One of the disturbing trends of our society is the reluctance to go into public life. Young people who in the past may have chosen public service now are saying, "Who needs it?" That is, who needs the hassle and the criticism that exposure brings? Why deal with all the stress, especially when other careers hold out the promise of a more comfortable living?
That reluctance has been evident here at Holy Family. For the last two months we have been involved in the search for a new principal. I had hopes we would turn up a good number of candidates for this vital job. There are some, but I cannot say they have been exactly beating down our doors. It's not that this parish is somehow less attractive or that we are offering a smaller salary. In fact, other parishes have had similar problems in getting a new principal for their elementary school. Even one of our Catholic high schools could not find the right candidate. Public schools also face great difficulties. It seems there is a great fear of putting oneself on the line--even tho it offers the opportunity to make a tremendous contribution to the good of others.
We could say a lot about why this hesitation exists. Perhaps it is the almost impossible expectations we now place on people in public service. They have to please so many different individuals and groups. Perhaps it is the way their lives will be scrutinized for any kind of weakness. Perhaps it is our legal environment which makes that person such an easy target. The list goes on, but I would like to say something this Sunday about the other side: why a young person should seriously consider public service--even tho the challenges are greater than they have been in many decades.
The reason to take the risk is contained in today's Gospel. In a dramatic series of questions Jesus reveals to his disciples what his own role will be. If we can be permitted the analogy, his role involves the greatest "public service" in all of human history. His vocation is to be the Messiah, that is the Savior of the world. No role ever had or could have more glory and exaltation attached to it. But Jesus quickly brushes aside every consideration of fame and power. Instead he goes directly to speak about humiliation, suffering and rejection. He says it straight out, "If you want to be a follower of mine, then deny yourself, take up your daily cross."
To those who are considering public service, especially in the church, I cannot tell you it will be easy. If I said, "Don't worry, everything will be all right," I would be the biggest liar in White Center. (And believe me, there are a lot of big lies told here.) But I won't tell you that. What I will tell you, is yes, you will have days of anguish, embarrassment, even bitter failure. You will be misunderstood and misrepresented--and you will not be able to do one thing about it. But I will tell you this, just as certain, if you lose your life for Jesus and for other people, you will find your true life.
I remember seeing a movie when I was in high school which has always stuck with me and helped me understand the meaning of public service. In fact, I saw it with my parish priest, Fr. Edward Boyle. It was an Italian movie called, "The Organizer." It was about an idealistic young man who arrives unannounced at a small town. He talks to different people about bettering their lives, stop being so isolated and work together. At first they listen, but then slowly sink back into their old ways and finally shut him out. The movie ends with the organizer getting on the train to leave the town, discouraged, defeated. But just then this most stirring music begins and you sense his efforts were not in vain. He had planted some seeds which will take root.
That movie has remained in my mind when I think about public service--or even my own vocation to the priesthood. Not that I have had so many trials and rejections, but still I have had to constantly remind myself that the goal is not immediate, tangible success. Sure, I want to succeed and I know Jesus wants me to succeed. But I also know that his definition of "success" is usually much different than my own.
I think of my dear friend Fr. Michael Holland. For over thirty years he has been one of the most effective priests of the Archdiocese, first in a suburban parish, then in a black inner city parish and for the past two decades with the Hispanic communities of Seattle and the Skagit Valley. But last fall incurable cancer entered his life. It has sapped his strength and given him only months to live. But never in his priesthood has he touched hearts more deeply than now. Jesus has asked him to take up a painful cross.
What I am saying about priesthood and public service can also be applied to the most vital vocation in our society today. I am of course talking about fatherhood. It is true that young men are fleeing it as much as any role of public service. In 1970 40% of households in the United States consisted of a married couple and at least one child. By 1990 the proportion had dropped to 26%. These frightening figures come right from the U.S. Census. The main cause of this breakdown is male abandonment. Fatherless families have greatly increased in our society. The only hopeful sign is that this trend has slowed down. From 1990 to 1997 it had dropped only one percent. But what that means is that at this time in our country only 25% of our homes are intact families.
(This does not mean the other 75% are necessarily bad. Holy Family rectory for example consists of one priest and two seminarians. The 75% also include households where the children have moved out. And certainly many single moms--and dads--are doing a valiant job raising their children. But overall we have to face the fact that a drop from 40% to 25% in so short a time is a most distressing fact.)
How are we going to not only stop, but reverse the trend toward fatherless families? How will we get our young dads back in the home? I'm not just talking about being there physically, but really dedicating themselves to their wife and children. It is not a hopeless dream as movements like "Promise Keepers" and "St. Joseph Covenant Keepers" have shown. Deep down young men know that is what they were created for. The great majority have a genuine vocation to marry and form a family. But it is not easy. That is where today's Gospel comes in. Take up your cross. Deny yourself. If you wish to find yourself, you must first lose yourself.
