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This morning’s Gospel reading is Luke 9:11b–17:

Jesus spoke to the crowds about the kingdom of God, and he healed those who needed to be cured. As the day was drawing to a close, the Twelve approached him and said, “Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.” He said to them, “Give them some food yourselves.” They replied, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have, unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people.” Now the men there numbered about five thousand.

Then he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty.” They did so and made them all sit down. Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets.

A blessed and happy Father’s Day to the dads in our Hot Air audience! Most of us today will likely spend the day grilling, using new power tools, watching some form of sportsball on the tube, mostly in conjunction with some quality family time. Those of us who live significant distances from our families will use part of the day burning up the phone lines.

Today’s readings don’t have much explicit connection to fatherhood, however, unless Jesus was grilling the fish and cooking the bread Himself over an open flame. (There is no mention of the ubiquitous “Grillmaster” apron in the Gospel, one might notice.) But given the designation of Father’s Day today and the themes of self-sacrificial love that run through the church’s designation of today as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, the connections certainly can be seen and are worth exploring.

First, let’s ask ourselves: what is the biblical model of fatherhood? It is too often taken these days as a simple patriarchy, but that’s not how the scriptures suggest that fatherhood should be modeled. The most famous of these expositions comes from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Eph 5:22-33), and it’s also the most famously misunderstood. Paul exhorts wives to “submit” to their husbands as to the Lord and recognize that “the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” However, Paul exhorted husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, which carries a specific burden of self-sacrifice, emphasis mine:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.

Keep in mind that in the subsistence-level life of those times, being the head of the household was a burden rather than a privilege. Both the husband and wife, the father and the mother, worked all day to keep the family alive. They may have filled different roles within that system, but had equal dignity nonetheless, especially within the household and marriage. Paul himself acknowledges this in other letters, such as his first letter to Timothy in which he declares that younger widows should remarry, “rule their households, and give the enemy no occasion to revile us” (1 Tim 5:14). Even in the letter to the Ephesians, Paul urged men and women in marriage to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” in the passage immediately preceding the more famous quote. In Acts, we see a number of men leading their households into Christianity, but we also read of Lydia, whom Paul baptized “with her household,” whose heart the Lord specifically opened to the Word.

But let’s get back to husbands and fathers. How did Christ love the Church, the model Paul establishes for men to follow? Not by demanding to be served or seeking privilege. Christ loved His Church and the children of God by serving us — in today’s Gospel quite literally, performing a miracle to feed the multitudes. He used His power and authority to heal the blind, the lame, and the sick, regardless of their status. Jesus wrapped a towel around His waist and washed the feet of His disciples at the Last Supper. And finally, Jesus allowed Himself to be executed in one of the most horrible manners devised by man to save mankind — His family by adoption.

Jesus teaches repeatedly about the first being last and the last being first. Christ modeled that throughout His ministry. The Eucharist is the ongoing sacrament from that one and singular sacrifice, transubstantiated in the Mass to continue serving as the head of our Church in His self-sacrificing love. Jesus gave Himself up not just to serve as the one sacrifice for those presently in the world at that time, but for all time, because the Father wants all of us to choose to become His children.

Our celebration today of the solemnity today of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ perfectly fits Father’s Day, as it reminds us of the mission to which fathers and husbands are called. It’s not to lord over their families, but to give everything they have to keep their families alive, healthy, and righteous. That is their specific mission in the scriptures, and that plus Paul’s insistence on equal dignity in the household remains the best recipe for strong families and happiness. And today’s solemnity reminds us that while happiness in righteousness in this life is certainly a worthy aspiration, the Eucharist and the family model forms us for eternal happiness in God’s righteousness, and is our highest aspiration.

For today, though, give Dad his day off and let him enjoy the sportsball and fun. And take heart, fathers — even Jesus liked to grill for His family now and again, as we read in John 21:

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved * said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his clothes, for he was stripped for work, and sprang into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.  When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”

The front-page image is a detail from “The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes” by Tintoretto, c. 1545-50. On display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Via Wikimedia Commons.

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.