Baptism of the Lord
Jan 14, 2019
When I was a newly ordained priest, I became friendly with a family in the parish. They were very proud of being of Irish extraction. That was despite the wife actually being half Portuguese. She was a psychiatric nurse and one day she gave me an article to read. It came from a counseling textbook and the article was on what to expect when you counsel Irish families. When I first began to read the article, I found it amusing. I recognized that so many of the characteristic of Irish families mentioned in the piece were hitting close to home. When the article pointed out some of the distinctive behaviors of Irish families such as a great desire for respectability, loyalty and sense of humor I chuckled. But as I read on some of the other Irish traits were disturbing. Behaviors like shaming, the use of hurtful humor to ridicule family and the sudden cutting off of important relationships over minor hurts were far less humorous. No matter what your ethnic background we know that family life has its challenges and joys for all of us.
Since the scripture reading during these first few weeks of the new year speak often of family relationships, I’m in the middle of a series of homilies I’ve been giving called, “Secrets of Every Happy Family.” I’ve been telling you that happy families have many of the same traits. I’ve spoken of three of those traits.
One is that happy families recognize family life can get messy at times. They accept that messiness with grace and flexibility. When confronted with flaws in their imperfect members happy families confront them and offer acceptance and forgiveness. Happy families also have mutual respect for all members. They respect the fact that God is the head of every family and strive to keep their relationship with God healthy. Spouses have respect for each other. They also respect every member of the family from children, parents, to grandparents. Happy families recognize they are the building blocks of our society. They realize that for our society to be stable and loving our families have to be places of happiness and spiritual good health.
Today I’d like to take a look at the role of the father or father figure in the family. I’m doing this because in today’s gospel we hear about the relationship Jesus had with his heavenly father. In the gospel passage from Luke we hear that after Jesus’ baptism and as he was preparing to begin his public ministry. God announced that Jesus was his beloved son with whom he was well pleased.
While Jesus was 100% God and, in his divinity, didn’t really need the Father’s encouragement. Jesus was also 100% human and to have the encouragement of God the Father was critical for Jesus the human. Jesus the human being would be headed towards great difficulties, conflicts, challenges and criticism as he began his public ministry. To have the support of God the Father in heaven and to know that God had his back was imperative for the success of that ministry. For Jesus to understand that he had God’s approval, that God not only loved him but delighted in him and supported Jesus’ willingness to do God’s will was of prime importance.
Part of the unique role of the father in the family is to, like God, send their children into the world with his blessing. Mothers also have a principal role of equipping and encouraging children but it’s different for fathers. Mother’s have a stronger physical bond with children so it is more innate. It’s different for a father. For father’s it has to be more intentional. It is more important for a father to clearly state their approval to their child. A child who is able to go into the world knowing of their father’s blessing has a great advantage. They tend to have better emotional health. They begin life with a great advantage. Knowing that we have our father’s love and approval runs deep into our hearts.
Many people who feel they didn’t get their father’s approval or blessing as a young person can carry resentment and anger towards their fathers. It can be a daily distraction and disappointment for them. Some who feel they never got their father’s approval feel as if they have never left home emotionally. They can be constantly looking for that approval from other authority figures, mentors, bosses or friends. They spend their whole life searching for a father’s approval.
For many people their experience of a father’s blessing falls somewhere in between. They may feel they have their father’s blessing but it isn’t always so clear. Their father has given them a mixed message. Their father hasn’t always been clear about his feelings and so the children are uncertain about their father’s approval.
My father died before I went into the seminary. Before he died, I never discussed with him that I was considering the priesthood. In fact, I wasn’t sure he would approve. That approval wouldn’t have been a determining factor in my ultimate decision of the priesthood but it would have been nice to know I had his blessings. About a year after I entered seminary my uncle, my father’s younger brother, took me aside. He told me that my father had told him he had the feeling I might be considering the priesthood and if I chose to do so he would not have been opposed.
It would have been easier making my decision to become a priest knowing that I had my father’s blessing. It would have been nice to have heard it from him. Well that’s family. You take what you get. I’m happy to know I had his approval even if it came through a circuitous manner.
Fathers you need to know that your words and actions carry a great deal of weight and influence in your family. You set the whole tone for your family life. I know that sometimes you may feel like the one that is left out of family life but truly you are at its center. Your disposition towards your family life has a great effect on all the members of your family. Your children really desire to please you and want to make you happy.
There is a saying “If momma ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy.” That applies to father’s too. Maybe even more to fathers. When fathers are unhappy it effects the whole family. There is added stress and tension. When a father is unhappy it shapes the mood of the entire family.
Father’s your loving presence in the family is the greatest gift you can give. It is more important than affluence, education, advice and experience. Never discount it. Never allow the desire for any material thing or for any honor to get in the way of letting your family know you love them. Letting them clearly see your affection for them and the importance they play in your life is more precious than any material object.
Take every opportunity to express your love and approval to your children. You never know what small gesture of love and support you make will impact your child’s life. If you think of it, you will probably recall that it was some tiny gesture made by your own father that had the greatest impact on your life. It was possibly sometime when he wasn’t trying especially hard to show his love that your father did something that actually exhibited the depth of his love. True moments of blessing come when least expected but result in the greatest impact on a child.
Fathers don’t ever worry about praising your child too much. Don’t worry they won’t get to be too full of themselves or get a swelled head because of too much praise. It is okay to encourage them. It is okay to shower them with praise. Let them know that you believe in them and that they are worthy. It will in fact help them to learn humility. Giving them praise and acknowledging their accomplishments will help them to learn how to encourage others. Rather than make them self-centered it will help them to learn to recognize the success of others and how to share praise with them.
Fathers you are the spiritual authority in your families. You communicate that authority by blessing and encouraging all the members of your family. It isn’t only verbally that we express our blessings but by showing your affection physically too. Appropriate loving touch communicates our affection and approval.
Fathers too need encouragement and support in their role of expressing love and approval. We live in a culture where many fathers are absent emotionally but even more tragically physically. Many sectors of our society are abandoned and neglected by their father figures. Fathers need encouragement and guidance to do their job. If you still have your father present in your life give him the praise to continue to do the best that they can for their families. Encourage fathers even if they aren’t perfect. Maybe share with them how you feel they could be a better father.
If your father failed at his role. If he was physically, emotionally or spiritually absent from your life, if he never gave you his blessing forgive him. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you make excuses for his behavior. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you suppress or dismiss the pain and hurt you feel because of his neglect. Forgiveness means that you let go of that suffering. Forgiveness means that you give away our disappointment rather than let them influence your lives any longer.
The truth is that we never get enough of our father’s blessings. Even the most conscientious father will fall short of the mark. There will always be a gap between the real and the ideal father. That is because our human fathers will always fall short of and can only be a dim shadow of the infinite love and blessings showered on us by our Heavenly Father.
Our Heavenly Father has a boundless love for us. God is showering us with love and approval just as he gave those gifts to Jesus. God the Father wants us to know that we are his beloved too. God wants us to know that He is well pleased with each one of us.
Recognizing God’s great love for us means the we should desire to please God too. Since God has first loved us, we need to remember it is necessary to show our love of God by doing God’s will for us. We will imitate God’s love by loving our neighbor despite them being unloving at times. God doesn’t leave us to do this job on our own. In a few minutes we will share the Eucharist. The Eucharist is God’s great gift of loving grace poured out on all of us. It is the real presence of Jesus to strengthen us to love like God to the best of our ability. Today may God love help everyone bring the love of God to our world.