Bishop Banks' Corner|
|Bishop Robert J. Banks
In need of fathers with a small 'f'
Some men are called to be priests and others are called to be "Dad"
By Bishop Robert Banks
One of the most important priorities for the Church of Green Bay
today is to push vocations. You probably think I am talking about
vocations to the priesthood, but right now I am thinking that we
are also seriously in need of fathers with a small "f."
The kind of fathers I am talking about are the men who become
fathers only when they are married and who then take seriously
their responsibilities to care both for their wives and their
children. In other words, fatherhood is a real vocation for them,
a way in which they give meaning to their whole life. It is the
most important way the Catholic man responds to God's call to
love God and those around him.
The reason that we as a Church have to push the vocation of
father is that modern culture seems to be making fathers an
endangered species. I think I see signs of this both among women
Babies without husbands
A few weeks ago, I was told about a woman not from this area -
good Catholic, successful in her profession, unmarried, in her
late 30's or early 40's - who decided that she wanted to be a
mother. She took herself to a fertility clinic where they
supplied the wherewithal so that she could become pregnant. She
is now the proud mother of a beautiful baby who has been baptized
and will probably be off to Catholic school in a few years.
Within a week, I was told about another woman not from this area
- good Catholic, successful in her career, unmarried, in her
mid-40's - who decided that she wanted to be a mother. She made
the proper arrangements to adopt a baby, and she is now the proud
mother of a beautiful baby who has been baptized and will
probably be off to Catholic school in a few years.
The suspicious part of my mind immediately came to the general
conclusion that women no longer see men as necessary for having
and rearing children. Further, they do not want to endure the
hassle of marriage just so they can experience the joys of
Since I like women, I figured I should check out that negative
conclusion with a young mother who is my expert when it comes to
the psychology of women. She said that I was wrong. Women are not
opposed to marriage, but they can have real difficulty finding a
good husband who is also serious about marriage. She went on to
say that most women have a deeply felt desire to be mothers, so
that is why some are resorting to other ways to have children.
And isn't it better for a baby to be raised by a mother than left
in foster homes?
I was impressed by what the expert had to say about women's
desire to have children and reassured by her comment that women
are still interested in finding good husbands to be fathers of
their children. She didn't convince me, however, that the two
women had come up with the best decisions. Church teaching is
very clear about not using out-of-marriage techniques to become
pregnant, and the preference is always in favor of children
having two married parents, when it is possible.
On the male side, the problem is not so much about men wanting to
have children without the involvement of a wife. Rather, there is
a general impression that many men are quite satisfied that our
modern culture no longer requires that they be willing to take on
the responsibility of fatherhood in order to enjoy the privilege
of sexual relations. I don't think there is any need to go into
detail about that.
Nor do I just blame modern culture. The culture of some less
developed countries seems to tolerate men being quite
irresponsible about having children and caring for the children
they bring into the world.
A general disconnection
Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Humanae vitae, foretold that
there would be a general disconnection between marriage and
parenthood if the Church approved the use of the modern methods
of artificial birth control. As we all know, the pope's decision
was not well received by many in the Church, including priests
and theologians. It seems to me that one result of the
controversy that surrounded the issuance of Humanae vitae was the
almost complete disappearance of much preaching and teaching to
support the usual Church teaching about chastity and the use of
sex outside of marriage. That has not been too helpful as our
nation has gone through the sexual revolution that began in the
Beginning of a change
Fortunately, the last decade has seen the beginning of a change.
It is now possible to talk about abstinence education for our
teenagers and to issue ecumenical statements that encourage
faithful marriage. Despite the statistics showing more people
living in non-marriage relationships, it is becoming clearer all
the time that a successful marriage is the healthier way to live.
A successful marriage requires that a man takes responsibilities
and privileges seriously. For the Catholic believer, a help to
that kind of seriousness is for the man to see fatherhood as a
real vocation from God, which it is. The vocation does not
require the same kind of discernment needed to decide that one is
called to the celibate priesthood. The call to marriage and
parenthood is built into us. "It is not good for man to be
alone." The discernment for marriage and parenthood has more to
do with readiness, the choice of a partner and the timing of
marriage and parenthood.
But what a great vocation! Of all the human titles by which Jesus
could have addressed the One from whom he came as Light from
Light, he chose "Father." That title speaks of a love that comes
from the depths of one's heart, of a care that sustains even in
the worst of failure and suffering, of a presence that is always
there, of a shared desire for what is best.
As I take my daily walk through the local cemetery, I notice that
on the grave markers there are seldom, if ever, any indications
of the person's work or profession. The chosen titles for a man
are "Father" or "Husband." They evidently sum up what is most
important in a man's life. Blessed is the man who bears the title
of "Father" as he is welcomed by the one who is Father of us all.