The following is a chapter from a forthcoming book on fatherhood and mentoring by Jason Craig.
“My father, in all his teaching,” said John Stuart Mill, “demanded of me not only the utmost that I could do, but much that I could by no possibility could have done.” Fatherhood fully realized communicates meaning, purpose, and the call to greatness. Without meaning and purpose a deep boredom sets in. The last chapter explained that it is not merely vice or sin that is dragging down our youth, but it is a dangerous sloth, a sort of hatred of things of the soul that reveals itself in sustained but pointless activity and a disregard for the nobility or fullness of life. “Whatever,” it shrugs in indifference, and indifference is the opposite of love, not hate.
This boredom and sloth (acedia) is the reversal of St. Paul’s problem; “my spirit is willing but my flesh is weak” is turned into “my flesh is willing but my spirit is weak”.
Cardinal Oullett linked acedia (sloth) with a rejection of being a son of God:
Weariness, melancholy, feeling overworked, discouragement, instability, activism, boredom, or depression: these various manifestations of the “noonday devil” [acedia or sloth] are enough to convince us of the relevance of an evil that caused man to lose his relish for life… Left to his own devices, man ultimately despairs of ever being able to find a meaning for his existence and runs the risk of sinking into mediocrity that is just the symptom of his rejection of his own greatness as an adopted son of God. (Marc Cardinal Oullet, emphasis added).
Young people are fed a constant diet of secularism (God’s not allowed), relativism (truth’s not allowed), and materialism (transcendence’s not allowed). There is really nothing left but a life of self-gratification, or to make it sound less grotesque we call doing whatever we want “self-realization”. The powerful presence of a father rooted in faith can counter this soul-killing diet by transitioning the young from artificially creating purpose and meaning to accepting it and living it (i.e. its outside of you and comes in you, not in you and then forced on everyone outside).
A father reveals that you are not a part of a system or a cog in a wheel, though also not the center of the universe, but a person called intimately and directly to something beyond yourself. You must sacrifice, love, and give life to those around you. Traditionally this was not the role of one man, but a community of brothers that called their sons together into manhood through formal and informal rites of passage, cultural inheritance like folk stories and songs, and natural community. In a world disconnected from any tradition, devoid of anything close to a rite of passage, and enslaved to the fashionable and the famous, this initiation into manhood just doesn’t happen.
Fathers have been cast as tyrants, using their authority to control and manipulate for their own advance and ego. And while this can happen, the truth of fatherhood as revealed by God’s own fatherhood is that it is life giving, that it lays down its own life for the sake of the child, giving everything, even itself, that the child might reach his full potential. No – it even wants the child to outshine its forefathers like when Hector in the Iliad, before going into battle, prays that not only would his son’s nobility uphold his father’s legacy, but more so: “May they say, ‘This man is greater than his father was!’”
To a Jew in the Old Testament to turn away from your fatherhood was to disrupt God’s plan for your children’s life – it makes you the broken link that disconnects men from their origins in God and the covenant. It is no wonder then that the last prophecy of the Old Testament regarding the coming of the Savior and his forerunner (John the Baptist) was intertwined with fathers turning back to their children: “He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:6).
The New Covenant in Christ moves beyond a fatherhood within a race, but far from diminishing the connectedness of fatherhood and faith, it is elevated and revealed as a very part of salvation itself. The Son comes to reveal the Father, and teaches us to pray to “our Father”, making the need for strong examples of fatherhood on earth even more important. Salvation comes from becoming sons in the Son, this was the very mission of Christ:
Then God sent out his Son on a mission to us. He took birth from a woman, took birth as a subject of the law, so as to ransom those who were subject to the law, and make us sons by adoption. To prove that you are sons, God has sent out the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying out in us, Abba, Father. No longer, then, art thou a slave, thou art a son; and because thou art a son, thou hast, by divine appointment, the son’s right of inheritance. (Gal. 4:4-7)
Earthly fatherhood will always disappoint, because we were not made for this earth alone, but for heaven, for God. Earthly fatherhood is meant to point beyond itself to more. It pulls us out of the boredom of materialism into the majesty of a calling and an identity. And like the Old Testament – or more so! – it is essential in communicating God’s covenant with man, the linking of man to his beginning and his end. If we know nothing of earthly fatherhood, how then can we comprehend the image Our Father? In explaining God’s love Jesus presumes a healthy ideal of fatherhood: “… if a father is asked by his son for bread, will he give him a stone? … is your Father much more ready to give, from heaven, his gracious Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11:11-13).
The challenge today is not merely that bad fathers are distorting God, but absent fathers and a blatant disregard for the essentiality of fatherhood is making prayers like “Our Father” unintelligible and the great call of the Gospel seems trite.
My point is this: the sad and bore malaise of so many young people would give way if their fathers (mentors included) would reveal to them their identity, purpose, and the noble meaning behind a life lived well, all rooted in their encounter with Jesus Christ.
We live in an age that will not listen to arguments or reasoning; it will not follow authority or tradition. Our young people will not read a book or pamphlet or watch a video and grasp that truth exists and God is real and loves them. In the purposeless-ness, meaningless milieu of today we need the loving gaze of men to affirm the goodness of people, of life, and to remind them of their worth and dignity, to call them to greatness and the joy of being a son of God. Fatherhood and a community of mentors brings a rootedness, but not one that holds down, but one that makes it possible to spring into full life. Without it we are without roots. This natural encounter with fatherly men helps to lay the foundation for the supernatural encounter with the Gospel, with God the Father through His Son.
Whether through busyness, neglect, or a societal sidelining, men are not living out their fatherly identities and our children are suffering from it. Our children are bored with the materialist, money-worshiping, meaningless life of the world lived out behind screen names and selfies. We must again love not as leaders or motivators, but as fathers and reveal to them their deep dignity, purpose, and calling as sons and daughters of God.
How do we see and act in a fatherly way? In the next chapter we’ll talk about the ways men can do just that.
If you’re interested in reading more or ordering the book this chapter comes form, sign up for Fraternus updates at fraternusbrothers.net.
Jason Craig is the Executive Director of Fraternus, which trains and equips men to mentor the boys into virtuous, Catholic men. Jason holds a Masters in Theology from the Augustine Institute and writes for The Catholic Gentleman from his homestead in Western NC, where he milks cows and tends to a variety of plants and animals with his wife Katie and four kids (and counting).
This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at The Catholic Gentleman.