The Importance of Fathers in Our Search for God: Part I


Editor’s Note: The following address was delivered by Archbishop Chaput on May 1, 1999, to the pastoral workers of the Diocese of Cheyenne. Catholic Lane offers the address to its readers in three parts this week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Let’s begin with a simple question: What do women want?

I said it was simple, not easy — and it’s Sigmund Freud’s question, not mine. In fact, when we’re talking about God, it may not be the right question. Or rather, it’s only half of the right question. Freud didn’t have a happy relationship with women or with God. And I can only imagine what he’d say about a celibate male religious asking what women want. According to Freud, I shouldn’t even be here, since religion was supposed to wither away. It’s too bad he can’t join us. It would be a pretty entertaining session.

But even if it’s incomplete, the question is still very important. Because whether men like to admit it or not, they’re formed by women and take much of their meaning from women. And most men find a sense of permanence, and a future, only in the families and relationships they create with a woman.

So, again, what do women want? Well, if you’re a young person of either sex, and looking for an answer from popular culture — here’s what you’ll find in the mass media in a week. This is an unscientific sampling. I just clipped a few news stories which I found especially revealing. But you can find dozens of others.

Here’s the first, from the Denver Rocky Mountain News. The headline reads: “Sensitive men a turnoff.”

According to the article, saying you’re sensitive around Catherine Zeta-Jones won’t win any points with her.

“The whole ’90s-man thing — where men think women need to know the man’s ‘innermost feelings’ — is the worst thing ever invented,” the Welsh actress told the May issue of Details magazine. “I hate it when men actually say, ‘I’m very sensitive.'”

Zeta-Jones stars with Sean Connery in the new movie Entrapment. She says she’s not romantically involved with anyone right now. “I’m working six days a week,” she said, “And if I’m in love, I want to be in bed with that person six days a week.”

Here’s another clipping, this one from the Denver Post. It’s called, “Holy career change: Singer becomes a priest.”

Irish singer Sinead O’Connor once ripped up a picture of the Pope on American television. But she’s now been ordained as the first female priest in the Latin Tridentine Church, a tiny Catholic splinter group, by self-described Bishop Michael Cox. Cox had previously pioneered a phone-in confession service in Ireland.

“Anyone who knows me, knows that what I’ve done makes perfect sense for me. I adore God and believe very much in the power of prayer,” said Miss O’Connor.

The controversial singer said she had already celebrated Mass four times. But she’ll study with Michael Cox for six weeks before starting her priestly career as “Mother Bernadette Mary.” She also plans to use her new name in her music career.

And here’s a final item, again from the Denver Rocky Mountain News. It’s entitled, “McClachlan to pull plug on Lilith Fair.”

Recording star Sarah McClachlan says it’s time to raise a family. As a result, she’ll close down her traveling rock-music festival — the Lilith Fair — after this year.

“We’re all well into our 30s now, and we decided we wanted to have babies,” the 31-year old singer said.

Of course, having babies is thoroughly normal. But it’s also a little ironic. McClachlan is a strong supporter of “abortion rights.” She also founded and named the Lilith Fair — which, as some of you know, is a very popular, and mostly female, rock show. But does anyone here remember who Lilith actually was . . .? After we finish here today, look it up in your Webster’s Dictionary. In Hebrew mythology, Lilith is a female evil-spirit who lurks in desolate places and preys upon young children. The similarity may just be ignorance, or a coincidence. But it’s also a little strange.

I singled out three women celebrities because I had Freud’s question in the back of my mind. But I could have chosen three men just as easily. Ted Turner, who spends a large portion of his fortune in a war against new life. Howard Stern, who makes a radio career out of jokes about promiscuity, infidelity and brutality — including banter about sex with the Columbine High School massacre victims on the same day they were killed. Marilyn Manson, who embodies sexual confusion, and whose music seems to be an ongoing invitation to violence.

None of the many men and women I know in daily life resembles these public figures in any way. But that shouldn’t comfort us. The behavior of media icons does make a difference — a big difference — because they set an example. They help to create a climate for good or for evil. By the model of their own lives, they encourage certain actions. In other words, they tell young people what they should want.

The message our culture now sends to young and old alike, women and men alike, about what they should want isn’t even subtle anymore: It’s a message of confusion and disharmony; contempt for convention; aggressive sex; self-absorption and greed. You’ll forgive me, I hope, if my words sound a little dark, but I just buried three of the young people killed at Columbine, earlier this week.

I believe in the resurrection. I know that God will draw good out of this tragedy. But I wouldn’t wish the sorrow of those parents on anyone in this room. I believe it’s a mistake to simply blame the media for the kind of violence we had in Littleton. But the media do need to take responsibility for helping to create the habits, expectations and desires in our young people which can lead in very troubling directions.

Let me suggest that a question like, What do women want?, or, What do men want?, can’t be answered without first finding the right answer to a much larger question: What does the human heart want? What does it need? Whom does it long for? God created men and women to complement each other, to complete each other in Him, to share in His community of love. We love God best by loving and serving each other sacrificially. That takes many different forms. But it’s the family, the love between a husband and wife, a mother and father, which is the glue of everything else in society. Children learn the language of love — the vocabulary which enables them to understand God — by watching their mother and father. They need both. Mother-love and father-love are not the same thing.

This is why faith in God weakens when the divorce rate climbs. When motherhood is derided and men abandon their role as fathers, God seems to disappear. The reason is simple. The family is a kind of sign or sacrament — in human experience — of who God is. Obviously I don’t mean that divorced persons can’t be holy, or that children from broken families can’t find God. But I do believe that it becomes more difficult in the absence of that “living community of love” which the family can provide. Children with absent fathers will struggle harder in their search for God. And since most children remain with their mothers after divorce, recovering fatherhood is a fundamental step toward restoring the presence of God in our culture.

Wednesday: Part II: The Current Terrain


About Author

Charles Joseph Chaput, OFM Cap is the Archbishop of Denver and the author of Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life.