The wise sayings of a father to his son that are catalogued in the Book of Ecclesiasticus are among the lesser-known parts of Holy Scripture. However, weekday Mass-goers will have noticed that they got a run in the lead up to Lent.
Ecclesiasticus means, “Book of the Church.” I find this book to be endlessly prescient; Chestertonian in its ability to speak sympathetically to the current context, even though it was written a long time ago.
Dwelling on the text of Ecclesiasticus, it is easy to imagine oneself as the trusting son (or daughter) to whom the father is addressing. Chapter 2 is a particular favourite. It begins, using the lectionary translation,
“My son, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal” (2:1).
That which is right is rarely what is easy. This father is raising up warriors, not wimps.
“Whatever happens to you, accept it, and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient, since gold is tested in fire, and chosen men in the furnace of humiliation” (2:4-5)
It is infinitely consoling, if counter-intuitive, to know that it is the chosen men who are tested through fire and humiliation.
But, a Word of Caution
“Woe to you who have lost strength to endure; what will you do at the Lord’s visitation?” (2:14)
The father in Ecclesiasticus is the sort who, out of love for his children, says that they can’t take lollies from the supermarket checkout or work on the computer without that bothersome internet filter. The wise father guides his children on the right path and, as bitter a pill as it is to swallow, punishes his children in order to draw them towards perfection.
“Do not appear empty-handed in the Lord’s presence” (35:4).
One thing about Lent that I never plan on, but always happens, is that I think about my leadership role in the home. How am I doing as husband and dad? Could it be that this is one of the things I need to be holding when I inevitably come into the Lord’s presence?
I’d like to suggest three things that may prevent husbands and dads from appearing empty-handed before the Lord.
The Transition from Work
Going home after work can be a real test for many husbands and fathers.
This can be the case even if there are children gleefully welcoming dad, or an adoring wife greeting him at the threshold. Work is hard and difficult to switch off.
Family presents a completely different set of demands and yet a man’s wife and children deserve his best and undivided attention.
Once I realized that I couldn’t just say hello and then go missing while I decompress, I started to take some measures. I’m not suggesting these are solutions that would suit everyone, but I knew I had to try something.
I’m not a go-home-via-the-pub kind of fellow, so I’ve resorted at times to stopping on the way home at the church or the gym. Sometimes I’ve pulled over and parked for 10 minutes while I put the working day to one side and gather strength for the evening.
These, and other measures, have gone some way to addressing the transition from work to home, but the first step was to honestly assess the state I was in when I got home each night.
“Trust in him and he will uphold you, follow a straight path and hope in him.” (2:6)
The Problem of Prayer
Family prayer is an old chestnut and we can grow numb to the endless pleading of holy commentators to pray with one’s family.
When our family was little, prayer each night consisted of spontaneous prayers of thanksgiving during which each would take a turn. The influence of the charismatic renewal, which had been an important part of our growth in the faith, was evident.
In retrospect, I see it was a mistake to rely solely on the children making up their own prayers and not investing deeply in the spiritual patrimony of the Church. Prayers like the Rosary provide a strong foundation that anchors children in the mysteries of the faith.
“Who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame? Or whoever called to him and was ignored?” (2:10)
Forming by Example
One of my Lenten penances is to avoid crossing my legs when I’m seated.
I’ve asked the children to help keep me honest on this. In fact, just yesterday one of my 14-year-old twin boys, ever a wise son, tried to catch me out. I observed that my legs were not crossed, to which he replied that he was just checking. Good on him for keeping vigilance!
Wives and children don’t need to know everything that we’re doing for Lent, but it would be a wasted opportunity not to bring them into part of it.
It’s still early days, but, as always, it promises to be a long Lent. The test of our efforts will consist in seeking God’s approval, rather than man’s (2:16).
Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, but not into the hands of men; for as his majesty is, so too is his mercy (2:18).