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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Dads' Spirituality Needed


Spiritual Role of Fathers
Is Boxing a Sin?
What's the Connection?
Isn't There Something More?
Is Marriage Really a Sacrament?

Spiritual Role of Fathers

Q: What does the Catholic Church teach about the role of fathers in the family? This seems to be a neglected area.

A: The Rite of Baptism for Children may say it best. After the priest or deacon blesses the mother, he blesses the father, saying: "God is the giver of all life, human and divine. May he bless the father of this child. He and his wife will be the first teachers of their child in the ways of faith. May they be also the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what they say and do, in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen."

All fathers have a natural duty to protect, provide for and educate their daughters and sons while being loving and supportive husbands. Catholic fathers have an added responsibility to be role models of faith and of virtue as companions on the faith journeys of their children. That instructor/companion role, which is influenced by their family and cultural upbringing, changes as children age but never disappears.

The Bible offers many teachings, especially in the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures, about the role of fathers. The New Testament letters address this responsibility, especially in 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12, Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21 and 1 John 2:13-14. Everything that Jesus says about being a disciple applies to dads.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses the duties of parents in Sections 2221-2231. The text advises parents to regard their sons and daughters as children of God and to respect them as human persons (#2222).

In recent years, both single and married Catholic men have begun participating in men's prayer groups, Scripture study and retreats on male spirituality. The National Resource Center for Catholic Men ( can offer local contacts.

Many books, tapes and CD's address the same issues. For example, Richard Rohr has written The Wild Man's Journey: Reflections on Male Spirituality (St. Anthony Messenger Press) and Quest for the Grail (Crossroad Publishing Company). In Signposts: How to Be a Catholic Man in the World Today (Word Among Us), Bill Bawden and Tim Sullivan present 52 topics, with Scripture and Catechism references, plus a real-life story and reflection questions.

Also helpful are A Man's Guide to Prayer (Crossroad), by Linus Mundy, and Two Voices: A Father and Son Discuss Family and Faith (Liguori), by Jim Doyle and Brian Doyle.

May the Lord bless your own faith journey, with its challenge of being a good, Catholic father!

Is Boxing a Sin?

Q: I am a 16-year-old guy and generally a spiritual person. I read the Bible and try to follow what it teaches. But sometimes its teachings and some of my own philosophies seem contradictory.

I hold a black belt in karate and am passionate about studying the martial arts, which I often consider to be one of God's answers to my prayers.

The principles that I learn from martial arts are ones that I use in my everyday life. I have recently become interested in boxing and like the training it involves.

Is competing in a boxing or karate competition wrong? Am I sinning by training my body and mind to defeat my opponents? By risking injury to myself?

When I look out at the world, I don't always like what I see. That's what motivates me to become better and better. I don't want to harm the world or anyone in it. I would like to improve the world.

A: There is no sin in training for boxing as long as you use those skills only in supervised, amateur competitions or self-defense. Because of the number of brain injuries and deaths that have occurred in professional boxing, some moral theologians question the morality of boxing at that level.

Training for supervised karate competitions is also fine. The skills learned in karate and boxing can be used outside the ring in cases of genuine self-defense or defending an innocent party.

More important, your karate and boxing training are teaching you discipline. You will need that if you want to improve the world whose shortcomings are quite obvious to you. The discipline you learn from sports will help you order your life properly and can be very valuable if you engage in some community service, some effort to go beyond self-improvement as a way of improving our world.

What's the Connection?

Q: Why is the fish symbol associated with the Christian religion? Please explain the how, when, where and why of this symbol.

A: It's actually quite simple. The Greek word for fish is ichthus. Christians turned that into an acronym, using the first letters of the Greek words for:

I - Jesus (Iesous)

CH - Christ (Christos)

TH - God's  (Theou)

U - Son  ('Uios)

S - Savior (Soter)

Since Jesus' multiplication of the loaves and fishes (John 6:1-14 and parallels in other Gospels) was seen as a symbol of the Eucharist, the fish also reminded Christians of that gift from Jesus.

When the Romans were persecuting Christians (off and on between 64 A.D. and 313 A.D.), the fish symbol was meaningless to pagans but very significant to Christians, almost like a secret code word.

Isn't There Something More?

Q: I joined the Catholic Church about five years ago. I go to Mass every weekend, but that is about it. Nobody has ever asked me to become involved beyond that. How can I learn more about the Church and where I could be useful, other than taking up pew space?

A: Start by reading your parish's Sunday bulletin; it often indicates parish ministries in need of assistance. Few parishes have too many religious education teachers, readers at Mass, Communion distributors, ushers, greeters or RCIA sponsors. Although some ministries require more training than others, you could rather easily prepare yourself for other ministries.

Does your parish have a St. Vincent de Paul Society? Does it have a group of people who help at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter? Is the parish involved in building a Habitat for Humanity house? Does your parish have athletic or Scouting programs?

Many Catholics have found the Cursillo to be a turning point for their faith life. This is much more than a weekend retreat with follow-up meetings. Your parish can put you in touch with your diocese's Cursillo program.

You did not indicate whether you are married or single. In some places, Catholic singles groups socialize, help one another grow in faith and become involved in some type of community service. If you are married, the Engaged Encounter movement might enable you and your wife to help prepare other couples for a Christ-based marriage.

The possibilities of involvement are practically endless. Once you start, you will have many chances to serve!

Is Marriage Really a Sacrament?

Q: How can marriage possibly be a sacrament? Yes, Jesus attended a wedding feast (John 4:46-54), spoke of the Kingdom of God in terms of a wedding banquet (Matthew 22:1-14) and used the Genesis creation story to support the idea of union (Matthew 19:1-9). But that does not seem to make marriage a sacrament.

A: Jesus' teaching in Matthew 19:1-9 is much more than using the first creation story in Genesis to "support the idea of union." Marriage is the most basic of all purely human relationships and serves as the foundation for healthy families.

That may not be everyone's experience, of course, but bad experiences in marriage and family life usually result from the abuse of human freedom on someone's part.

Marriage was the last of the seven sacraments to be formally defined (11th century) but only because there was no serious challenge to its status as a sacrament before then. Less than 30 years after Jesus died, St. Paul was teaching Christians in Corinth about the sacredness of marriage for the followers of Jesus (1 Corinthians 7:1-16).

Just as the prophet Hosea did not hesitate to compare God's love for the Chosen People to the love of a faithful husband for his adulterous wife (Hosea 2:1-25), so St. Paul uses Christ's love for the Church as a model for the faithful, generous love between husband and wife (Ephesians 5:21-33).

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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