“The crisis of fatherhood that we are experiencing today is a basic aspect of the crisis that threatens mankind as a whole” (Ratzinger). This threat strikes when fathers are seen only as biological accidents with no claims, or as tyrants to be thrown off. He grimly concludes, “something in the basic structure of human existence has been damaged” (p. 29). As disturbing as this is, it’s not new. St. John Paul II states, “Original sin attempts…to abolish fatherhood.” What might be new are the highly targeted philosophies and strategies, especially the media, that are used to attack both God’s and human fatherhood. The result is that there is a pandemic of children in the US (42%) who grow up without a father in the home. We mostly yawn, but the devastation for children on the psychological, sociological, and spiritual levels is massive and irrefutable. The effects rumble through our culture and Church. And the Church has failed to propose a cohesive and comprehensive vision of masculinity that speaks to men from all states in life, and that forms them so they can address these problems.
Spiritual fatherhood is the antidote to our fatherlessness culture. It goes back to Aristotle and runs through St. Paul and the early Church fathers, even if mostly in the direction of the ordained. But spiritual fatherhood is really the essence of being a disciple—caring for “the least of these” with spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and living the great commission by being fruitful through evangelization and discipleship. Thus it is a universal call to all males to be spiritual fathers—young or old, married or single, with or without children. St. John Paul II would say that fathers (and I would say spiritual fathers) are to reveal, relive, and radiate God’s fatherhood—they make God visible. All men must be fertile and fruitful spiritual fathers!
This is why spiritual fatherhood is the heart and summit of a Catholic vision of masculinity. As a component of this vision, I further develop spiritual fatherhood as being lived out in chivalry as priest, prophet, and king. The other three components are: 1) “On Being Family,” which is the key to our identity as men; 2) “The Fundamentals,” which include some aspects of philosophy and theological anthropology; and 3) “The Integrated or Wise Man,” which ties together the dimensions of living out the faith from the head, heart, and hands.
These four components form a dynamic model that provides a pastoral framework for diagnoses and interventions. The model will be put into motion, so to speak, by analyzing certain prime movements of our faith (love, fear, and sin) which will help define what interventions to use and their timing.
Dave McClow, M.Div., LCSW, LMFT