“My son,” says the Book of Proverbs, “do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in” (Prv 3:11-12).
If that’s the case, I must have been one delightful son, seeing as how my father — whom I loved very much — could have taught a master class in “discipline” and “rebuke.”
And, like a lot of fathers, he had a way of getting his children to do things they didn’t necessarily want to do.
Even Jesus’ heavenly father asked him to do something that no father I know would ever suggest: sacrifice his life for the sake of the world.
Luke (22:42) tells us that Jesus didn’t exactly want to do it (“Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me”), but he dutifully acquiesced to his Father’s request (“Not my will, but yours be done”).
But then, Jesus himself was able to get people to do things they might not do otherwise. No one knew his power of persuasion better than his first disciples.
Two of them, James and John, were working with their father, Zebedee, mending their fishing nets in their boat, when Jesus called them.
“Immediately,” writes St. Matthew, “they left their boat and their father and followed him” (Mt 4:22).
I shudder to imagine what would have happened if I or my brothers were, let’s say, doing yardwork with our dad, and a stranger came along and said, “Follow me,” and we’d up and left our dad holding the leaf rake. I’m not sure we’d have been anxious to return home anytime soon.
(Come to think of it, Scripture doesn’t tell us that James and John ever returned home, either.)
It is, of course, possible to follow Jesus and to love and honor our parents. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right,” says St. Paul (Eph 6:1-3). “‘Honor your father and mother.’ This is the first commandment with a promise, that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
But in the very next sentence (Eph 6:4), Paul has instructions for fathers as well: “Fathers, do not provoke your children in anger, but bring them up with the training and instruction of the Lord.”
In that regard, I am grateful that my parents — both raised in families who regularly attended church on Sundays — sent my brothers and I to Lutheran Sunday School when we were young. Such is the call of the Book of Proverbs: “Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it” (22:6).
The same book also tells us that “the fear of the Lord is a strong defense, a refuge even for one’s children” (Prv 14:26). That early faith foundation — an awareness of and belief in God the Father and his son Jesus — has been both refuge and sustenance for me, even in my adolescent and teen years, when I rarely attended church.
To be honest, I was just as happy to spend my weekends playing games, watching TV and sleeping late. Which is why I am forever blessed that my wife and toddler son drew me not only back into church, but into the Catholic faith.
She, a lifelong Catholic, became director of our parish preschool when our son turned three, and I joined other dads (some regular churchgoers, some not) in “helping out” — moving chairs, laying out floormats and setting up tables in the classrooms.
Soon, I was attending Mass each week with our son, and within two years I was confirmed. That was 35 years ago, and we have remained an active, church-going family ever since.
My wife and I are doubly blessed that our son, throughout his life, has attended Mass willingly and, for the most part, joyfully (there was one pastor, years ago, that he wasn’t too keen on, but then neither were we). He is a lector and usher, always lends a hand when (and often before) he is asked, and is truly a son his parents “delight in.”
His attitude, I admit, contrasts markedly with the one I sometimes had when my dad would drive my brothers and I to Sunday school. Well, not so much attitude as puzzlement over why my parents rarely attended Sunday services themselves.
In that regard, maybe it’s no wonder I was away from church for so long. The power of persuasion is more effective by action than by words. Jesus never asked of his disciples anything he wasn’t willing to do himself. He taught and led by example.
Perhaps his best example was articulated by St. Paul to the people of Corinth: “Stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Your every act should be done with love” (1 Cor 16:13-14).
Faith. Courage. Strength. Love. That’s a solid foundation for persuasion — and the best kind of marching orders for any dad.
Catholic journalist Mike Nelson writes from Southern California.