On this Father’s Day weekend, when we honor our dads, even with the pluses and minuses in their lives, my thoughts turn to the God-man, Jesus, standing before Pilate. In his interrogation of Jesus, Pilate tells the crowd, “Ecce Homo!” – “Behold the Man!” He also asked of Jesus: “What is truth?” He was unable to see it but, there, standing in front of him, is the Truth (and the Way and the Life) embodied in that god-ly Man.
For centuries, people have struggled to answer this fundamental question of truth, especially people who are good, honest and courageous. St. Thomas Aquinas once said that “truth is defined by the conformity of intellect and thing.” He also says that truth is conformity to the reality that’s external to our self. This gives meaning to us as human persons. Truth isn’t about bending reality to conform to our perspective, priorities, or preferences. It’s about us having the humility to realize that to possess the truth is to come to understand and orient ourselves to the reality of the world, to existence itself. This comes about only after an honest assessment of who we are and why we exist.
Our world tells us that we can be whatever we want, but I think this is the lie of the Garden of Eden, that “you yourselves will be like gods.” We can certainly choose our occupation in life, but we can’t choose who and what we are by nature. In the end, we can either be what we are made to be – a creature conforming to the order of reality – or we can make our self a god and, in defiance of reality, be whatever suits our fancy.
The truth (which we know through both faith and reason) is that we are made to know, love and serve God – in order to be a saint (one who ultimately comes to live with God). Truly acknowledging Him, who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” makes it possible for us to achieve our purpose in life and our ultimate happiness. Our hearts yearn and search for truth, beauty and goodness, but won’t be calm until they rest in God for, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, that goodness “belongs to every virtue to do good and avoid evil.” As wise men back to Aristotle’s time note, virtue is a habit of right moral action. Our Catholic Catechism calls it, “a habitual and firm disposition to do the good.”
As an aside, I really object to what we find on the bumper stickers that read, “practice random acts of kindness.” Random acts of kindness?? What good is it to be randomly kind? What would we think of our fathers if they were selective in their love for us? If it’s worth being kind, then we need to be consistently and habitually kind. Remember that even little things add up. Repetition does make a difference. It’s only with goodness that you will have the character to become a saint that, in truth, you know you are meant to be. So, as St. Robert Bellarmine notes, “a good death depends upon a good life.”
As a Christian, with the eyes of Faith, we see the sorrows and sufferings of this world in their larger context. St. Paul reminds us that it’s only our free will choice to reject God through our sin do we find in death nothing more than punishment and despair. Why is Good Friday so good? Because of Easter! Have you ever wondered why we typically celebrate the feasts of most saints on the day that they die? Because it’s on that day that we were born into the glory of ultimate happiness and the very purpose of our lives! The Roman Martyrology (the listing of all the saints) refers to that day as their “birthday.”
But our world is intoxicated with pleasure and self-gratification, enslaved to the false promises of sin. You often can see it in today’s art forms, which are reduced to nothing more than self-expression or as monuments to our own pride. They become ugly and signs of despair. There is nothing beautiful about narcissism, and too much of modern art proves that point so eloquently. When we look to ourselves for the meaning of reality, we fall back into the error of Eden.
On the other hand, where you find truth and goodness together, where you find them in a way that is whole and proportional, you find something that is striking and pleasing: you find real beauty, even in the midst of suffering or hardship. Beauty, (especially the beauty of truth and goodness, but also, in a particular way, beautiful art, beautiful music, or beautiful literature) conveys something true about our world in a manner that teaches us goodness in a way that inspires. To paraphrase St. Augustine, our world is starved for beauty! In the end, “our hearts are restless until they rest” in God.
In the end, truth, goodness and beauty find their only fulfillment in real love, and we’re all called to love. That’s why Jesus instructs us: “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. This is the greatest love a man can show, that he should lay down his life for his friends; and you, if you do all that I command you, are my friends.” This is not the love of sappy sentimentality, the pop song, or the selfie. This is the self-sacrificial love of keeping the commandments in a life of virtue. This is the love of a father that tends to a sick child in the middle of the night; the real man who cancels his social plans to visit an ailing buddy in the hospital; a courageous missionary leaving home and family to preach the gospel to strangers; a martyr giving his life for the Faith.
The method of forming good dads to be virtuous dads is by example – the shortest, the easiest, and the best way possible to all circumstances and dispositions. In the lives of the saints we see the most perfect maxims of the gospel put to practice; and the most heroic lives are those who live in the truth, beauty and goodness of God. Our world needs this kind of man who, in living sacrificial love, manifests the true, good, and the beautiful – those who seek to serve and not be served. Happy Father’s Day, Dads!