Faith of Our Fathers

Faith of Our Fathers
On left: Maj Hittinger, XO, 3/4 Marines (1963)

This morning a Father-Son Mass was celebrated at St Thomas High School, Houston, Tx. Celebrating its 110th year as a school, St. Thomas influenced many generations of fathers and sons.

It provides an occasion to think about the role of fathers, starting wit the life of Karol Wojtyla. In a previous post I spoke of the play, Lolek, which portrayed the early life of Wojtyla.

George Weigel’s Witness to Hope elaborates on the influence that Captain Wojtyla had on his son. (28-31) He introduced his son to Polish literature, which was to have a deep influence on him. See the article by Ewa Thompson, here. He also taught him about Polish history and a love for his country.

Young Karol would see his father on his knee, praying morning and evening prayers. He read the Bible and prayed the rosary with his son.

Most of all, he taught him lessons of life. “His father’s way of life that first planted in the future pope the idea that the life of faith had to do with interior conversion.” (30) The gospel is not a promise of easy success; it makes demands, but makes great promises as well. a promise of “the victory of faith for man, who is subject to many trials and setbacks.” (See Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 104) The spirituality of redemptive suffering is another “imprint of the teaching and example of the most influentialeducator of his early years: his father, the man who took him on a pilgrimage to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, the year after his  mother died.” (31) THe note says that John Paul II shared this with Mr. Weigel in a personal interview.

In Gift and Mystery John Paul II said that he was above all grateful to his father for his vocation: “we never spoke about a vocation to the priesthood, but his example was my first seminary, a kind of domestic seminary.”

Marines attend Mass after fall of Seoul, 1950

I reflected today at Mass on my father’s influence on my faith. He was devout in his attendance at Mass and followed with his missal; I own the missal he used for many years, as it was shipped back from Vietnam with his personal effects and I own a small little Army-Navy Catholic prayer book (pro deo et patria) that he took to Korea during the war, through Inchon and Chosin. It has his serial number and unit “4.2 Mortar Co. 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division.” It opens with “Expect the Lord, do manfully, and let thy heart take courage, and wait thou for the Lord.” (Ps. xxvi.14)  I share here a picture he took of a Mass offered soon after the fall of Seoul, 1950. I recall we frequently had the chaplains over for dinner, always prefaced by a good round of cocktails. He encouraged my brother and I to serve at the altar from 1959-1964. Once I recall being at Church and not singing the recessional song, “Holy God, we Praise Thy Name;” my father whacked me on the behind and said my failure to sing this song was akin to not singing the national anthem; for a Marine, this was a matter for shame. I sang then and I continue to sing hymns of praise for the true fatherland. He attended Villanova University, but he followed Notre Dame football and outfitted us with Notre Dame sweatshirts at an early age. His love of Rockne inspired me to apply to Notre Dame despite my avowal not to attend a Catholic school for college (at age 17, having thought I had my fill).

For one of the best reflections on fatherhood, I turn to Louis Bouyer, Women in the Church (Ignatius, 1979). Here is the passage:

Man, the male, insofar as he is such, is defined by the following paradox: he essentially represents that which goes beyond him, which he is incapable of being in and of himself .  .  .  . on the natural plane, man is able to be a father only in a very partial sense, while on the supernatural plane he can represent the divine fatherhood only through his dependence on the unique image of the Father which is the only begotten Son. (49)

Man, the male, .  .  .  . never exercises, even on the most natural level, any more than a momentary, radically incomplete paternity. He is its bearer or transmitter much more than its cause.

The father is, indeed, a transmitter above all —  “Pro Deo et patria.”

We are grateful for the tokens of truth and goodness, for the faith of our fathers..

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