Column: Courage and perseverance

“Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.”
-John Quincy Adams

Kraska portrait

Jenny Kraska is the executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference.

Summer is not usually a time of year filled with lots of activity in the public square.  It’s a time for families to take vacations, for kids (and teachers!) to enjoy being out of school, generally it’s a time to slow down and enjoy a little rest and relaxation.  While many of us have certainly enjoyed some downtime this summer it has been in the midst of a storm of activity in the pubic square.  Starting in June the Supreme Court of the United States legalized same-sex marriage for the entire country, Colorado’s own Supreme Court refused to uphold the Douglas County school choice program based on anti-Catholic Blaine amendments and Pope Francis released an encyclical focusing on the environment.

By comparison one would think the rest of the summer would be somewhat quiet but July was perhaps the most explosive month of the summer with the release of the horrific undercover videos, from the Center for Medical Progress, detailing the disgusting actions of Planned Parenthood as they sought to negotiate prices for the body parts of aborted babies.  July also saw a decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals saying that the government can force the Little Sisters of the Poor to violate their faith or pay massive IRS penalties for refusing to provide contraceptives in their health plan.

We are only halfway through the month of August and already we have seen the James Holmes murder trial end with a life in prison sentence for Mr. Holmes, the release of more Planned Parenthood videos, and the kick-off to the 2016 election season with the first Republican debate.  Activity in the public square obviously did not get the memo about taking a little downtime this summer!

If you are like me, then you might be reading this list of activity and be completely overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed at the sheer magnitude of the impact these decisions and actions will have on our culture, our faith, our families and our Church.  You would be justified in this reaction, but we cannot allow our feelings of being overwhelmed, angry or sad to overshadow the important task that we have in front of us, namely to evangelize the culture.  Each one of us is called to bring the power of Christ to bear on the areas of education, the law, media, entertainment and politics.

As Pope St. John Paul II once remarked “It is no use complaining of the wickedness of the times.  As St. Paul wrote, we must overcome evil by doing good (Rom. 12:21)….To seek, love and bear witness to Jesus!  This is your commitment; these are the instructions I leave you!  By doing so, not only will you keep real joy in your lives, but also you will benefit the whole of society, which needs, above all, consistency with the evangelical message.”

St. John Paul’s words are as relevant today as they were when he spoke them in 1978. If we want to change our culture and our communities then we must begin by living our own faith honestly and with conviction; if we don’t then we cannot expect to change the public square. Archbishop Chaput once said that “The worst enemies…aren’t ‘out there’ among the legion of critics who hate Christ or the Gospel or the Church or all three. The worst enemies are in here, with us, all of us, clergy, religious and lay, when we live our faith with tepidness, routine and hypocrisy.”

In the face of all that is happening in our society let us be courageous people of faith and bear witness to the love of Christ in our families, our churches and the public square.  The Bishops of Colorado have called for a day of prayer and penance on August 28th in order for all people of good will to pray that those involved in research and medicine will fix their sights on recognizing the sacredness of life and refrain from putting human life at the service of science. I hope that each one of us will take time out of our day on the 28th to offer prayer and penance for these horrific actions.


COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.