It’s a strange feeling, the first time you call your son “Father.”
It’s odder still, to hear him preach — and preach well — speaking the words of a homily that profoundly touches your heart and makes your spirit soar. I received that special grace from my son Chris a couple of days ago, as he celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Matthew the Apostle Parish, a week and a day after his ordination to the priesthood.
As I reflected on my son’s insights into the Eucharist on the feast of Corpus Christi, it became apparent to me that I was experiencing something like a rite of passage in my relationship with Chris: The Teacher was becoming the Taught.
It’s not unlike the change I’ve been experiencing of late with our other son, Brian — the father of our first grandchild. When Brian and I are together these days, I can feel some old, familiar roles slipping away: Primary Provider; Nourisher; Comforter; Leader.
So yeah, it’s a strange sort of blessing, to watch your sons become fathers: You know, on some level, that a load is being lifted off your shoulders, and for that you’re grateful. But you also realize that it’s a load you loved to carry — and still love. A load you’re loathe to release into another’s hands, even when he demonstrates that he’s more than capable of doing the job and doing it well.
All of which strikes me as an opportunity to reflect on an underappreciated strength in the personality of St. John the Baptist, whose birthday we celebrate today: His willingness to move from front to back.
John was certainly blessed by God — the greatest of prophets, called to herald the Messiah, a job he did memorably and did well. Surely, it couldn’t have been easy for him to step back from that role when Jesus did eventually arrive on the scene. But the Baptist did not cling to his position, his established routine. Instead, when the time came, he poured all of his energy into pointing toward Christ: ‘He must increase; I must decrease.’ (John 3:30)
As I ponder the Baptist’s example in the light of my own recent experience, I find myself moved to pray:
When I come to times of transition in my life, Lord, give me a full measure of the confidence that You poured out on your servant John. Give me the grace to trust that more blessings, and different blessings, await me — if only I can overcome my reluctance, and embrace the new roles to which I am being called. Amen.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.