Ave Maria’s Father Robert McTeigue, S.J., preached this homily for the 5th Sunday after Easter according to the calendar of the Traditional Latin Mass. The Epistle was James 1:22-27, and the Gospel was John 16:23-30. Please pray for Father as he works towards completing a collection of homilies and essays on preaching entitled, I Have Someone to Tell You: A Jesuit Heralds the Gospel.
Did you ever wonder—what would the world look like if there were no fathers? Now, if you are biologically minded you might object and say, “‘No fathers’ = ‘no babies’” so a world without fathers would not last very long. True enough. But I am not talking about being a simple donor of genetic material; I am talking about being a true father. What would a world without true fathers look like?
I don’t think we would have to look very far, would we? To catch a glimpse of a world without true fathers, we might turn to that urban smoking crater formerly known as the city of Detroit, now better known as the carjacking capital of America. And, according to the latest numbers, one third of pregnancies among the women of Detroit end in abortion. One third. What do these facts have to do with the state of fatherhood?
A true father is more than the source of genetic material. A true father generates and sustains life through a moral, spiritual, social and emotional endowment of himself, an endowment best symbolized and protected by faithful marriage. So understood, a father gives life, safety, order, horizons and limits. A true father says to the child he begets, “You are my responsibility, because by my actions God gave you to me. With me you will be safe, provided for, guided and disciplined. For the sake of love, I will say ‘yes’ to you when I should say ‘yes’; I will say ‘no’ to you when I should say ‘no’; and I will lead you by word and deed to a worthy adult life and prepare you for the happiness of Heaven.” That is a true father, declaring his paternity to the children he begets. When a culture, like our example of Detroit, is rife with violence, crime, promiscuity and despair, one can easily infer a systematic and catastrophic failure in fatherhood.
With little effort, I think we could name other places, both large and small, and cite even more evidence of the absence of genuine fatherhood. Why do I speak of these things this morning, at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? I do so because of what we heard from John’s gospel this morning. Jesus said: “If you ask the Father any thing in My name, He will give it to you. Hitherto you have not asked any thing in My name: Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full.” Let me ask you this: How many Christians do you know who are full of joy? How many Christians do you know who in their discipleship have the serenity, confidence and strength of a well-fathered child? I won’t ask for a show of hands this morning, but if I had to guess, I’d say you probably can’t think of very many.
But what if I asked you: How many Christians do you know who live as spiritual orphans? How many Christians do you know who live as if they are unprovided for, who live under the staggering burdens of relentless guilt and shame? How many Christians do you know who live as if there is no one to whom they will be accountable? How many Christians do you know who appear to live as if they have never been taught about Heaven and Hell? I won’t ask for a show of hands this morning, but if I had to guess, I’d say, probably quite a lot.
It seems to me that among Christians we have a paradoxical failure of fatherhood. In the secular world, we have men who may be fathers in the biological sense, but who fail to live up to the fullest sense of the word father. In the spiritual life, we have Christians who have a true father, Our Heavenly Father, revealed to us by Jesus Himself as the perfect Father by whom all other fathers are named and measured—and yet—and yet…I’d say that many Christians live as spiritual orphans. These are Christians who lack Christian joy not because Our Heavenly Father has failed His children but because His children have failed Him. His children have failed Him because they do not ask for anything with trust. And some of His children fail to ask because they know that to invite the Providence of God into their lives means accepting also the Paternal Authority of God as well. And they don’t want that, because they want to remain as moral toddlers.
The disciples of Christ suffer because they live as if there is no Heavenly Father or because they reject the moral authority of the Fatherhood of God. They cause scandal because they live as spiritual orphans, as if they were unprovided for and unguided. They cause scandal because they make excuses for their bad behavior, as if there were no Paternal Authority to set proper limits and proper goals.
Ok—let’s get specific. What does this look like? What does a Christian culture look like when it does not accept the Fatherhood of God? First, as Jesus indicated, there will be an absence of joy. Second, there will be a collapse of moral maturity and accountability. When you see a Christian community with long lines for Holy Communion and short lines for Confessions; when you see a Christian community speaking of the primacy of conscience but not of the duty of a properly-formed conscience; when you see a Christian community speaking passionately about justice but is silent about souls—then you are looking at a community that has rejected the Fatherhood of God. Worst of all, when a Christian community lives as spiritual orphans, there will inevitably follow the sin of idolatry. Man cannot live without the divine; rejecting the one true God, man will make many gods with his own hands, in the hope of controlling them.
What a blasphemy! What a disgrace! What a slap in the face of God is the rejection of His Paternity! Christians spit in the eye of Christ when they choose to live as if they have no Heavenly Father! Joyless, morally stunted, idolatrous Christians shout to the world and to Heaven and to Hell: “I have no father! I am an orphan! Jesus is a liar!”
Oh! How that must break the heart of Our Heavenly Father! Think of it! Our Father loves us so much, that He did not want a creation without us, so He made us. He loves us so much that He did not want an eternity without us, so He saved us at a terrible cost to Himself. God is so truly the Perfect Father that He spoke His authoritative Word-Made-Flesh to us, but we reject that Word when we live as orphans. God is so truly the Perfect Father that He wrote His law of love on the pierced Heart of His only-begotten Son, but we heap scorn upon the Divine Heart when we reject the moral law of Our Heavenly Father. God made us in love and for love and calls us to eternal glory, and Christians instead settle for toys, passing pleasures and handmade idols.
Consider these words from C.S. Lewis: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” So says C.S. Lewis.
My friends, we are here at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We are preparing to unite ourselves with Christ in His perfect self-gift to His Father and Our Father. We know the social and moral wreckage of a human culture where men fail to be fathers. And if we look around us and then look in the mirror, we can see the spiritual wreckage that comes from living as orphans rather than as sons and heirs of Our Heavenly Father. Let’s resolve today to give Our Lord another gift. Let’s give Him the gift of trust and obedience. We can give Him that gift by asking for the grace of seeing and loving the face, voice and heart of Our Heavenly Father. Let’s ask for the grace of joyful adoption by Our Heavenly Father. Let’s imitate Jesus and cry out with Him, “Abba! Pappa! Daddy! My true Father!” Let’s settle for nothing less than receiving and proclaiming every good thing that Our Heavenly Father wishes to give us. If we do that, then we will know that we have taken to heart the words of Saint James that we heard this morning, for we will have become, as he said, “…doers of the word and not hearers only…”