As Fathers’ Day approaches, which I’ll admit I enjoy more than my birthday, I’d like to wish you a Happy Fathers’ Day and share a meditation on this work of fatherhood that we’ve all agreed to enter into–for life. I’d like to share with you thoughts I’ve had on Our Lord’s story about the prodigal son–but I’d like us to focus on the prodigal son’s father. Here are Our Lord’s words–they are worth reading slowly and are infinitely more important than anything I may write below. Remember to keep your mind focused on the father that you may profit personally from the reading.
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“A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father: “Father, give me the portion of substance that falleth to me.”. And he divided unto them his substance. And not many days after, the younger son, gathering all together, went abroad into a far country: and there wasted his substance, living riotously. And after he had spent all, there came a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want. And he went and cleaved to one of the citizens of that country. And he sent him into his farm to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks the swine did eat; and no man gave unto him. And returning to himself, he said: “How many hired servants in my father’s house abound with bread, and I here perish with hunger? I will arise, and will go to my father, and say to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee: I am not worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.’.”.
And rising up he came to his father. And when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and running to him fell upon his neck, and kissed him. And the son said to him: “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, I am not now worthy to be called thy son.”. And the father said to his servants: “Bring forth quickly the first robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat and make merry: Because this my son was dead, and is come to life again: was lost, and is found.”. And they began to be merry.
Now his elder son was in the field, and when he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing: And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said to him: “Thy brother is come, and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe!”. And he was angry, and would not go in.
His father therefore coming out began to entreat him. And he answering, said to his father: “Behold, for so many years do I serve thee, and I have never transgressed thy commandment, and yet thou hast never given me a kid to make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son is come, who hath devoured his substance with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.” But he said to him: “Son, thou art always with me, and all I have is thine. But it was fit that we should make merry and be glad, for this thy brother was dead and is come to life again; he was lost, and is found.”
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There is our text–O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are his judgments, and how unsearchable his ways! God speaks to us of His own ways and teaches us His own thoughts. What a mystery! However, St. Paul teaches us that, while this story is ultimately about God (signified by the father), it is about us men, for we are to “Be imitators of God.”. Therefore, if God so acts, we must do likewise if we would be “godly” men, that is, men who are like God. Let’s glean from the text what we can about this father of fathers: * * *
1. He is WEALTHY.
Say what you want, the father is a wealthy man. He owns land, slaves and has enough wealth to provide for himself and set aside cash inheritances for his sons to live on. His son speaks of the abundance of bread enjoyed by the slaves and the father was able to hand his son enough money to live on as he did for some time. The father was a man of means, able to do many good things because he could afford it.
We fathers have not taken vows of poverty and are doing no one any favors by failing to produce for our families. Scripture’s famous fathers are normally wealthy men, save for St. Joseph, whose humble station was appropriate for Our Lord’s incarnation, as the manger was for his crib. Some of the greatest men of the Bible–Abraham, Job and David–are set before us as wealthy men who served God as righteous fathers. The books of Wisdom teach us plainly that wise men are usually wealthy and that foolishness leads to poverty. As men who beget children whose needs and education are our duty to provide, it follows that good fathers ought to be wealthy–relative to their family’s needs and state of life. God teaches us “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work” and we ought to be men known for the excellence and profitability of our work, not the excess and prodigality of our play.
2. He is WISE.
Many men today can hardly keep themselves employed, let alone manage anyone else. The father in our story is a fountain of life to many because he manages his affairs with wisdom. He is no Al Bundy, bumming around seeking to be entertained or blaming others for his inability to succeed. He embraces his life’s work, seeks God’s help and blessing, and manages all things carefully. His sons see the order of all things under him and have an example of wise fatherhood that they will never forget.
3. He is FREE.
Many today boast of a political or civil freedom while living lives that are less happy and free than those of history’s slaves. One missionary from Africa visited the U.S. with an eagerness to meet people who are said to be most “free”, but he was amazed by the unhappy slavery in which they lived day by day–in their homes and personal lives. He said to me, “People are more free in Kenya than in America.” He remarked at the lack of love in homes, the lack of respect for elderly family members, the lack of joy in God’s worship, and the overall shallowness of life he encountered.
