Pope Francis: The heart of spiritual fathers

By Dave McClow

If men are created to live heroic lives as spiritual fathers to make a difference in our world, how do we do that? During Pope Francis’ recent visit, he provided some answers.

In a Catholic vision of masculinity, I have suggested that spiritual fatherhood is the summit of being a man. Pope Francis speaks to this new order of fatherhood: “A pastor will enable his brothers … to hear and experience God’s promise, which can expand their experience of … fatherhood.” — Mk 3:31-35 (Meeting with bishops, Sept. 27, 2015) Jesus instituted this new spiritual family or household when He said, “Whoever does the will of God” is my family. — Mk 3:35

What gets in the way of living out a heroic life as a spiritual father? Since the fall of Satan there has been a battle that creates fear in the world. Pope Francis proclaims, “Bishops (spiritual fathers) need to be lucidly aware of the battle between light and darkness being fought in this world” (to the U.S. bishops, Sept. 23, 2015); and he encourages us to teach our “children to be excited by every gesture aimed at overcoming evil.” (World Meeting of Families, Sept. 27, 2015)

Pope Francis believes that our consumer culture that “discards everything” is destructive, saying it produces “a radical sense of loneliness.” We seek empty things including “accumulating ‘friends’ on a social network.” The result: “Loneliness with fear of commitment in a limitless effort to feel recognized.” (Meeting with Bishops, Sept. 27, 2015)

I think that fear is at the root of most, if not all, sin and always disrupts love and relationships. What is the remedy to fear? It is heroic spiritual fatherhood, which always starts with receiving love in the heart. The Apostle John writes, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” — 1 Jn 4:18. Pope Francis chimes in, “‘Love consists in this, not that we have loved God but that He loved us’ first.” — 1 Jn 4:10.

That love gives us a profound certainty. We are sought by God. He waits for us. It is this confidence, which makes disciples encourage, support and nurture the good things happening all around them.” (World Meeting of Families, Sept. 27, 2015)

Pope Francis speaks of the heart: “It will do us good to think back on our lives with the grace of remembrance … of the amazement which our encounter with Jesus Christ awakens in our hearts.” (Vespers, Sept. 24, 2015) Memory is the key to the heart and to our faith.

Maybe you have not had this amazing encounter with Christ. You must find ways to experience His love in your heart as a beloved son. Talk to your priest or someone you know who is living the faith. Go to a conference; go to a Rekindle meeting; go on retreat; listen to Catholic radio; or start reading the Gospel of John. And above all else, start talking to God as a friend, which is simply prayer. You can’t give what you don’t have.

If you have had this amazing encounter with Christ, remember it, relive it. Our identity is based on remembering who we are in Christ, and it leads us to joy. “The joy of men … who love God attracts others to Him.” (Vespers, Sept. 24, 2015)

Authentic Catholic men receive love as sons and offer it as spiritual fathers. Love must be encountered, received and experienced in our heads, heart and hands for us to be fully integrated or wise.

How do we heroically live out love as spiritual fathers? Pope Francis explains, “A grateful heart is spontaneously impelled to serve the Lord and to find expression in a life of commitment to our work. Once we come to realize how much God has given us, a life of self-sacrifice, of working  for Him and for others, becomes a privileged way of responding to His great love.” (Vespers, Sept. 24, 2015)

Our response to this love must be lived heroically, but not necessarily conspicuously. The pope states that happiness and holiness are “always tied to little gestures. … These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family … quiet things … little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion … small daily signs which make us feel at home.” (World Meeting of Families, Sept. 27, 2015) As spiritual fathers living out our priesthood, we must give blessings and hugs upon awakening or before bed. We must have little ways of acknowledging our friends and co-workers. Our daily liturgy consists of these little rituals and routines that communicate our love for others. Moreover, “the heart of the pope (and spiritual fathers) expands to include everyone. To testify to the immensity of God’s love is the heart of our mission. …”

Pope Francis knows “there is always the temptation to give in to fear and self-pity.” “But we also know that we have been given a spirit of courage and not of timidity.” (To the U.S. bishops, Sept. 23, 2015) To conquer fear, we must experience and remember in our hearts God’s love for us as sons. This will “impel” us to action with “boundless generosity,” sacrifice and love for our spiritual children — our neighbor and the fatherless. We must then challenge our spiritual sons to live from their hearts as spiritual fathers.

Posted on October 20, 2015, to: