This past week I had the good fortune to visit the Diocese of Charlotte to lead the seminarians’ retreat and participate in the ordination of two new priests. I sometimes refer to seminarians as "expectant fathers." That can make a few people uncomfortable until they realize that is exactly what they are. These are men who, upon ordination, will be called "Father." I knew both of the newly ordained priests personally. Fr. Tri Truong, a native of Viet Nam, studied at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary where I currently serve on faculty, and Fr. Brad Jones who entered seminary with me back in 1993. After a few discernment considerations and some reflection time in different religious orders, 15 years later Brad Jones, would finally be ordained a priest of Jesus Christ. He is now "Father" Brad Jones!
With the upcoming Father’s Day weekend, I would never want to take away from the great responsibility of biological fatherhood by talking about the priesthood. But there is a complimentary correlation. In an age when people focus on deadbeat, overly competitive, uninvolved, pushy, or even absent fathers, we need to focus on the good examples of dads! Practically gone are the days of shows like Father Knows Best! That lack of respect for the father figure is not only evident in societal families – it is now quite evident in the Church family where more and more people challenge the relevance and importance of spiritual fathers of an all-male priesthood of Jesus Christ. In this week’s Blast, I want to make a connection between spiritual fatherhood of priests and the physical fatherhood of dads. Both types of fatherhood complement and must encourage one another. Both require fidelity to one spouse. In the husband’s case, he promises faithfulness to his wife and bride. For the priest, he is called to a total celibate commitment to his "Bride," the Church. Both require a self-giving attitude and a pro-creative openness to life; the husband does not impede the love between he and his wife. He also must work with her to raise up the children to the Lord by sharing his own faith with them. Similarly, the priest gives himself totally in his celibate sacrifices. He too cooperates with the "Mother Church" to bring up and elevate children in a new spiritual life through the waters of Baptism and the graces of the sacraments. While many other connections can be made, it seems the most important "job" shared between "dad" and "father" is the mission to bring their respective "bride" and "children" to Heaven!
That’s a father’s job! And it is God the Father’s greatest desire! Joyfully, the Diocese of Charlotte now has two new "Fathers" to help bring God’s children to Heaven! The Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Charlotte, Bishop Curlin, watched the current Bishop, Peter Jugis, lead the ordination ritual. The parish church of St. Vincent DePaul was packed, and more than 50 priests were on hand to concelebrate this grand event. It’s amazing how this small Catholic Diocese, recently considered catholic missionary territory, has experienced a noticeable increase of priestly vocations. This enthusiasm for priesthood is, in part, a result of the strong, humble and tireless efforts of the spiritual fathers already serving there. This small diocese now has 15 impressive seminarians with more coming in the ranks. After leading their retreat last week, I saw firsthand how these men are learning all of the qualities needed to be a good spiritual father – strength, responsibility, prayer, and love! Needless to say, I had a blast spending time with these expectant fathers! Be sure to check out pictures on the website to see how these seminarians not only prayed hard, but also played hard. At one point in the Liturgy of Ordination, right after the Final Blessing, there is a touching moment when the Bishop – the spiritual father of the Diocese – receives the blessings of the new "father." The blessing of the new priest imparts a unique spiritual grace for the recipient. In response, the person who was blessed will often kiss the hands of the newly ordained priest. Often, it’s the other way around; usually the faithful are accustomed to kissing the ring of the Bishop. But this kiss the Bishop gives to the hands of the new priests demonstrates the respect and love for the priest’s new responsibility – to be an image of God the Father and the hands and feet of Jesus Christ! As archaic as it may seem, this tradition has been carried to cultures beyond the church, including my own Filipino culture. It’s customary for the younger Filipino generation to greet parents, elders, and others in authority by placing to their forehead the hand of the person to whom they are offering respect. This gesture, called "mano po" (i.e., hand please), mimics the kiss of the hand that is given to the Bishop’s ring. Seeing the Bishop kiss the hands of Fr. Tri and Fr. Brad Jones – this long time "expectant father" – brought back humbling memories of when my dad kissed my hands after ordination to the priesthood!
Fatherhood is definitely something worth respecting and celebrating! It’s easy to focus inordinately on deadbeat, uninvolved, irresponsible, and unloving men, but doing this could cause us to label all children from single parent homes as "oppressed victims," foregone fatalities, ruined due to the absence of a fatherly presence. In this myopic view, we can lose focus on something worth celebrating: fatherhood! Therefore, I want to focus on those dads and spiritual fathers who are devoted to their bride and children, especially in how they help raise their children in Faith. I also want to encourage fathers to make sure they are going to church with their children and sharing their own love for God with the whole family. A dad’s presence does matter! I pray that the fatherly qualities of priests and the fatherhood of dads will always remember their most important job in this vocation: to feed his children with "Food" that will make them healthy – body, mind, and soul. By feeding the children with true, good and holy things in life, we will give them the strength to taste the Eternal Banquet of Heaven. If you see a newly ordained priest, don’t be afraid to ask for a blessing. And in respect and love for his new office, kiss his hand. You can actually receive a plenary indulgence for it! And when you see your dad, be sure to consider how the work of this man’s hands have fed you, loved you and protected you. If you’re not Filipino, you may find it odd to kiss his hands, so instead, just give the big guy a hug and kiss instead. And, more importantly, keep your dad in your prayers and remember to put fatherhood back in God’s hands where it belongs!
Father Leo here has a beautiful story about a family he saw in a restaurant:
Big Daddy Barbecue
While I was in Charlotte, I ate in a wonderful barbecue restaurant, a landmark known as "Carolina Bar-B-Q." I sat within perfect view of a unique and inspiring family. The mother and grandmother helped feed two infant children, while the dad sat in a wheelchair, eating his meal – through a straw. And although I didn’t know this family at all, two things were obvious: one, something terrible happened to this young father; and two, this woman loved her husband – in sickness and health. Also obvious was this man’s love and gratitude for his wife and mother (perhaps, mother-in-law). Although paralyzed, I could see him smile as he looked lovingly on his wife and young children. The touching scene made me pray for this family’s future. In an age where "Unfaithful Women" and the City reaches box office status, I could only pray that this woman’s love for the father of her children be true and everlasting. And even though this dad couldn’t fully enjoy the barbecue his family was eating, nor was he able to do much for them physically, but I’m sure he was able to love them with his whole heart, mind, and soul – especially with his prayers for them! This old-time restaurant, equipped with model train tracks looming over our heads was full of "North Carolina Charm!" The barbecued pork and chicken I ate were excellent! But the meal was even better seeing such an inspiring family!
To help recreate this tasty and inspiring meal, and to relive some of the southern Barbecue foods of North Carolina, click here for my version of a Big Daddy Barbecue Sauce! For the recipe, click here. (I don't have the slightest interest or talent in cooking - only in eating!)
A Father’s Day Prayer (This is, I think, Sunday, 15 June, in places that observe it, such as the USA and the Philippines. I think that this is Father Leo's Dad in the photo).
I think I’ve said enough about how fatherhood MUST be appreciated because every father is called to be an image God the Father! So, along with the respect, hugs, and kisses many dads may live for, the best gift we can give to them is heartfelt prayer!
Let us pray: Father in Heaven, bless our dads with your grace, strength, and Faith. We pray for those families that may not have a fatherly presence. Be their Father, Lord God, so that your children may always know the gift and the perfect image of Fatherhood through You. We pray that all our dads and our spiritual fathers, especially our newly ordained priests, will help all of us become saints, so that we can celebrate an eternal Father’s Day in Heaven. Amen!