Magazine article New Oxford Review

To the Editor

Magazine article New Oxford Review

To the Editor

Article excerpt


Kenneth Colston's article "Clerics & Curates: Who Needs Them?" (June) is a timely reminder of what a world without fathers looks like. It looks like the world we live in.

Protestants often chide Catholics for calling their priests father, citing Matthew 23:9: "Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven." Of course, even Protestants call their own fathers father, and all of us call good people good, despite our Lord's similar admonition: "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone" (Lk. 18:19). In both cases, Jesus insists that the source of fatherly authority and goodness is God, and that our own paternal authority and righteousness are a participation in the paternal authority and goodness of the Father.

But we have abdicated both - we have given up being fathers and being good - and the spiritual vacuum shows up everywhere.

And, as Colston points out, this cultural shift is visible even in our literature: He compares the clerical culture of Alessandro Manzoni's The Betrothed with the radically Protestant and even "post-Christian" culture of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, in which the lack of any clerical authority serving as a father figure, guiding Christians, and admonishing them (as true priests and fathers should do) enables the flourishing of dysfunction and chaos among the families living on the wild moor. In Wuthering Heights there is no clerical father to impose and interpret the Gospel, no clerical gardener to prune the family's weeds to keep them from choking out life.

Meanwhile, we hear about "accompaniment." Our Holy Father in Rome seems to be calling for clergy to serve as weak and yielding little brothers, sitting by, smiling pleasantly, and holding hands with sinners in the midst of their sins, and not as strong, definite, and distinct fathers who do what fathers should do, what our Father in Heaven does: show us (with force and anger, if need be) the definite shape of reality, including the reality of sin and virtue.

It has always struck me, as a teacher of young people, that leading young men and leading young women are two very different things. A group of guys, gathered without women, almost automatically begins to tease, chide, and harass one another. This form of needling, mockery, and jovial criticism is what young men seem to like. It shows them that our role as men includes a kind of pugilism - even in sport, and even in our casual get-togethers. It stops when women come into the group. For one thing, females don't understand it (in the same way they don't understand, say, the violent humor of the Three Stooges). For another, there's something almost sacred about this male bonding, including mutual hazing, which mothers or potential mothers cannot fathom. It's the rod, the sparing of which spoils the child. It's men learning what it means to be firm, to be brave, to stand alone, if need be, even in our "accompaniment" of those we love.

This abdication of fatherhood, both in the Church and in our secular culture, cannot continue. Colston's literary criticism makes that clear.

Kevin O'Brien, President

Theater of the Word Incorporated

St. Louis, Missouri

I have hosted Kenneth Colston many times to lecture to my students, and I never pass up an opportunity to read what he has to say. His latest article reminds us all, but priests especially, that what it means to be a man is, ultimately, to be a father, and what it means to be a father is to imitate our Lord in laying down our lives in chivalrous service and life-giving love.

At a time when the beauty of "male and female" is marred, when the unique strength of manhood is so often misused, and when the figure of the father is popularly captured by such dolts as Homer Simpson or Darth Vader (or even worse, when a Roman Catholic "father" makes the headlines), Colston's article teaches that without strong fathers, our culture decays rapidly. …

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