Temptation has many disguises. One that I very occasionally succumb to is the purchasing of a lottery ticket. Instinctively a quiet inner voice reminds me that my chances of winning are virtually non-existent, but on high days and holidays I sometimes take the plunge and join millions of others whose numbers will likewise produce no tangible harvest of breaking even let alone of accumulating more than was initially speculated. Regret is the usual afterglow, as having checked my numbers, all I get is a notice wishing me better luck next time ! Once asked what I would do if I won the jackpot, I responded by saying that I would sit down and count it. A reply based on a vague thought that I would need a lot of time to begin to comprehend the fact that I had won anything at all, let alone how I might begin to dispose of it. The nearest I ever came to walking away from a form of gambling with a sizeable prize was a rather bitter-sweet experience. As a clerical student on placement at St. Joseph’s in Bradford, attending the weekly Sunday evening bingo session held in the school hall was an almost compulsory activity for the parish clergy, housekeeper and anyone else who just happened to be around at the time. In a packed room games were played in absolute silence as numbers were called with their dated ornamentations by a solo voice, as everyone waited for an interruption from a second voice crying out “Here!” With the ticket removed from their clutches, checked and authenticated at the front of the hall, a prize for a line or house would be given to the owner of the voice. After a brief social interlude, play would resume, with some eyes scanning a roll of bingo cards that Andrex would have been proud of. For the endurance of a game these were the keenest, sharpest and brightest of eyes in the land. Who needs a visit to Spec-savers when prize money is at stake!
Maximum tension entered the room as a tangible presence when it came to the weekly Accumulator. Heightening tension was the opportunity to purchase extra tickets with the luring prospect, hope and expectation of claiming an increasingly growing jackpot within an initially low number of calls, which when unclaimed, was added to by an extra number each week. With a meagre two tickets to cast my beady eyes over the game began. There was no prize for a single line. It was eyes-down for a full house only, with every woman and man concentrating on their own interests. Sitting there quietly (there wasn’t an option!) the numbers slowly called were beginning to favour me, and eventually it was my own youthful voice that cried “Here!” The response of those I was sitting with was a glance conveying the cryptic message: if you’ve got it wrong they’ll lynch you! In a brief moment of time my life flashed before my eyes. Had there been a power cut, the red glow of embarrassment and awkwardness that I depicted could have illuminated half the city. Eventually the verdict came. I was indeed holding the winning ticket. Although the Caller-judge wasn’t wearing a black hood, the eyes of many in the room had passed the death sentence on the in-comer who was about to walk away with £100. To add insult to the pervading atmosphere of disdain and injury, I was also given £10 for the full house. On returning to the Presbytery I remember ‘phoning my parents to tell them of my good fortune … never quite sure which was the greater; escaping with my life, or claiming the much sought-after Accumulator prize. Monetary values have changed massively since the 1980s, so it is worth putting the £110 into perspective. At the junior seminary I lived on £10 spending money for an entire half-term.
Whilst my luck and fortune in the realm of random draws may be slight, in the lottery of life itself I consider myself very fortunate many times over, not least believing that I was gifted with the jackpot when it came to the parents that God chose to provide me with. Neither would have claimed perfection in the field, nor boasted of being the best or having been awarded a coveted trophy for their endeavours. But after all there is no race or competition about parenting, except perhaps on a school playing field during sports’ day activities ! For the gift of my parents’ presence on life’s journey, I continue to thank God each day. For my mother, at least I imagine, this was to be for a lot longer than she ever comprehended when I first opened my eyes to the world as we know it, at a time when being a forty-plus Mum was said to be late in life. Into her nineties she was still a guiding light for me at fifty, keeping me going through the power of her love and prayers, which I’m sure continue to this day, although now from a different location. As for Dad, having lost his own father when he was under twenty, there is no blue-print to work from as a parent of a child in his mid-fifties. And yes, for as long as we have a parent we are still children, sometimes being reminded of it by a word, tone, or look. Such an experience of good parenting for me has indeed been, and continues to be, beyond price, and I count it as a continuing, unfolding rich and inspiring blessing every day. Something for which, and in which, I am incredibly fortunate.