There is no talk of debt or employment in this man’s life, but by his own prayer and industry he works for himself and is thereby free to work as his conscience directs him. His son shows us the source of slavery–lust, idleness and pride–and moves quickly from a free son and heir to an impoverished slave working for others. His father maintains his freedom through his goodness and is never pressed into the hardship his foolish son must endure, going about begging for work and food after spoiling the means of living independently. The father, at all times, can rest with a clear conscience, “owing no man anything but to love one another”.
4. He is TEMPERATE.
The father’s excellence is evident when we compare him to his son. The father possesses much, much more than he gave his son, yet his son quickly used it to indulge his lusts, whereas his father set it aside for the benefit of his children and provided fairly for his servants. He wasn’t on the hunt for the latest toy or entertainment, but was content to work and share. The father could handle wealth and freedom virtuously because he was temperate. Moreover, his sons are raised to work themselves, along with their servants, not averse to labor but diligent and humble. His evil son learned the hard way to appreciate what good things his father had taught and given him.
5. He is GENEROUS.
Ebenezer Scrooge was wealthy, wise and temperate, but his stinginess made him miserable. The father in our story was on Scrooge. His own blessing and virtue was set to benefit those around him, regardless of their state in life–whether sons or slaves.
6. He is MERCIFUL.
His son committed a terrible evil. Imagine the shame his father would have lived with after his son famously went off and wasted himself with whores and partying. Nevertheless, the father’s great mercy washed away whatever anger or pride might have been welled up within him. When the son returned, he ran to meet him and greeted him with a rejoicing kiss and hug. All of his son’s evil was covered by his father’s mercy.
7. He is a PEACEMAKER.
The good brother was ticked when he saw his father’s generous response to his repentant son. The father has no interest in taking sides or justifying anything. His only concern is peace. He says, “Son, thou art always with me, and all I have is thine. But it was fit that we should make merry and be glad, for this thy brother was dead and is come to life again.” The father shows us that peace is made not by flattery or ignoring the truth, but by doing “what is fit” in all circumstances and leading others to do the same–even when their arguments are reasonable.
8. He is HAPPY.
In the end, when all is said and done, the father enjoys a happy life. His trials are overcome by patience and all ends with rejoicing. He has succeeded in business and household management, but he succeeds most of all in the goal of life: true happiness. His work is prosperous, his household is at peace, his heart is full of joy, the devil is cast down before him and God is glorified.
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The story the we enjoy in the Gospels is only possibly because of the father’s faith and life. It doesn’t take any special man to lose a son to sin and foolishness, but to reclaim not by the force of one’s words and harrassing, but by the attraction of one’s goodness is a rare honor.
As we celebrate Fathers’ Day let us ask ourselves whether our children, if they were to wander from us one day, would be drawn back to us by our wisdom and goodness or, finding themselves in the dark place the prodigal son was, turn further away from us into greater sin because their memories of our lives together offer them no hope of better things?
One famous Catholic writer said, “A good soldier does not fight because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” It is for us, fathers, to create that world which our sons will love and fight for throughout their lives, to which they will always be tethered and unable to leave for long. We cannot rely on them to hate the enemy, but must fill them with memories of a home worthy of their love.
Today is the time for us to provide our sons with a history of happiness that can save them in the event of a future fall. Today is the time for us to work that we may share and prove ourselves generous and temperate in all our ways. Today is the time for us to prepare that experiences and memories that will defend our sons by answering the devil’s lies and persuasions. Today is the time for us to lay the foundation for our children’s salvation.
The Scriptures warn us sternly that “Whatever a man sows, the same shall he also reap.” Wisdom warns us that “A son ill taught is the confusion of his father.” The day will come, when we are older and weaker and much of what we are doing today will be regretted. We can prove ourselves wise and avoid that regret, but we must sow abundantly today if we would reap abundantly tomorrow. Let us work that the happiest of Fathers’ Day celebrations may enjoyed in our latter days.
“Going they went and wept, casting their seeds. But coming they shall come with joyfulness, carrying their sheaves.” -Psalm 125
William Michael, Director
Classical Liberal Arts Academy
Questions? Write to Mr. Michael at: email@example.com.