of Pope St John Paul II speaking in 1988 about the importance of the family.
I encouraged them to be really inspired by St John Paul’s visible, tangible masculinity and his strength of character and courage to speak with conviction, a very unpopular message in today’s culture. My friend sent me an exam answer from one of the boys a few weeks later which received top marks and I have his permission to share it anonymously as I think it’s inspiring to read:
“Firstly, marriage is a permanent thing. It is when a man and a woman come together through Christ to unite as one, to create a family and to teach them too about Christ. Secondly, marriage is like a rose bush. This suggests that although it is thorny and hard to go through (which is why churches offer marriage courses) marriage is something beautiful like the rose, and fruitful. Thirdly, marriage is a covenant to teach the faith. Pope John Paul II liked to speak about how the domestic church is the centre of the Church and where God is first heard of by children making the family holy.”
When a young adolescent boy is able recount something so profound and true in simple and unequivocal language because of something he has heard or seen, it shows how the example and leadership of Catholic men, especially fathers can and must have a continuous impact.
Of course that’s not to say the girls and young women don’t need and aren’t equally capable of being inspired by an encounter with authentic Christian manhood. But I would argue that the boys among us have an acute need at this time. “Without the impact and guidance of men as fathers, boys are left behind in a vacuum” as my friend Jonathan Doyle so wisely says when addressing the highly sensitive issue of pornography use and addiction in society today. At his excellent website he says “absentee fathering means no sexual discipleship” during a masterclass on pornography and all its implications.
So if we want the boys of today (so many of whom are at high risk of being routinely exposed to grossly indecent imagery impoverishing their affective emotional maturity) to truly become the well-rounded, courageous, self-sacrificing men of tomorrow, we have to model for them today a wholesome, spirit-filled witness to faithful fatherhood, that is strong, masculine, truly generous and servant-like.
So on this coming weekend of Father’s Day, let’s really magnify not just our appreciation and need for authentic fatherhood in society but for the spiritual paternity so desperately needed in the Church; one that is exercised in truth and love by all men, both lay and ordained, for the sake of the boys, and, in turn for the sake of the girls and the women. For in the future, those boys will be called to step up, respect, serve and cherish.