In the past 48 hours I’ve been guilty, more than once, of uttering crude expressions of impatience concerning select clergy. Not publicly, and not out of ill-will, just a general, “Will this guy get with it for a change!”
Lots of us are guilty. We want all these guys we call “Father” — the one we grew up with, or without, and the ones in our Church — we want them to be wonderful. We want them to be holy, and kind, and wise, and good. And we want them to know what to do. To know how to fix things.
But they’re just these guys. They wear funny clothes. They have strange taste in music. They are too indulgent with that child, and too severe with the other one. They didn’t do Christmas / Thanksgiving / Birthdays / Math Homework / Yard Maintenance / The Easter Triduum just the way we think they should. They work too long, or retire too early, or both.
They stink at interior decorating. And most of them snore.
Also, when you get to be a parent of a certain age, you look back and do the math, and realize just how young your father was, way back when, when you as a child thought he was so old. When you thought he knew everything, because you were six? He was barely into adulthood. When you thought he knew nothing, because you were sixteen? He was still just cutting his teeth on the What Do I Do With This Teenager of Mine problem. And when he’s eighty, he’s being eighty for the first time in his life. He’s just improvising.
He’s guessing. That’s what fathers do.
I’ve lost my patience with the Francisco-Obsessing. He’s just this guy. He dresses funny. Guys dress funny. It’s what they do.
I know the Holy Father, and your bishop, and your parish priest, and your dad, they all do certain symbolic actions that send important messages. But you know how there’s all those NFP instructors who make that smarmy admonition that husbands should do the charting, as if the measure of a man’s worth could all be summed up in one glorious epitaph, “He Recorded Her Mucus Faithfully”?
A man is not a symbol. He’s a person. If he doesn’t chart, but he does do his best to earn a living, and help rear the children, and say nice things to you now and again, and maybe even change your oil, doesn’t that count for something? You can be the dad that tells bedtime stories, or the one who reads the Bible at breakfast, or the one who plays ball on Sunday afternoon, or the one who takes a kid along when he goes to the hardware store . . . and you don’t have to be all of them. Being one guy is enough.
Guys who cheat on their wives, or abandon their children, or refuse to support the family, or commit any number of gross abuses of their responsibility? They deserve the harsh words that come their way. Guys who don’t discipline their children, ever, or can’t be bothered to see they get a decent education, or don’t listen and take action when the kids come to them with problems? They need a serious talking to. They need to put on their Man Pants and step up to the plate.
But the guy who dresses funny and dines at all the wrong restaurants? Whatever. He’s not a better dad because he’s so dapper, or so frugal. He’s not a worse dad because he wants Thanksgiving served on heirloom china, or on paper plates.
And you can’t know what it all means, not really. If he surrounds himself with elegant things, he’ll be accused of being self-indulgent, or pompous, and also of being erudite and cultured. If he wears the same pair of jeans for fifteen years straight, he’ll be accused of being slovenly and lazy, and also a “man of the people” who “doesn’t get caught up in appearances”. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t.
Maybe he’s just this guy.
Francisco’d better appoint good bishops. He’d better elevate good cardinals. He ought to direct the curia deftly, pay attention to necessary reforms, and teach clearly and accurately. He needs to cultivate his own spiritual life lest he fall into greater sins than the one he commits already (whatever they are, I have no idea what they might be), and in the hopes that he might yet grow further in wisdom and holiness.
Lord willing, he’ll do all this, and do it well.
And if he does, I pretty much don’t care where he lives. I don’t care what he eats. I don’t care about the car he drives, the shoes he wears, or the kind of music he listens to at night. Not so long as none of it’s immoral, and none of it prevents him from doing his real Dad Jobs.
And if he screws it up? He’s accountable for that, too. It’s a false piety to think that “Honor Your Father” means “Pretend Sin Is Not Sin”. Francisco has serious responsibilities. Heresy and dissent are rife within the Church. Corruption, crime, and immorality among the clergy and laity have got to be addressed. What is true and good — whether it comes in more formal or more humble trappings — needs to be encouraged and promoted. No amount of visiting prisoners or chatting with the help gets a pope excused from doing his (other) fatherly duties.
But any man who’s doing his Dad Jobs gets a free pass to dress as goofy as he wants, sit in his favorite comfy chair, and stock his beverage cooler with whatever the heck he wants. He’s a father. Call him to task on his Manly Responsibilities, if indeed he neglects them. You don’t have drink his Pabst Blue Ribbon, or his Glenfiddich, if turns your stomach. More for him. So be it.
Holy Thursday’s tomorrow. Pray for priests.
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