Marriage and fatherhood is a difficult vocation, but especially as we celebrate Father's Day, we need to focus not only on the challenge, but the joy. Recently I saw a statue which depicted both the challenge and the beauty. At first glance it looked like a young wearing a kind of toga seated in a zen prayer posture. But looking closer you could see he was holding a young woman in his arms. Her knees were tucked up so she fit in the folds of his skirt with her head resting on his chest. And she in turn held a baby on her breast. It was the Virgen and Child, nestled in St. Joseph's protecting arms. That is the model we place before our young men, that they be tender and protective husbands and fathers. That is the kind of man all of us would hope our nieces and daughters would one day marry.
We adults can do certain things to help form that type of young man. Teachers, coaches, pastors, uncles might have a greater role than others. But there is one group who has a bigger influence than all of us put together. I of course am talking about young women. If you hope one day to marry a man who is responsible, tender, protective (and I know that most of you do) there are two important things you yourself can do right now.
First and foremost, save the gift of your sexuality till marriage. Do not settle for anything less such as "living together." In fact only 40% of all couples who live together ever get married. And of those who do, the divorce rate is much higher. Living together has failed to produce healthy relationships. It is amazing people keep buying the big lie. I'm not putting the onus on women when I tell you to avoid it. Men should reject it as well. But women have so much more at stake. If you really want a responsible husband and father (and I know you do) insist that you both wait till marriage. I cannot stress that too much, especially considering the moral confusion in our society.
A second thing that women can do to promote responsible fatherhood happens after marriage, to be more exact, after the glow of the honeymoon fades. It is what the Bible says, "wives, be submissive to your husbands." (I Peter 3:1, Eph 5:22) This is a difficult saying. Our Southern Baptist brothers & sisters took a lot of flak--and misrepresention--for simply re-stating it.* It does not mean machismo or accepting abuse. What is involved is supporting the legitimate authority of the husband, an authority he requires if he is going to form and protect such a fragile unit.
I remember once a woman complaining to me about how immature and irresponsible her husband was. What mattered to him was not her and the children, but his motorcycle! I asked her what she was doing about it. "What can I do?" she lamented. "He always drops the ball so I have to pick it up." I told her about Titus 2 and other sections of the Bible. She read it and it made a lot of sense. When she began being more "submissive" (= supportive) wonder of wonders he started becomeing more responsible. The Southern Baptists are not just restating the Bible, but the natural law God has placed within our sexual being.* No amount of cultural reconditioning will change it.
Ironically (and in spite of all the jokes) women are much quicker to recognize this as the correct natural way. Men are much more likely to react negatively. The reason is obvious. It involves an acceptance of what they dread the most, what I described at the beginning--embracing responsibility, putting themselves on the line. I can only say that if you do embrace the cross, Jesus will give you the daily grace to carry it--and a taste of deep joy which is the assurance you are doing the right thing.
You can disagree with my analysis of male-female relations, especially in marriage. That is within your right. What is at stake is not a Church doctrine, but a reflection on the meaning of sacrament of matrimony. However, I beg you not to be deceived into thinking you can fulfill yourself apart from submission. We cannot have a relationship with God (or any other human being) without it. The cross involves submission and obedience from all of us. But it is the only path to life, to knowledge, to the true freedom that comes from Jesus. "If you wish to be my follower, deny yourself, take up your cross...Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."
*The Baptists are hardly unique in this teaching. Back in 1930 Pius XI had this to say about the distinct roles of husband and wife in the family:
"This subjection (of wife to husband) however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother annd companion; nor does it bid her to obey her husband's every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due to wife... But it forbids that exaggerated liberty which cares not for the good of the family; it forbids that in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love." (Casti Conubii)
From Archives (Homilies for Twelfth Sunday, Year C):
See also: An Eternally Unbridgeable Chasm
The Fiery Furnace
Some Good News on Teen Pregnancy and Abortion
Hitler's Pope: Comic Book Approach to Church History
He Approached the Victim: "It's much more likely one of your relatives will lose his life by surgical abortion than by heart attack."
Germaine Greer on Birth Control
Human Cloning: A Catholic Perspective (How the Unthinkable Became Inevitable)
Boston Globe's Misleading Article on Catholic Church
Deflating Darwin's Dangerous Idea
Stephen Jay Gould: Gorbachev of Darwinism?
Test Tube Offspring Want to Know Father
Erickson vs. Bartell Drugs
Call No Man Father
What is Original Sin of Sex?
Bicentennial Man (Hidden Assumptions)
Bogus Knights of Columbus Oath
Ossuary of James, Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
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Fr. Brad's Homilies
Fr. Jim's Homilies
Fr. Michael White's Homilies ("messages")
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
Parish Picture Album
Video of Corpus Christi Procession (June 2):
KRA's & SMART Goals (updated June 2013)
My bulletin column
(June 20, 2010)
St. Mary of the Valley Album
Bulletin (Father's Day, Sharon Carriere Library, Planned Parenthood, Opus Dei priest)
Discussion of attempts to soft-pedal torture
Don't use Reagan's passing to push a ghastly program
Pope on the image of the Inquisition
Another Canadian Bishop Speaks out on Politicians and Abortion
"And Also With You"
Tent City at St. Brendan's, Bothell: "It is an extension of the church's 2,000-year history of helping the most vulnerable people in our society" (Seattle Times article)
Holy Family Parish Luau (June 5, 2004)
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru