Last week was Father’s day.
But it occurs to me that today’s feast is a really good day
to talk to and about fathers, to and about men.
Does it seem unusual to have a saint’s day on a Sunday?
That’s because it is.
Why John the Baptist?
Jesus himself tells us elsewhere in Scripture:
“I tell you, among those born of women,
no one is greater than John;
yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
What made John so great? Two things.
First, because he was the final link in the long chain of hope.
That chain began immediately
after Adam and Eve were corrupted, when God promised a Savior.
The links were sustained through wandering and darkness,
through slavery and deliverance, through exaltation and exile,
all the way down to John. But John, unlike all the rest,
not only promised a Savior, someday;
he was uniquely able to say:
Here! Now! Behold the Lamb of God!
And second, John was utterly faithful to his mission.
He understood it wasn’t about him.
“I must decrease,” he said: “Jesus must increase.”
Every word, every breath of John’s life was about Jesus: “There he is!”
Go follow him, John told his own followers.
Men, you and I live in a strange time.
The proper role and responsibilities of men
have never been more needed; and yet never more denigrated.
We hear about so-called “toxic masculinity.”
In schools, if boys act like boys, they are punished.
In too many homes and neighborhoods, men are mostly absent.
And, yes, there is such a thing as “toxic masculinity,”
although it’s not what some radical voices claim.
Here’s what I think is a toxic masculinity:
The idea that men should just have what they want.
There was a man named Hugh Hefner,
who had a philosophy which boiled down to,
the thing that matters most is you, and your fulfillment.
Sacrifice and self-denial are for suckers.
He published a magazine and promoted a lifestyle for decades.
He played a huge role in promoting easy divorce
and contraception and living together without marriage;
and he loved that first bookstores, and then the Internet,
became filled with obscene materials.
He thought redefining marriage and family was awesome.
Why am I talking about Hugh Hefner?
Many of you have never heard of him.
But this one man played a huge role
in shaping the world you and I now live in.
And though they don’t know it,
millions of men and boys are following in the path he charted.
Because it is really appealing to be able to live that way.
Meanwhile, there is all the wreckage.
There is a reckoning happening, and we see it every day:
People are being brought to account – in politics,
in entertainment, in the Church, because they lived for themselves,
and they left a lot of casualties behind.
From Monday to Thursday morning of this week,
I will be in northern Kentucky with other priests,
learning from experts about the plague of pornography.
A man in our parish said it best only last week:
This stuff comes straight from the pit of hell;
And if it was sold in cans, it would outsell Coca-Cola.
Being all about self and all about right now is so easy.
On the other hand, doing what John the Baptist did –
and for that matter, what his father Zachariah
and mother Elizabeth did – that is really hard.
Remember, they were elderly when God’s invitation came.
Zachariah was very reluctant. Not me! I’m too old, it’s too late.
A lot of grandparents are picking up the slack these days,
because a lot of mothers are carrying a double load alone.
So men, we’re in a mess.
Almost 80 years ago, our world was in a pretty bad place.
And the Greatest Generation stepped up.
So many of our fathers and grandfathers answered the call.
Most of them were never recognized,
and probably played a role that, at the time, seemed so small.
My father served in the Air Corps, working on B-17s.
He never bragged about any of it,
I’m guessing because he knew pilots and crews
that never came back; and he knew how lucky he was.
No one person won that war; but we needed every single one.
And men – boys – we need you now.
A spiritual Pearl Harbor, a moral 9-11 is happening right now.
The battlefield isn’t far away: it’s our homes and each of our hearts.
And if you wonder what your mission, what your purpose is,
It is like Zachariah who said, “His name is John” –
Meaning that father gave his son to the Lord’s service.
It is like John who said, this is all about Jesus, that’s why I’m here.
And John never had an easy day in his life
and he ultimately paid with blood.
But his was the path of glory!
Men, boys: choose that path!
It most likely isn’t going to be some great moment;
it’s a long chain of little moments,
most of which only you will know about.
A choice of Christ and others over self.
That path may mean being a priest. I love being a priest.
But if not, be a husband and father. Give life; change lives.
And if you’re inspired to do great things,
Then be willing to do small acts of faithfulness
while you wait till your moment comes.
This coming Friday we’ll have our 3rd annual Men’s Prayer Walk.
All men, all ages are welcome. We’ll meet in the parking lot
between my house and the school at 5:30, we’ll have transportation,
we’ll go out to Russia-Houston Road and Route 48,
and walk out toward and past Houston for about an hour.
Then we’ll come back and have fellowship.
What will that accomplish?
We will be praying for this parish and this community.
Our walking around the parish boundaries
signifies our role as protectors and providers.
If it’s only us, probably it means very little.
But it will be us and the Holy Spirit,
bearing witness to the Lamb of God.
And when we do that, anything can happen.