This weekend many of us will have the opportunity of acknowledging the gift that God has given to us in the form and shape of our fathers, whether we are able to be with them in person, communicate across distance with a card or call, or simply remember those no longer with us, who at the end of their earthly journey have been called back to their eternal home by the Lord. Appreciative of the fact that not for all will Father’s Day have positive overtones, for those able to be grateful it is good to have a day on which a simple word or gesture of thanks can be expressed. Unlike Mothering Sunday the, now annual, celebration of fatherhood doesn’t have roots as clearly established in Christian culture, although the recognition of the influence of fathers on their children has long been aligned to honouring St. Joseph. Amongst the Coptic Orthodox community, who celebrate St. Joseph’s Day on 20th July, the celebration of the vocational calling to fatherhood has a history dating back to the fifth century. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition the acknowledgement of the role of fathers in the lives of their children is an Advent celebration, when tribute is paid to the ancestors of Jesus, starting with Adam, emphasizing Abraham, our Father in Faith, progressing to St. Joseph, as St. Matthew records “the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus who is called the Christ” (Matt. 1:16)
Along with the image of the crib, we have the Franciscans to thank for the custom of linking the established feast of St. Joseph with a universal celebration of fatherhood, dating from the early 15th century. The more modern and familiar elements of the day such as cards or gift-giving (and in Lithuania a public holiday) have evolved as different countries began introducing a designated date into their own calendars on which to celebrate fathers. Observed on 23rd February each year, the title of Russia’s day of celebration “Defender of the Fatherland Day” has almost militaristic overtones. With a personal devotion to St. Joseph, I find an easy and obvious bridge between the witness to fatherhood that my own Dad continues to offer me and a very old title given to the craftsman of Nazareth, to whom the angelic messenger entrusted the care of God’s Son from before His birth. Honoured as the “Nourisher of the Lord” (Nutritor Domini) St. Joseph throughout his life fulfilled this vocational role quietly, unassumingly and without drawing undue attention to himself – a singular virtue that we call loving humility – which St. Paul would subsequently describe as being endlessly “patient, … kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs … does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres … [it] never fails.”(1 Corinthians 13:4ff.) For these qualities (and so many more) seen in and lived by our Dads … Thank you, today and always !
Bless Our Fathers
Today we ask You to bless our earthly fathers for the many times they reflected the love, strength, generosity, wisdom and mercy that You exemplify in Your relationship with us, Your children.
We honour our fathers for putting our needs above their own convenience and comfort; for teaching us to show courage and determination in the face of adversity; for challenging us to move beyond self-limiting boundaries; for modelling the qualities that would turn us into responsible, principled, caring adults.
Not all our fathers lived up to these ideals.
Give them the grace to acknowledge and learn from their mistakes.
Give us the grace to extend to them the same forgiveness that you offer us all.
Help us to resist the urge to stay stuck in past bitterness, instead, moving forward with humility and peace of heart.
We ask your blessing on those men who served as father figures in our lives
when our biological fathers weren’t able to do so.
May the love and selflessness they showed us be returned to them in all their relationships, and help them to know that their influence has changed us for the better.
Give new and future fathers the guidance they need to raise happy and holy children, grounded in a love for God and other people – and remind these fathers that treating their wives with dignity, compassion and respect is one of the greatest gifts they can give their children.
We pray that our fathers who have passed into the next life have been welcomed into Your loving embrace, and that our family will one be day be reunited in your heavenly kingdom.
In union with St. Joseph, whom you entrusted with Your Son, we ask Your generous blessings today and every day. Amen.
Be assured of my continuing remembrance of you and your loved ones in both prayer and affection.
As ever, Fr. Nicholas