The Meaning and Necessity
of Spiritual Fatherhood
Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, MTS
Nine years ago, my life changed forever.
When my wife Colleen and I were married, we made a permanent
decision to love; to give ourselves to each other freely and completely.
In doing this, we entered into a profound and intimate relationship; we
became a one-flesh covenant in communion with Christ through the gift
of sacramental grace.
The Real Power of Love
The life-giving bond that Colleen and I share is so powerful and so real
that we had to give that love names: Claire, Angela, Benjamin, and Sophia.
Children are the result of the central act of sacrifice and worship between
a husband and wife, namely, the union of their bodies in the conjugal
act, which mirrors the total gift of self by the Eucharistic Christ to
his Church. Together, the married couple forms a lifelong, self-donating,
and indissoluble union of love: a "communion of persons intended to bear
witness on earth and to image the intimate communion of persons within
the Trinity" (William E. May, Marriage:
The Rock on Which the Family is Built , 65).
Marriage and, indeed, all the sacraments, tell us something about who
God is. Marriage, in fact, reflects the reality that the Father, Son,
and Holy Spirit are of one divine nature, essence, and substance, for
Scripture tell us: "God created man in His image; in the divine image
He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:27), and again
"'this at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be
called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore a man
leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become
one flesh" (Genesis 2:23-24).
In creating husbands and wives, God has made two things
very clear: first, that the one-flesh union between a husband and wife
reflects His own divine image and likeness, and second, the fact that
husbands and wives are truly equal does not mean they are the same person
or have the same role in the marriage.
We can understand the role of husbands and fathers within
marriage by correctly interpreting chapter five of St. Paul's Letter to
the Ephesians, particularly verses 22-24: "Wives, be subject to your husbands,
as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the
head of the church, his body . . . As the church is subject to Christ,
so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands."
St. Paul is saying that wives should put themselves under the mission
of their husbands. What is the mission of the husband? Verse 25: to "love
your wives as Christ loved the Church." How did Christ love the Church?
He gave himself up for her; he died for her. Jesus tells us, 'I came into
the world not to be served but to serve' and to lay down my life for my
bride. "The husband's headship in the family derives from the fact that
he is the chief servant" (Christopher West, audio tape, "Sacramentality
Fathers Who Follow Christ to the Cross
Our role as husbands and fathers necessarily means that we must sacrifice
everything: our bodies, our desires and wills, our hopes and dreams; everything
we have and everything we are for the sake of our wives and children.
Living our fatherhood by the example of Christ on the Cross is what separates
the boys from the men: what separates the men who are merely "daddies"
from the real men who are truly fathers.
Our spiritual fatherhood is truly authentic when it is "centered in Jesus
Christ and through him to the Trinity" (Jordan Aumann, Spiritual
Theology , 17). Jesus, in the Gospel of John, confirms this authentic
spirituality when he said to His disciples "I am the way, the truth and
the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). To
be authentically spiritual, then, means that we must enter into the life
of Christ and, through God's grace and the Holy Spirit, transform our
hearts, minds and wills to that of Christ's.
It is only through Christ that we can receive salvation
and any spirituality that is truly genuine must be Christocentric and
Trinitarian at its very core. Lumen Gentium, the Vatican II document
on the Church, states it this way: "The followers of Christ . . . have
been made sons of God in the baptism of faith and partakers of the divine
nature, and so are truly sanctified" (Lumen Gentium, n.40).
Hence, it is only through an authentic spirituality of fatherhood, a spirituality
that imitates Christ; that meditates on God's Word and responds to that
Word in faith and, through the Holy Spirit, makes us share in the Triune
life, that we can foster and nurture growth in holiness. The more we act
under God's spirit, the more we seek to know and to do God's holy will
in our lives, the more we implore the assistance and grace of the Holy
Spirit, the more we grow in holiness. The Lord Jesus is the quintessential
model of holiness and by following His perfect example, we grow in our
love of God, our families and ourselves.
The Most Blessed Sacrament is the source of spiritual fatherhood because
the Eucharist is Jesus Christ. It is not a symbol or representation
of Christ, but the reality of God with whom we are in intimate relationship:
a relationship which "draws the faithful and sets them aflame with Christ's
insistent love" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n.10).
The Eucharist, therefore, is the fountain where we receive
the strength, power, and grace to seek the Lord in faith, hope, and love.
The Eucharist is the beginning of spiritual fatherhood and "is for the
soul the most certain means of remaining united to Jesus" (Abbot Columba
Marmion, O.S.B., Christ the Life of the Soul: Spiritual Conferences,
261). It is a deepening of the relationship which began in Baptism and
realizes a level of intimacy which is inherently supernatural and mysterious,
yet inexhaustive. In the reception of the Eucharist, we literally become
one with God in a way that is purposeful and real. It is the "fount" from
which flows the definition of who we are as men in terms of our relationship
with Christ. By receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist,
we become more of who we already are in Christ "who maintains and increases
the Divine life in us" (Marmion, 263).
Strengthened by the Eucharist, fathers should personify and exude faith,
that is, they should exhibit a clear awareness that the work of the Church
is, first and foremost, God's work. Therefore, we should foster on-going
growth in faith and personal formation, which must include daily prayer,
so that our spirituality is firmly grounded in the Trinity and the Catholic
Taking the Faith to the Entire Family
Spiritual fathers must be aware of the influence of secular thought and
culture, with its disordered values, ideologies, and disintegrated view
of the human person, and its profound influence within and upon our children
today. Many of our teenagers and young adults are struggling to hold on
to the Catholic belief in absolute and objective truth. Many, because
they have been poorly catechized in the faith, plummet down the slippery
precipice of subjective and relativistic "truth"; of societal norms that
place themselves as the center of all reality and truth.
