Thursday, June 27, 2013

Marriage, Fatherhood, and Being Complete

The Supreme Court's recent legal decisions regarding marriage certainly add to the growing list of reasons to be worried that our nation's public culture is careening toward a moral and social cliff. 
It's easy to feel distressed.  
It's easy to feel helpless. 
But there are a lot of wonderfully helpful things we can do. One simple thing we can do every day is to celebrate the amazing gift of fatherhood and motherhood--the direct fruits of marriage. 
If we remember the amazing good that fatherhood is, for example, I think that it will help us rediscover the unique good that marriage is. 
We just had Father's Day here in the USA. And, coincidentally, Pope Francis said this about fatherhood: 
"When a man does not have this desire [to be a father], something is missing in this man. Something is wrong. All of us, to exist, to become complete, in order to mature, we need to feel the joy of fatherhood: even those of us who are celibate. Fatherhood is giving life to others, giving life, giving life..."

 I’m blessed with a wonderful father. My Dad (that's my Dad on the far left getting a big kiss from my brother) filled my childhood with experiences of fatherly love. In my earliest years, he’d tuck us (five)  little Muirs in bed, pray with us, kiss us on the head, make us feel like we were the most special kids in the world. We just knew he loved us from the way he treated us. 

I assumed his fatherly tenderness to us was automatic. Fatherhood seemed so easy for him. It wasn’t until later in life that I learned my Dad’s love as a father didn’t come cheap. My Dad had been a top-rated college basketball referee when I was born. Against his shocked colleagues’ recommendations, at the peak of his career, he quit…so he could be home evenings and weekends. In my young adolescence, when his successful real estate business (“Muir Real Estate Corner”) began to sap time and precious energy from him, he sold it and became a high school teacher, so was home every day at 3 pm for my Mom and siblings. 
All of my father’s love and tenderness toward my mom and to us kids was purchased at a price. And it made him a great father.  
A Creative Vow. Years later, in the seminary, I came across something by the French Philosopher Gabriel Marcel called “The Creative Vow as the Essence of Fatherhood.”  He said that true fatherhood was born from a special “creative vow”: a father becomes a father not mainly through physical paternity, but through a creative promise in which a man vows to love a child in the “fidelity to a hope which transcends all ambition and personal claims.”  
In a flash, I saw it: my dad’s amazing fatherhood derived its vitality from his promise to embrace his kids without any reference to his own ambition and personal claims. I saw, in other words, that robust fatherhood is born of a weird creative weakness: dying to ambition, rising to relate to a child in a totally selfless way. 
 Gabriel Marcel said that this kind of “creative vow” has to be rooted in the eternity of God, because only God can sustain this kind of radical fidelity and love. During early mornings in my high school years, my Dad often returned from somewhere caring milk and donuts. I thought it was just Safeway. Turns out, he was going to daily Mass before hitting the grocery store. 
 I thought he just really liked donuts. Later I learned he went to daily Mass to receive strength from the “eternity of God” to keep living out the “creative promise” of his fatherhood.  

Fatherhood completes a man because it roots him in God, and teaches him to love. I'm so thankful for the amazing gift that marriage--through my parents--gave to me: Fatherhood. My Dad's fatherhood, and now the fatherhood I seek to grow in as a priest. 
Nothing else could take the place of what marriage gave to me: the experience of a father's love. 

My Two Dads, and other things I liked about "Man of Steel"

 I confess: I attempted to fly when I was a boy. On multiple (but, sadly, unfruitful) occasions. Though I was never too into any comic book superheroes, my wish to fly around and above the maple trees of Mayfair Park (my boyhoood neighborhood) made me relatively sympathetic to Superman.

And the sympathy remains. But now I am a Catholic priest, and I see flying in a slightly more spiritual way. I fly around the Diocese of Phoenix (in my car) fighting the things a priest fights. This, and other themes in the most recent re-hash of Superman, resonated with my life as a priest with varying levels of profundity. So I offer the following list of ways the life of a priest echoes with Superman in the film.

1. Superman has two Dads. Kevin Costner's character tells the young Superman something along the lines of "Clark, you have two Dads. I'm your Dad. But you have another Father who sent you here for a purpose." My Dad is Ronald Muir. But when I became a priest, I was sent with a mission by another father: my Bishop. Of course this is all rooted in Jesus Himself, who has an earthly father (St. Joseph), and a Heavenly Father. His mission was rooted in His being sent by God the Father.

2. Superman's mother is super important to his mission. A priest depends on the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the most important woman in his life, to comfort him, heal him, mother him. My favorite line of the movie was when Superman's enemy attacks Mrs. Kent, his mom, and Superman says, "You threaten my mother?!?" And then he goes ballistic. Loved that scene.

3.  Superman visits his priest/pastor for spiritual direction to help him discern what he should do in a difficult situation. Fight or run? Go public or hide? Protect himself or protect others? His priest/pastor listens and encourages him to trust what God is doing in his life, and his mission begins. I can't tell you how huge my spiritual director's counsel has been to me, and all the times I've received encouragements to make a leap of faith through good spiritual direction. I hope Superman has that priest's cell phone on his "Favorite" list. He's gonna need it.

4. Superman is immersed in human life before and after he begins his mission. I can't tell you how often people are surprised that a priest actually does human, oh, I don't, sleep, sneeze, like sports, and lift weights. And any number of normal human things. Superman gets a job (journalism) that will maintain his connection with human life, even with his extraordinary vocation. Priesthood isn't exactly a "job", but our connection with the people we serve is essential. Pope Francis said, "Priests should smell like their sheep." Notice the stained glass in the church scene in the movie? It was of Jesus the Good Shepherd, surrounded by His sheep.

5. Funny clothes. And a cape. No, I generally don't wear it. But I'm ready to...just in case.

6. From Kansas. Two of the most important priest spiritual father-figures in my life have deep roots, like Superman, in Kansas: Archbishop Charles Chaput (accepted me as a seminarian) and Bishop Thomas Olmsted (from Kansas, and was bishop of Wichita, respectively). Coincidence? I think not!

   7. His childhood friends don't understand his vocation/mission.

  8. He frequently "gets away" to contemplate the world from a uniquely high perspective. Completive prayer, silent retreats....standing on clouds. 
  9. He changes clothes a lot.
  10. IHOP.