The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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June 15, 2001 Issue
Bishop Banks' Corner

Bishop Robert J. Banks
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 and men.

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 motherhood.

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 60's.

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.

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