Man to Man

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Man to Man

Spiritual Fatherhood

Not all men have biological children, but every man is called to be a spiritual father.

Seth: I’ve had many “fathers” on my journey toward maturity in Christ. There’s my own dad, of course, who remains a constant blessing to me. But I also have a variety of spiritual fathers – teachers, coaches, priests and friends – who mentored me toward greater holiness as a man. 

I look around and realize how blessed I am. There may be no greater need in our culture right now than to cultivate strong, courageous fathers – men equipped to live as authentic mentors of truth and goodness. Unfortunately, fatherhood is so often denigrated, undermined, underappreciated and misunderstood.

Derek: It’s true! But the reality is that loads of studies speak to the fact that fathers are extremely important and particularly valuable to the health of children and families.
Yet the media often portray fathers as hyper-flawed, foolhardy or doltish characters. Bishop Robert Barron calls this the “Homer Simpson-ification” of men. Over time, this kind of harmful messaging sinks in.

Seth: That’s why it’s so important for us to embrace spiritual fatherhood! Homer Simpson had some rare moments of greatness, but true manhood is pretty much the opposite of what we see in satires like the Simpsons or Family Guy. Spiritual fatherhood is written into our existence as men. Jesus is the perfect image of the heavenly father, and we are called to conform ourselves to that image in a visible way. Because we are made in God’s image – whether we realize it or not, whether for good or for evil – we, too, are generating spiritual children, through everything we do and say.

Derek: That’s right. But what do we really mean by spiritual fatherhood? Here’s one simple way to look at it: spiritual fatherhood occurs when a man lives a virtuous life.

Seth: But let’s get a bit more practical. We start, of course, by looking to Jesus. Jesus is the perfect model of who we are called to be as men, and he never leaves us. That’s our framework. To be a spiritual father, we must see ourselves as models and mentors, striving to be authentic examples of manhood and intimately present to those we lead.

Derek: Based on the life of Christ and the action of God, here are seven ways to exercise spiritual fatherhood:

  1. Lead by Example

    Who is the king of Israel? First and foremost, he is the model Israelite. He leads by example. And when he answers this call faithfully, Israel flourishes.

    Spiritual fathers help others, in part, by first committing to live their lives fully and flourish.

  2. Lead Selflessly 

    The king’s rule is for the good of the kingdom and his subjects, not for his domination and control. He doesn’t commit to bettering himself merely for his own benefit. 

    Spiritual fathers look beyond themselves to God for the good of others.

  3. Lead by Serving

    The king’s rule is limited. He is subject to the King of Kings; he is a servant of the Lord, making him a true servant of the Lord’s people. 

    Spiritual fathers are humble servants, striving to accept their proper place in matters great and small.

  4. Show Appreciation 

    In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, we read that God the Father looks with favor and is pleased with Jesus, the Son of God, who is “beloved” and “chosen.” Imagine the joy experienced by Jesus, confident in his Father’s love.

    Spiritual fathers contribute to the joy and fulfillment of those around them by showing appreciation and offering encouragement.

  5. Create 

    In Genesis, we see God as the supreme creator, through him all things come to be. 

    Spiritual fathers, as sharers in God’s creativity, use whatever gifts they have to create for God’s greater glory. 

  6. Bless 

    The Lord blesses all of his creation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “every baptized person is called to be a ‘blessing,’ and to bless” (CCC, 1669) noting that “every blessing praises God and prays for his gifts” (CCC, 1671). 

    Spiritual fathers give thanks, share their own blessedness and invoke God’s blessing upon others.

  7. Establish Covenants

    The Lord establishes covenants with his people: deep, lasting relationships rooted in love. 

    Spiritual fathers form and nurture lasting, loving relationships, rather than relationships of convenience or enjoyment.

Resources

Books

These Beautiful Bones by Emily Stimpson

The Father of the Family: A Christian Perspective by Clayton C. Barbeau

Created ed. by Likeable Art

Article

Wanted: Faithful Catholic Men by Chris Stefanick

Video

The Homer Simpson Effect by Bishop Robert Barron 

Audio

Who’s Your Daddy? The Art of Spiritual Fatherhood (and Motherhood) by Matt Carter (Protestant, but solid talk on mentoring)

Three Aspects of Christ’s Kingship by Bishop Robert Barron 

This Month’s Challenge

During the next two months, slowly and prayerfully make your way through one of the Gospels. If you find this intimidating, consider starting with Mark (which is the shortest). As each chapter unfolds, be attentive to the action of God. Ask the Lord to show you how he is calling you to act, to be a better spiritual father to those around you.

Derek McDonald (left) is the Director of Family Life Ministries for the Diocese of Manchester. He and his wife, Emily, have three children.

Seth Evangelho (right) is the Director of Lifelong Faith Formation at St. Andre Bessette Parish in Laconia. He and his wife, Christine, have four children.