One would be hard-pressed to name a contemporary television show or movie in which authentic fatherhood is presented in an uplifting or edifying manner. Among our celebrities, likewise, it would be difficult to find an example of a man choosing a lifelong union with a woman whereby he provides a stable home for their children. Rather, the media parades a circus of couplings governed by undisciplined passions and contempt for even the most secular of conventions.
The mass media’s noisy approval of pre-marital sex, contraception, in-vitro fertilization, and alternative lifestyles each, in their own way, confuse the young — first about the meaning of sexual intimacy, and secondly about the meaning of fatherhood. When the tragic element of domestic violence is added to the mix, masculinity is seen as toxic and dangerous — something to be avoided, since it’s no longer understood to be beneficial to the family unit.
If the broader culture creates a filter showing masculinity as unstable, irresponsible, and often overbearing, then what relationship is possible for men to establish with women and children? The sexual embrace is often deliberately sterile, we shop for children outside of conjugal intimacy, and we are in the process of redefining the family in language and law, effectively pulling the rug out from beneath the very terms “motherhood” and “fatherhood.”
This culture is hardly conducive to raising healthy children, and yet the women involved often choose to allow the men to behave badly — resulting in pain for all involved. Manhood implies fatherhood, either physical or spiritual, which requires the collaboration with women who understand the needs of the human person. When a woman neglects her vocation as gatekeeper of love and guardian of hearts, she thereby allows men to be irresponsible, herself to be used, and her children to be abandoned.
Just as femininity isn’t a list of accomplishments or stereotypical attributes, but a mode of being, the same is true for masculinity. A woman loves in a motherly manner, and the man’s mode of loving is called fatherhood. He may do it well or badly, but to reject him out of hand for being himself is unworthy of us. In considering the essence of fatherhood, a woman’s perception of the masculine vocation will ultimately color her view of the priesthood, which embodies a spiritual fatherhood of enormous proportions.
Thus, we must take stock of the way we value a man’s love — which is all the more important when considering how we receive those men called to be images of Christ himself. If we cannot name the inherent lies in the confused trends named above, then we cannot respond with the truths that define the fatherly vocation of priests.
It should be evident that the women to whom priests minister ought to be open to their gifts, but if women have fundamental reservations about the nature of fatherhood and the importance of collaboration between men and women, then these gifts will lie like seeds in barren soil. Just as the Incarnation depended on the receptivity of Our Lady, God’s actions still depend on the openness of women to his generous and faithful love.
The damage to fatherhood from misplaced intimacy, confusion over masculinity, and the sterility in the beloved affects all men, including — and especially — priests. Their gift of self is meant to bear fruit, and their beloved — holy mother Church — is imbued with a mission that should extend God’s fatherly kingdom to all the world. In that sense, the understanding and joy with which women share that mission is essential. It begins with the human person and gratitude for his vocation. Fatherhood itself should be cherished
[The Anchor 7.17.09].