This view is in direct contrast to the life and mission of Jesus Christ
and is, therefore, the antithesis of the life and mission of the Church.
Solid faith formation within the family must occur and operate within
the context of faith and Church, so that, as the domestic church, we are
continually molded into the image of Christ for the purpose of salvation.
Pride of place must be given to a systematic approach to disseminating
the teachings of the Catholic Church--firmly rooted in the foundational
truths of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and grace as revealed to us in
Sacred Scripture, passed down through Sacred Tradition, and protected
by the Magisterium--that makes Jesus Christ come alive in the hearts of
our youth (cf. Luke 24:32).
To this end, the chief servant of the family must nurture an atmosphere
of inclusion in all aspects of family and parish life so that even the
young persons, "who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ and integrated
into the People of God, are made sharers in their particular way in the
priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ, and have their own part
to play in the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and
in the world" (CCC, 896). The youth should participate fully in
the evangelizing and sanctifying activity of the domestic church as well
as the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, the renewal of the social
order in the spirit of the gospel, and the pastoral ministry of the parish.
In addition, the sacramental dimension of family life must be encouraged
in young people. The home must embody a spirituality that enhances and
promotes devotion and active participation in the Eucharist where "grace
is channeled into us and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification
of God, to which all other activities of the Church are directed as toward
their goal, are most powerfully achieved" (Sacrosanctum Concilium,
n.10). This must be accompanied by a deeper appreciation and understanding
of the reality of sin and the need for frequent reception of the Sacrament
All of this must be fostered in the home, the domestic Church and foundation
of the parish community, where education in the fundamental truths of
the faith are nurtured, fostered, and ensconced through family prayer,
e.g. rosaries, Eucharistic Adoration, weekly attendance at Mass, recitation
of the Liturgy of the Hours, and Scripture study. Families, led by truly
spiritual fathers, are a special witness to God's loving plan in the world
and the breeding ground for future generations of Catholic men and women.
Hence, the domestic Church, while always remaining faithful to the Magisterium,
must work together as an evangelizing society to produce "shining witnesses
and models of holiness" in the world (Lumen Gentium, n.39).
The qualities of fatherhood must include practical aspects as well. We
should be empathetic, careful, and attentive listeners. As chief servants
of the domestic church, we must develop the skills to become excellent
managers of our time and family resources that must be exercised "in accord
with the knowledge, competence, and preeminence which [we] possess [and]
with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons" (Catechism
of the Catholic Church, n.907).
To do this effectively, the spiritual father must see
clearly with the eyes of Jesus Christ, through the lenses of faith, hope,
and love. This vision, in turn, must give spiritual strength to the faithful,
concreteness to the domestic church, and extend charitably to the broader
community. We must live our lives "in harmony with [our] faith so that
[we] can become the light of the world. We need that undeviating honesty
which can attract all men to the love of truth and goodness, and finally
to the Church and to Christ" (Apostolicam Actuositatem, n.13).
The spirituality of fatherhood must be rooted in Jesus Christ, the pillar
of our salvation, through whom we can begin to understand the depths of
the Heavenly Father's loving kindness. If we follow Christ's example and
allow ourselves to be open to the Father, who is rich in mercy, we can
"evoke in the soul a movement of conversion, in order to redeem it and
set it on course toward reconciliation" (Pope John Paul II, Reconciliatio
et Paenitentia, n.20). Our response to God's love and mercy must be
that of the prodigal son: recognition of our sinfulness, humility before
the Father, and the conversion of our hearts, minds, and wills.
We must lead our families under Christ's call to service, because it is
only by imitating the self-sacrificing Christ that we can ever hope to
be role models and heroes worthy of the whole families gratitude and honor.
Harold Burke-Sivers, MTS, is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese
of Portland, Oregon and is the Director of Public Safety for the University
of Portland. He is the founder of Aurem
Cordis, a Christian evangelization and apologetics organization dedicated
to disseminating and promoting Catholic values, principles, and teaching
in complete faithfulness and total submission to Holy Scripture, Sacred
Tradition, and the Magisterium. He has been
a guest on "EWTN Live" and "Catholic Answers Live"
and hosts a weekly radio program on KBVM,
the Catholic radio station in Portland. Deacon Harold is currently writing
a book on Catholic spirituality for men. He, his wife Colleen, and their
four children reside in Portland.
Related Books of Interest:
The Rock on Which The Family Is Built
Author: William May
Length: 143 pages
Your Price: $9.95
Noted author and moral theologian William May presents a timely treatise
that explains how marriage is the indispensable rock upon which is built
not only a good family but, as Pope John Paul II says, "a civilization
of love." This is so precisely because, as May shows so well, marriage
is person-affirming, love-enabling, life-giving and sanctifying.
Because of these four qualities, marriage fully respects the equal dignity
of husband and wife as persons, and it also recognizes and values the
complementarity of their sexuality. Likewise, marriage honors the truth
that each new human life brought about by the marital union is a person
equal in dignity to his mother and father. Thus, May probes the social
significance of this complementarity of men and women, as well as the
reasons why human beings are to be begotten only in an act of spousal
love, not made by new "reproductive techniques."
This profound and readable work is rooted in the understanding of marriage
proclaimed by the Catholic Church, particularly by Pope John Paul II,
the greatest champion of marriage and family in the world today. May devotes
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and heart-filled Letter to Families.
Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition
Author: Jordan Aumann, O.P.
Length: 336 pages
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The well-known author gives a complete overview and history of Catholic
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but projects into our contemporary world the lives and teachings of men
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This study is Catholic in both senses of the word. Fr. Aumann has concentrated
his attention on the history of spirituality in the Roman Catholic Church
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Catholic tradition the heterodox tendencies and movements that have arisen
from time to time.