This book is ideally meant for a men’s group at a parish or a group of priests who may want to meet and discuss. But although I didn’t read the book in a group setting, I can attest that it is a powerful, insightful, and useful book.
Deacon James Keating edited a wonderful series of reflections on what it means to be a spiritual father. I had the privilege of studying moral theology with Deacon Keating during my undergraduate days. His work on conscience and the moral life is a must-read for anyone struggling to understand the subject.
And Deacon Keating’s current work is similarly necessary for men struggling to find the way to live out their vocations as husbands and fathers. The clear message of the book is that whatever a man’s vocation is, he can fulfill it only by uniting himself more closely with Christ and imitating His virtues. Fathers–both natural and spiritual–can learn important lessons from each other and in a certain sense need the example of the other. “[I]n the depths of the call to be a priest and the call to be a father, two men meet at the cross of Christ. Here, their differences are united in the one call of Christ to allow Him to enter the soul and live His generous, self-donating love over again in the priest and in the husband and father.” (42)
Natural and spiritual fathers teach each other how to love. Priests and the Church, and married men and their wives, both model a fidelity that is helpful to the other. These complementary loves help priests and fathers to see the unique aspects of their own love and to deepen their own commitments. Priests teach fathers to have a deep relationship with God in prayer, and to dedicate themselves to service. Married men show priests the fruitful love brought about through a dedicated spousal love.
The priest and the married man show the world two dimensions of being a man in the world. Throughout the workbook, priests offer reflections on their own fathers, speaking to how their own vocations were influenced by the example of a faithful father. These fathers were men, certainly, but they ran their houses in a masculine way. They were spiritual leaders in the family, calling the family to prayer. They challenged their families to live more faithful Christian lives. They provided for their families and sacrificed to give their wives and children what they needed. Above all, they loved their children and developed strong bonds with them. As the priests’ stories show, solid relationships with their prayerful and faithful fathers taught them first how to be a man, and then to see the priesthood as a way to fulfill that manhood. Priests do not sacrifice their masculinity when they forgo marriage and family life. Rather, priests show other men in the parish and the world how a man can be radically conformed to Christ. And as Jesus was the fullest expression of manhood during his earthly life, so priests are called to become an alter Christus in their daily lives even away from the altar. Priests and fathers are men first, although they express that in markedly different ways. This book helps them find common ground and build each other up.
Although I did not use the book in the context of a group meeting or reflection, there is a great benefit to individual study as well. The short book–only 42 pages–is at the very least a pep talk to fathers who may not know how to lead their families or develop a basic spiritual life. The book will make you appreciate your parish priests more, and help you encourage them in their own vocations. We all need each others help, and this book is a good way to start a discussion about what men in the Church need from each other.
This review was written as part of the Catholic Company‘s Book Reviewer program. For a complimentary copy of the book, I was asked to write an unbiased review. For more information about Spiritual Fathers or the Catholic Company, please see the website.