“To Hold Accountable and to Bless: The Father as the Image of Christ the Great High Priest”

Homily, Saturday of the Third Week of Lent
Mass for the Annual Men’s Conference
March 9, 2024, St. Mark Catholic Church


“Just wait till your father gets home.”  Do you remember that one?  Some of us in this church today are old enough to, but to many of you, I’m sure, such a phrase sounds quite unfamiliar, maybe even peculiar.  It wasn’t that long ago, though, that it was commonly heard, spoken by stay-at-home moms to their misbehaving children awaiting their father’s return home from work.

Accountability and Forgiveness

This short sentence is fraught with spiritual truth: the father is the authority in the family to hold the children accountable, to impose discipline when necessary and offer correction when the children err.  Which helps us to understand why our society today is so deeply plagued with moral and social crises: all too often, father is not coming home.  There is no father to hold the children accountable.  Or if he is coming home, instead of meting out a measured and appropriate deserved discipline, he is abusive and destroys his children’s sense of dignity and being loved precisely by the one upon whom they depend for their well-being.

This is the God-given role of the father: to be a disciplinarian and to be loving; to punish and to forgive; to call and urge on to higher expectations and to be tender and patient.  We see a good example of the interplay of these two complementary qualities (complementary, not opposite!) in the prophet Hosea.  Serving as God’s spokesman, Hosea excoriates the people for their worship of false gods, feigning as they do the observance of the practices of their own religion.  He conveys well the sense of how much their God, Who had done so much for them, is fed up with them for their phoniness: “What can I do with you ….  Your piety is like a morning cloud, like the dew that early passes away.  For this reason I smote them through the prophets, I slew them by the words of my mouth”.  So there is the scolding and the punishment for wrong doing – and, indeed, wrongdoing of the most serious kind: idolatry.  How far they missed the mark: “For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

And yet, Hosea’s message is filled with hope, and the promise of forgiveness and restoration: “it is he who has rent, but he will heal us; he has struck us, but he will bind our wounds.”  He disciplines but restores; He brings low, but only for the purpose of raising up again, precisely so that His people can live in accordance with the dignity He gave them as being the people of the one, true God, who received the revelation of His truth through the Torah He gave them from the hands of Moses on Mount Sinai.

The Centrality of Prayer

Certainly great wisdom is needed here to know how to balance the two qualities a father needs to bring to his family.  How is this done?  Notice what Hosea tells his fellow Israelites: “He will revive us … to live in his presence.”  “To live in His presence”: that is, to live.  In the ancient Jewish biblical mind, death is definitive separation from God.  This is what makes us miserable, and if we wish for ourselves the true happiness God desires for us, to live in His presence, it means, above all, maintaining a steady and consistent life of prayer.  Prayer is our lifeline with God.

Our Gospel reading for today is from the 18th chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, where our Lord teaches parables about prayer.  Right before the parable for today’s Gospel, Jesus delivers the parable about the persistent widow asking the judge for justice.  It is a lesson in perseverance in prayer.  Today we hear a parable about the right and proper disposition in prayer.  Notice what the Pharisee says about himself: his exterior behavior is all quite noble and good – fasting twice a week, paying generous tithes, and so forth.  That is not the problem.  The problem is the interior attitude.  The tax collector, on the other hand, has indeed lived a life marked by evil deeds – collaborating with his fellow countrymen’s occupying Romans oppressors by collecting their taxes for them, and swindling his co-nationals out of their money in the process by charging them far beyond the tax itself and pocketing the difference for himself.  This is what tax collectors did then, and so they were understandably the most despised people in the society of the time.  But conversion and salvation is always possible, as it was for this tax collector, because the of the way he approached with humility, recognizing who he was before God and focusing his prayer on God and beseeching God’s mercy. 

As Jesus says, this one “went home justified,” because only God can justify, and the tax collector had the proper disposition before God to allow that to happen.  Not so the Pharisee, who thought he could justify himself.  This is essentially what is meant here when Jesus speaks of those who are “convinced” of their own righteousness – literally, those who trust in themselves as being righteous, as if it were something they could do themselves.  The point of it all, then, is to be properly and firmly rooted in prayer.  We have to avoid the old attitude of giving to get, or making ourselves feel good and maybe even superior to others who don’t even try to pray.  It is not even simply a way we show our relationship with God.  Yes, it is a spiritual exercise, but one which is the essence of our relationship with God.  If it were simply a matter of asserting ourselves before God, expecting Him to act because we are doing our part, then we close ourselves off to the working of God’s grace. 

Image of Christ the Priest

Rather, prayer is disposing ourselves to letting God work when He wants and as He wants.  It is letting go rather than possessing, so that our hearts can be open to the gift that God wants to give us.  And whether we have a moving, spiritual experience or not, it is consistency that matters.  With consistency in our prayer God works in us even imperceptibly; we develop the instincts and intuitive sense we need to do what God calls us to do.  And how important that is for the father of a family.  Indeed, consistency – that is, reliability – is one of the most important virtues a man can give to his family.  And this applies to all men, because all men have the vocation of fatherhood in some way or another.  All men are called to be spiritual fathers in one way or another: most through being spiritual fathers to their biological children, but others in other ways as well, whether that be through priesthood, consecrated life or single life in the world.

And this brings us to the truly most important reason why a man needs to maintain his prayer life.  Yes, it is essential because without it he will not have the wisdom he needs to know how to fulfill well his role as father.  But ultimately, he needs to be identified with Christ, because his vocation is to be a priest.  The father is really the priest in the family, who mediates his children’s relationship with the God.  Masculinity is inherently priestly, and it is an awesome responsibility that God has given to the man.

This is why St. Paul, in his famous fifth chapter in his letter to the Ephesians, refers to the man as Christ and the woman as the Church in the nuptial mystery of marriage.  The woman represents – incarnates – the principle of the Church: giving birth to new life, gathering the children together and nourishing them from her own body and with her love for the home.  The man represents – incarnates – the principle of Christ, the head of the Church who sacrifices everything to be the bridge that brings us to God his Father. 

As the head and priest of the family, the father is called to make this kind of sacrifice so that his children will know God and therefore desire to love and serve Him, to live in God’s presence, and so be happy with Him in this life and perfectly happy with Him forever in the next.  There can be nothing more impressionable on a child in terms of a life of faith and love of God than to see his father on his knees in prayer.


You likely have seen the icon of Christ called the Pantocrator, the King of the Universe: he is seated on a throne with his left-hand on a Book of the Gospels and his right hand held up in a gesture of blessing.  This is our Great High Priest: he will hold us accountable by what he has taught us as recorded in the Gospels, but he is also ready to bless.  He is both judge and savior; he disciplines and he forgives.  No one can substitute for a father in imaging this truth to the world of who Christ is. 

I commend you all, then, for taking part in this men’s conference so that you might understand better and grow more deeply in your vocation as men to which God has called you.  And I take this opportunity as well to thank all those who have made this possible: our director of marriage and family life, Ed Hopfner; Fr. Angel and the parishioners here at St. Mark’s for hosting it; and all who sacrificed of their time, talent, treasure and hard work.  May God reward you abundantly for your generosity and grant you the grace to bring His light and peace to the world.  Amen.