“[John the Baptist] will go before [Jesus] in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord,” (Luke, 1:17). 

This is a letter to the fathers in our community. 

Much of the drama of the first Christmas is about fatherhood. The quote above is part of Gabriel’s message to Zechariah declaring that he would be father to John the Baptist. It is classic angel-speak; prophetic vibe, mysterious sounding words and phrases, a little hard to understand.

But as dads, we should stop and ask: Why does Gabriel say John the Baptist’s mission is about turning the hearts of fathers to children? 

I don’t have a good theological explanation, nor am I a Biblical scholar (though I work with some!) who can explain how this fits in some broader context.

But I am a dad. And a Catholic. And the things I care (and worry) most about in this world are my family and the Church. 

As I pray with this, I can’t help but think that God is speaking to me. To us. To the fathers of the Church, of the St. James Academy community. 

The purpose of Advent is “To prepare a people fit for the Lord”. And that people is us. It is a time set aside for us to prepare to reencounter anew an unfathomable mystery: the infinitely powerful God becoming a powerless child. And the angel tells Zechariah that the first step in this preparation is the turning of fathers’ hearts to their children. 

It’s so strange, because as Christian men, I think most of us would be offended if someone suggested our hearts were turned anywhere other than our families. 

But when I look at Joseph, it makes me wonder if mine is. 

We see him silently accept the will of God that he should be father to a child that he did not conceive. What were his plans for his family before that moment? What kind of life did he dream about having with Mary? How did he imagine his life playing out? Surely this was not what he had imagined.

Yet he sets it aside to do what God wants. 

We see him forced to flee with his family to Egypt, forced to give up his homeland and his job and his comfort in order to protect his wife and child. What did he have to leave behind? What projects was he in the middle of that went unfinished? What moments had he planned on sharing in his Nazareth home in those first days, weeks, months, and years of life with his child that he had to let go of? He must have thought of it, dreamed of it, worked towards it.

Yet he let that all go to do what was needed.

His heart was turned to his child. Not part of his heart. Not most of it. 

All of it. 

It was for his child’s sake that he worked, and so when his child’s needs were for him to not work, he stopped. 

It was for his child’s sake that he lived, and so when his child’s life was threatened, he took them and left. 

I look at him, and I feel uncomfortable. I have trouble interrupting a good email I’m writing for something my kids need. I was upset about missing a staff party when one of my kids had to go to the doctor unexpectedly. Leaving my home? My job? All my plans????

I have much room to grow.

As dads, we are all in different situations. Some married, some divorced. Some single, some widowers. Some on our first kid, others have lost count. 

But the reality is, we are asked to be the leaders of our families. Even in the Holy Family, made of God Incarnate, the Immaculately Conceived Mary, and some guy named Joe, it was this humble foster father given the task of naming Jesus (Matthew 1:23). It was he who delivered God’s message to His own Son about what his mission, his deepest identity, would be. It was He who was warned by an angel of the danger that could have destroyed God’s salvific plan.

As an educator and parent, I see a fair amount of familial pain. I know family life is complicated, messy, difficult, heartbreaking. It is also beautiful, life-giving, comforting, and fun. Sometimes all in the same day! 

Through the ups and downs, blessings and breakings, it is the father who is called to be steady, to be firm, and to point the family through to its purpose. It is a challenging yet critical task.

In the coming days and weeks, let’s each pray about what God is asking us to do to lead our families. Maybe it is simply praying for them; maybe it is praying with them. Maybe it is asking them for forgiveness; or possibly it is forgiving them. Maybe it is going to confession; perhaps it is inviting them to go. Maybe it is sharing your story; could be listening to theirs. 

Only God can tell us what is needed and when. But He will, if we ask Him. And now is the time to ask. It is the season where God reveals He is a Father, that He has a Son, and that the world is saved from darkness and death through the light and joy of a family’s love.

I pray for all of you this Christmas. It is a joy and an honor to be a part of this community full of so many men who have shown me what it means to be a great father. Let us turn in the coming days and weeks to our Father God, His wonderful Son, and the great man allowed to foster Him, St. Joseph, and ask for a renewal of authentic fatherhood in our hearts, in the Church, and in our world this Christmas. What a gift that would be to the world!

 

Your brother in Christ, 

 

Shane