Humans are wired for the structure of masculine authority. We crave that sense of order, and we suffer when we are deprived of it. It’s easier to see in regard to children, probably in large part because we have grown enough from that stage of life that our egos don’t bristle at the suggestion.
Few people, on either side of the political spectrum, deny that children need fathers. Placed against almost every metric of success, children who have their fathers in the home outperform their underprivileged counterparts.
Yet we stop paying attention when those people get older. Apparently, we’ve inferred that the need for the paternal simply ceases. I would posit that this deficit of fathers isn’t just limited to childhood but that, as adults, too many are impoverished of the priestly (fatherly) guidance that is a necessary part of life. We were created needing order and hierarchy.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Let us examine a recent case in order to make the point clearer. The Biden Department of Health and Human Services recently issued an ultimatum to a Catholic hospital network (Saint Francis Health System) in Oklahoma. They were told to extinguish the candle from their chapel or lose the accreditation to treat government-subsidized patients, including Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP dependents.
That flame is prescribed to be in every Catholic church to symbolize the presence of Our Lord within the tabernacle. Said simpler, it’s a symbolic representation of Christ’s presence. Extinguishing it to comply with a government edict would be symbolic all by itself—showing the smothering of the free practice of faith, along with the elevation of government over God.
Of course, the flame had never been a problem during the 60 years that this network of hospitals has been running. Four requests for an exemption were denied. The Catholic hospital network was being asked to engage in a public kneeling before the state, declaring its own apostasy for the world to see.
A credible threat of a major lawsuit is the only thing that caused the Biden Administration to concede, yet that administration is headed by a man who is publicly (if only nominally) Catholic. As a Catholic who takes the Faith seriously, I am pained by public figures who profess the Faith before acting in a contrary manner, or even targeting the observant faithful. Regretfully, it is rare to witness the clergy admonishing such acts of transgression by self-proclaimed Catholics.
Fr. Keehan, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in Inverness, Illinois, gave a “blessing” with a guitar and had a layman offer the homily (in violation of Church teaching). The archdiocese declined to comment despite the public attention the action garnered. Surely, duty called for a different response, if only to prevent misunderstandings among the laity.
The popular notion is that clergy should stay out of politics, but we are entering a time when that is no longer possible, for the faithful are actively dealing with persecution. Of course, it is appropriate for there to be discretion in the application of such corrections, but public scandal must be addressed publicly. To fail to do so is to neglect those victims who were misled by the scandal.
Self-proclaimed Catholics should want to know when they’re doing something wrong, especially if those things are poised to impact our immortal souls. I certainly do. I trust the priests who hold authority over me to tell me if I am harming my relationship with Christ by my actions. I trust them to provide guidance on spiritual and moral matters. I trust them to be fathers.
And here we find ourselves back at the crux of the issue. We are trying to build a society without fathers, and the results are disastrous. Recent college graduates will insist that we need to restructure society to eliminate hierarchy, and they only barely understand what they utter. Hierarchy, from the Greek hierarkhia—meaning “holy ruler”—is a reference to the holy orders of clergy. Those who are misguided wish to eliminate all sense of order and paternal guidance, but the effects of that are already all around us. Recent college graduates will insist that we need to restructure society to eliminate hierarchy, and they only barely understand what they utter.Tweet This
Most thoughtful observers recognize the lackluster state of our society as being connected to the absence of family units and, most especially, fathers. People lack direction, authority, hierarchy, guidance, and order. Priests should be the fathers that provide these much-needed goods to their flocks.
It can be conceded that the priest shortage presents challenges, such that it is difficult for priests to guide the lives of parishioners in the same manner they might have throughout Christendom. But when a public figure who is Catholic publicly and unapologetically errs, it is dutiful for clergy to make such things into a teachable moment—that others can be guided by the direction, or at least prevented from being led astray.
A failure of the clergy to lead their flock in this way even affects non-Catholics. It harms their understanding of our Faith and thus stands as an obstacle to conversion. Bishop Fulton Sheen remarked, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”
In an era when all agree that catechesis is badly needed, why are the shepherds not shepherding and teaching? Instead, actions like the Synod on Synodality seek to do the opposite—to give airtime to bad ideas and the poorly catechized. Putting a microphone before the misinformed isn’t going to correct the erroneous. It will only project it and add to the confusion. The Church isn’t supposed to change based on the wish list of the laity. She is meant to be the rock that does not change, even as ages pass by. That’s because the Truth doesn’t change. He simply is.
In a society that lacks direction, and amidst a Church body that is adrift, paternal care is desperately needed. Nobody is predicting better times on a near horizon. May we have fathers on whom we can depend to remain stalwart.