Sometimes my son the Jesuit says things that I simply do not understand.
And that got me thinking about a father’s influence on his children: So often, it’s hard to know if you’re doing it right — if the example you provide is on the right track. When (or if) you ought to be giving advice. When it’s time to let go…or when it’s time to hold them close.
Twice in the past couple of days, we’ve heard gospel stories that touch on this theme. On Friday, there was Mark’s account of the call of the Apostles, in which he notes that John and James were called ‘Boanerges, that is, sons of Thunder.’
Today, in Matthew’s telling of the same event, we learned their father’s name and occupation: ‘They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets.’
In effect, we see that Jesus was calling those two apostles to abandon the family business. A business run by a man called ‘Thunder’. With a nickname like that, I imagine Zebedee could have raised a stink if he were so inclined. He could have said, ‘Not today, sons: Get back in the boat. We’ve got real work to do!”
And here’s an ugly truth about such paternal instincts: It’s costing the Church religious vocations. I learned that from an old high school friend of mine a little over a decade ago, when our son first entered the Jesuit community. My friend, now the auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix, was a vocation director at the time — so he made it onto the distribution list for my ‘proud papa’ announcement of Chris’ decision. And he wrote a ‘thank you’ note back to me, observing that parents were often the biggest obstacle to his work as vocation director.
Parents, he said, often talk their kids out of the idea of exploring religious life. The Spirit puts the notion on the young person’s heart…but then Dad or Mom says, ‘Have you really thought this through? Wouldn’t you rather be a doctor…a lawyer? Wouldn’t you rather take over the family business?’
Like I said, it’s not easy to know if you’re doing it right when your children come of age…and start floating those kinds of ideas and questions before you.
I DO know, though, that I’m glad Zebedee’s heart was open to the idea of his sons taking a different path than the one he’d mapped out for them. We are all richer because of his generosity. At the very least, we all benefit every time we read from the Gospel or the letters his sons wrote at the dawn of Christianity.
So thank you, Zebedee: Through your example of parental influence, I’d say that you too became a fisher of women and men!
* According to Google Translate, paternidad is Spanish for ‘fatherhood’.
Let us pause now…to remember that we are in the presence of the Holy One.