(June 12, 2018) — One of the key points I hit every time I give a talk is this—we’re at war. The battle raging all around us is a war of ideas, a war over the best way to run our country, the best way to raise our children, the best way to live our lives.
This war is bigger than left versus right, liberal versus conservative. The real war is a spiritual one. It’s a battle for souls that will rage until Jesus comes again in his glory. Men cannot be passive. We’re called to engage.
Father’s Day is a great time to take stock of the battle—and the role we’re called to play in this war for souls. At the end of it all, when we take our last breath, we’ll face Him—the Lord of Lords. If we’ve been faithful and selfless, living our lives for others, we can expect Jesus to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).
But Jesus will likely also ask us, “Who did you bring with you?”
It’s not time to shrug and say, “I dunno.”
Our job as members of the Church Militant, in a nutshell, is to get to Heaven and to take as many people with us as we can. If that’s firmly planted in your frontal lobe, chances are you’ll be counted among the saints in Heaven.
Fight the good fight
Three years ago, Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted challenged men to step up and be leaders in the culture war—and to be spiritual leaders in the home and society.
“Men, do not hesitate to engage in the battle that is raging around you, the battle that is wounding our children and families, the battle that is distorting the dignity of both women and men,” he wrote in his apostolic exhortation entitled Into the Breach. “This battle is often hidden, but the battle is real. It is primarily spiritual, but it is progressively killing the remaining Christian ethos in our society and culture, and even in our own homes.”
The battle he describes is real. When men fail their families, children suffer. The Fatherhood Initiative reports that children with absent fathers are:
- Four times more likely to live in poverty;
- More likely to suffer emotional and behavioral problems;
- More likely to commit a crime and go to prison;
- Seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teen;
- More prone to neglect, abuse and substance abuse;
- Twice as likely to become obese; and
- Twice as likely to drop out of school.
That’s just the physical side. The spiritual side is even worse. When men fail to lead spiritually, children suffer in a way that has eternal consequences.
A 2000 study found that when both fathers and mothers attended church regularly, about 41% of the children would go to church when they reach an adult stage. Amazingly, when the father attends church on an irregular basis, 60% of the children reaching adulthood will be irregular attendees or drop out altogether. When the father doesn’t ever attend church, only 2% of children that grow into adulthood will attend church with nearly none of them ever becoming Christian.
When this same equation is with the mother, the numbers are not nearly as drastic. The conclusion is that fathers have … the most impact on their [children] becoming a Christian and attending church regularly as adults (Patheos.com, The Importance of Good Christian Fathers).
Modeling God the Father
Herein lies the challenge for us as fathers. Our call is to mirror God the Father, which begins by being a devoted son of the Father. No small task, but it must always be rooted in prayer. Our children will do what we do far sooner than they’ll do what we say. Our words matter, but our actions speak far louder. If we’re devoted to our faith—praying the rosary, going to Mass, leading the family in prayer—our children are much more likely to take the faith seriously.
We must love our wives. Never stop trying to win her heart… even if you already have. My father was madly in love with my mother to the day he died. I’m convinced his love for her only increased when he crossed the threshold of Heaven. When your sons witness your love for your wife, they’re more apt to do the same when they’re married. Your daughters will look for a husband who will love her like you love your wife.
We must love our children. Each one is a precious gift from God. Irreplaceable. Unique. Each has the potential to change the world. And they will. They need to feel loved, safe and valued. I always think of Viola Davis’ memorable line in The Help: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
On top of that, our children need to know they are loved eternally. God loves them, and their destination is heaven. If we get this right, the rest is gravy.
The world needs such men who model our Heavenly Father. The world is desperate for your witness. Bishop Olmsted said it best to his flock in Into the Breach:
Men, your presence and mission in the family is irreplaceable! … We need faith like that of our fathers who defended the children of previous generations and who gave up their own lives rather than abandon their faith in Christ. My sons and brothers, men of the Diocese of Phoenix, we need you to step into the breach!
St. Joseph, patron of fathers, patron of families, patron of the Universal Church, pray for us!