Ask and we shall receive but we must ASCH

Proclaim Sermons
June 16, 2024
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: Affliction, stamina, character; hope: Watchwords for the virtues recommended by the Apostle Paul to us as vital for our spiritual development. On Father's Day, a day like Mother's Day, which may become inappropriate in the light of changing perceptions of gender distinctions, we still celebrate these virtues as essential in our 'parenting' role. They are the virtues that made Boys' Town work; they continue to help us become the incarnation of the Word.

"He ain't heavy; he's my brother."

We remember these memorable words from the life and legend of Father Edward Flanagan and his home for unwanted boys in Omaha, Nebraska. As the story goes, "it was a dark and stormy night" when Father Flanagan heard a tentative knock at his door. When he opened it, he found two boys, one riding piggy-back on the other. Two homeless children were seeking sanctuary with Father Flanagan in Omaha. When the priest asked how the carrying youngster managed his burden, the reply was, "He ain't heavy; he's my brother."

In 1917 Father Flanagan borrowed $90 to provide emergency accommodations for five boys. Father Flanagan became Father Flanagan the Father. The Boys' Town legend recently celebrated its ninety-fifth anniversary. Now home to 745 "citizens," both boys and girls, we would do well to ask, "Why does it still work?"

The genius of Fatherhood ... ASCH ... and we shall receive

It works because it embodies the four virtues of the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:1-5: ASCH: Affliction, Stamina, Character, Hope.

"Let us even exult in our present sufferings" - M. Scott Peck, in his book The Road Less Traveled, begun with the words, "Life is difficult." That's an understatement. Life is full of challenges that test our moral and spiritual character. No-one is immune.

Scriptures, on the other hand, lift up the life of Christ as the model of one who has been afflicted with the worst the world can do, yet has remained faithful to the selfless giving nature of God. Christ gave himself completely -"But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us." (v.8)

Affliction can build character, and does not have to be thought of as destructive of it. If we allow for that fact, we can view our sufferings, our afflictions, as character-building. Such an attitude changes the way in which we do parenting, and gives an added strength in the face of the challenges to our authority by children as they in turn grow.

... and suffering produces endurance ..." (v.3) Paul could see the importance of stamina. We should consider the story of a senior citizen who amazed all who knew him. No matter what physical afflictions he faced, no matter what family troubles plagued him, he would present a cheerful demeanor. When asked the secret of his cheerfulness, he replied, "Well, you see, it's like this. The Bible says often, 'And it shall come to pass,' never, 'It came to stay.'"

"... and endurance produces character ..." (v.4) Character is the sum of our parts, and determines how we respond to our children. As we pass on the fruits of our character to future generations, we can hardly expect the untutored child to be of great character if we ourselves refuse to exhibit it. If we, as fathers, wish to be fathers, our fathering must include a legacy of good character.

" ... and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Jacques Ellul has expressed the feeling that the challenge of the church today is giving people something to hope for.

Afflictions ... stamina ... character ... hope: These are the qualities that infuse the Boys Town program providing surrogate parenting to otherwise fatherless children.

"Father" as a function, not a person

On this Sunday when we stress the theme of "Fatherhood," we can learn some great lessons from that Boys Town experience. Al Santoli, in a feature article in Parade Magazine (Feb. 9, 1992), delved into those qualities that enabled the program to "father" their children. The qualities were better viewed as "functions" than as a persona.

The first of the functions was to provide structure to lives that had never known structure. Mr. Santoli interviewed house parents Dan and Rene Larson and was told, "The boy's lives have to be structured, because they have come from unstable homes."

From the beginning of Creation, we see the importance of structure. As God be the act of creation, structure and order was brought out of the chaos that was "without form, and void." One of the children under the Larson's care acknowledged, "The key to my success has been supervision.

Boys Town education includes the development of communication skills through team sports and through the arts. Other efforts focus on trying to resolve the family problems that led to the children's placement. Career planning and employment skills are taught.

Through the dynamics of 'fathering, the Word becomes incarnate. The incarnation of those 'fatherly' virtues shows among former residents of Boys Town, famous persons whose lives attest to the importance of living the reality of one's faith.

Former Navy Commander Lloyd Bucher, captain of the intelligence-gathering ship U.S.S. Pueblo captured by North Korea in 1968, attests to his learning the concept of "brotherhood" while he was at Boys Town. Director of Court Services in South Dakota, Jerry Newberger, is a 1955 graduate of Boys Town, and he says that it nurtured in him "a sense of responsibility and service to the community."

We live in a new parenting environment

I'm not convinced Father's Day and Mother's Day have a long-term future. I would be more confident to say we would be well advised to combine the two and celebrate PARENT'S DAY. If we talk about male role characteristics in connection with the 'fathering' aspect of parenting, we are challenged by the feminist movement; if we talk about female role characteristics with respect to the 'motherly' aspects of parenting, we will be challenged by the burgeoning men's movement. We would be much more appropriate to celebrate the characteristics of 'parenting' without reference to gender.

The men's movement is tackling this evolving scene, trying to respond appropriately to the new environment. In Eau Claire, Wisconsin, the Clearwater Clinic has developed men's groups to look at their inner world. In a series called, "The Heart and Soul of Men," symbols, mythology, stories, experiential activities, as well as the life experience of men serve as the tools that are used to develop a new self-understanding, and explore their relationship with the world around them. The work of Joseph Campbell and others is used.

Within the workplace an evolution is taking place that is by no means fully developed, but by all means is showing the celebration of fatherhood and motherhood is undergoing change. Employers are being confronted with "mommy track" and "daddy track" expectations. Some respond well, some not; but few escape such issues as job-sharing, maternity/paternity leave, on- site childcare, affordability of new parenting aspirations, primary/secondary career persons, geographical mobility.

Within the family coming to terms with parental roles is reshaping lifestyles, and many men are finding they like the idea; some women are finding they're not so sure.

For men, a new, more satisfying relationship comes from a closer involvement with and bonding to their children. Not only are children responsive, but men find they appreciate their employment more when the can have a taste of both.

For women, a new awareness that the child may bond more closely to the father than the mother is causing them to reflect on what that means. Will Englund and Kathy Lally, a father and mother, both of whom are reporters for the Baltimore Sun, made an adjustment to parenthood by sharing one full time reporter job. Kathy was taken aback when their daughter woke up in the middle of the night feeling sick. Mother went into her child's room only to be told, "No! I want Daddy!"

Times change; principles don't.

The answer seems clear. If we are correct in feeling that men and women should be free to adopt and adapt to the role models that bring out the best in each of us, without imprisonment in gender-role definitions, then we must also recognize that each of us must embrace Christ-like virtues to remain faithful to God's entrusting to us the responsibility of parenthood. The fruits of our spiritual pilgrimage ... Affliction, Stamina, Character and Hope ... will enable us to celebrate 'fatherhood.'