Fathers Day, 2022. Juneteenth. Corpus Christi. And from the shadows of memory comes an unsolicited image from the 1980’s. Philadelphia. The arrival of John Paul II to a outdoor crowd of young people clearly conscious of Catholic identity, bursting with enthusiasm for a youthful pope defined by his embrace of faith and challenge. Energizing and energized by the crowd, he floated like a white vision on a distant stage. Holy Father. Forty years later, an older Jesuit wears the same white garments and has held together a church divided by its brokenness and grapples with a world where Catholic identity is neither well defined nor fashionable and so much is questioned. Still, he bears the title and welcomes the foibles of his own humanity, admitting, “Who am I to judge?” and daring others to the same humility. In a year with a curious intersection of holidays, the images bear a startling relevance in a world of transition.
The role of fathers has changed over the centuries and our understanding of that, our expectations, have also evolved. Shifts in social roles, the success of the feminist movement and emerging economic realities demanded more of persons and new styles of parenting. Fathers, each one shaped with all the features and flaws of every human being, strive to do the impossible in meeting the needs of children, partners, family. There are no handbooks to adequately prepare a person for the role: it simply happens and then unfolds over lifetimes with chains of challenges, wrong turns, victorious laps and unimaginable situations. Even the best of fathers have feet of clay, and the realization of that actually enables their offspring to see the person each father truly is and gradually absorb the wisdom gathered over the decades of his experience. It takes time and generosity to learn to know the person a father is, to see more than the role he plays as parent. How he feels about it, why he does it, what he believes, all that matters, too. There is always room for new understandings of each other, for deeper appreciation, which leads to the celebration of Juneteenth.
Junetenth highlights the ending of an era begun long before. The celebration of it marks a deeper understanding of the conflict that tore the states apart and confounded earlier generations. The celebration evolved to what it is today in a clear sign of a deeper understanding of a collective past, a willingness to revisit the past and highlight a strength in the narrative. It brings together the past and provides a path for the future, in the same way a father carries his past and enters the future with the birth of offspring. Celebrating it now as a national holiday marks a new consciousness, a deeper understanding of the complexity that has brought us to this moment in time. It means learning to see the past differently with grace and openness and embracing the stroy as it evolves. In a sense, it seems closely connected to Corpus Christi, the feast of the Eucharist, the reminder that we are actually all part of something and someone greater than ourselves.
Corpus Christi, to me, is the invitation to transcend differences and judgments, and to see the essentail sameness, the humanity and the suffering and the joys that are part of human life….every human life. It is about looking beyond the parameters of the tiny worlds we often choose to live in day to day. It is about seeing and drawing in deep gulps of the bigger pictures and contexts we each exist in. It is about learning to love as a father is meant to love, without condition, and knowing God’s help is needed for that to happen.
Each of the holidays offers so much to think about, if we take the chance. Each invites us to see that there is always more to the story than what we think we know. Each enables us to become part of something greater than ourselves.