Roots and wings

Years ago, a retiree and I were speaking about a Christmas tree farm that he owned in his retirement. I mentioned to him that it seemed to me to be the ideal retirement: you plant the seed, water it, sit back and then when the tree is grown you sell it. He informed me that there is much more to a Christmas tree farm than that. One has to be on the lookout for destructive insects and a great deal of time is spent in shaping the tree so that it resembles the popular triangular image of a Christmas tree.

In today's Gospel reading, the Lord uses the image of the seed to illustrate the growth of the kingdom. That same image applies to the growth of an individual. Here in Northern Virginia we have a splendid array of trees of all sorts. Each one began as a seed that nature nurtured. The growth of a human being is more complex than that of a tree or plant. Our growth is emotional, intellectual, spiritual and social. It takes a great deal of work to help us grow into the image and likeness of God that the Lord intends. A father assists and shapes that growth. On this Father's Day, I am reminded of an old saying to the effect that a mother gives us roots and a father gives us wings. A mother, like the earth, protects the seed and nurtures it. A father watches the seed break open from its shell. Then, as the seed begins to grow, called and coaxed by the sun, it grows into a magnificent tree. A father, however, is not simply an observer of biological growth. He shapes a young person's life through guidance, correction, encouragement, example and faith. A father enables a child to become all he or she can be. A mother gives us roots, a father gives us wings.

A father does more than put food on the table. His example of lived faith and fidelity to the Church has an enormous impact on his young family. A father gives an example of mature masculinity that manifests itself not in the exaggerated violence of rock videos, but in consistency, fidelity, compassion and even forgiveness.

Father's Day has a different feel than does Mother's Day. If a priest fails to mention Mother's Day on the second Sunday in May, chances are he will hear about it! Fathers are more "laid back." The appreciation that most fathers value is not a set of ties or tools. Rather, he wants to see his children grow strong, responsible, loyal to the Church, guided by strong values with priorities consistent with the Gospel.

We should also remember the many men who take on the responsibilities of a surrogate father, foster father, spiritual father. These, as much as any biological father, help shape a child into a young man or young woman, confident to take their place in the sun and, perhaps, like that mustard seed to which the Lord refers, grow into an adult who will guide others to the Lord. Catholic convert, Joyce Kilmer, who died in World War I at the young age of 28, wrote a famous poem entitled "Trees" in which he described a tree standing tall in all the seasons of the year. A father should be like that, standing tall with us in all the seasons of our life.

A mother gives us roots; a father gives us wings.

Msgr. Krempa is pastor of St. Bridget of Ireland Church in Berryville. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018