My journey in faith began to come alive in about mid 2005. I would have considered myself “agnostic” at the time, but my search for Truth led me to the Catholic Church. I was confirmed in 2007 and married my beautiful wife, Maria in October of the same year. We have 8 amazing children and my vocation as husband and father teaches me something new every day. The most valuable lesson that I continue to learn is about Love.
Lesson: Love is an Action Verb
The Sapir-Wharf Hypothesis states, among other things, that language affects a culture’s worldview and societal mores. That struck me as a profound statement. It’s sad then, that the English language uses the same word to describe both my affinity for college football and my attitude toward my wife- love. If our language truly shapes the way we view things, and if we rely solely on what we perceive from our culture, we will be incomplete husbands/fathers at best. When I Google the definition of love, I get the following:
love (ləv) – noun: an intense feeling of deep affection. verb: to feel a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone).
Sadly, these definitions only refer to feelings. I don’t want to diminish the importance of these feelings in the least. They are a gift from God and should be cherished. Instead, I want to focus on how Scripture talks about love.
The first passage that comes to mind is 1 Cor 13. Here Paul gives us a set of behaviors to help us understand what love should like. Another example of comes from John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only Son…” Again, love is an action in John 14 when we are told that “Whoever loves me will keep my commandments”. These are not small actions, either. These are life changing and life giving actions.
Much like the Gospel reading last week (6th Sunday in OT), God calls us Christians to a higher standard. Instead of only resting in the truth of our feelings about our family, we are meant to show love to our families through our action. This business of putting our feelings into action can be challenging for us men. But the good news should be that, as Christian men, we welcome a challenge! Thanks be to God that we were not left to figure this out on our own. We can stand on the shoulders of the giants who have come before us. In my experience, the formula is actually quite simple. The execution, however, is anything but easy!
Before an army goes into war, there has to be a strategy. And make no mistake, we are at war! What is at stake is of immeasurable value. We are at war for the souls of our families. We have to know the objective and know what we’re up against. We are battling forces that seek to pull our families apart. Love will win this war! So let’s talk about a battle plan.
Good Actions You Can Take:
Daily Prayer and Meditation – We have to put first things first. ““You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” To know God is to know Love itself. Devoting time for daily prayer is a foundational way to put love of God into action. In order to discern the will of God amidst all the noise and distraction, we need to schedule our lives around daily prayer. For me, this means starting my day with prayer. With 8 children, it’s almost impossible to find quiet time for myself. I’ve only been able to find it early in the morning. When I went on my first silent retreat, I learned about Ignatian spirituality which has changed my life. One of the exercises is a form of meditation that incorporates scripture. It did not come easy to me at first, but with practice, it has become transformational. I like this routine because it also incorporates another essential element: Scripture.
Sacramental Life – Instituted by Christ, the Sacraments invite us into the Divine nature. Visit the Sacraments as often as possible because this is the source of Love. Once our cup is full, it naturally overflows. For many of us, daily mass is difficult. Fair enough. But I promise when you are able to make a daily mass, there is something special that happens. It reminds me that the bare minimum isn’t good enough. The same concept applies to confession. I go A LOT! If I only went to confession when I had to (being conscious of mortal sin), I find myself believing that those other sins don’t matter as much. Well they do! If you don’t know what to confess, might I suggest to start with lack of humility, and then ask the priest for guidance. If you really want to show courage, incorporate another sacrament and ask your wife! Now we’re getting somewhere.
Network – Associate with other men. There are giants among us! Find them and talk to them. Most are eager to share their experience, strength, and hope. Join a men’s group. If your parish doesn’t have a men’s group, start one. My life has been enriched by the men in my parish more than I can express. We do a Bible study on Tuesday mornings. There is also a men’s retreat every Spring that is a highlight of my year. These men demonstrate love, courage, strength, humility and service. They hold me accountable, they give me something to strive for and they make me a better man.
Die a Little – Here’s the hard part. Every day is a little Lent. In Romans 8 and Galatians 5, Paul talks about living according to flesh vs. spirit. I have to work daily to die to myself for the sake of self discipline. This takes form when I deny myself something that I want. Maybe it’s nothing more than an extra helping at supper or dessert, but when I die to self, I can better love my wife. Another way is to do something for my wife without her knowing. There is always something that needs cleaning or fixing around the house. Pay attention to your wife’s favorite lotion or shampoo. When it gets low, replace it without telling her. Do it before she asks. I do things for my kids as well. They all have chores and I’ll occasionally do a chore for them without them knowing. Usually when I do something for someone, I want them to know. There’s that part of my ego that wants the appropriate praise and acknowledgement for my kindness. I need to go kill that part of my ego a little bit every day.
Now you might be asking, “What do these things have to do with love?”. By my estimation, love was perfectly demonstrated by Christ crucified. These kinds of actions help me make my life an act of love and unite my life with the life of Christ. Any time I start to get delusional about what love looks like, I should take a hard look at a crucifix. That didn’t feel good. It hurt and it wasn’t easy. I may not be called to that kind of demonstration, but I am called to profound and radical love. I am called to take up my cross and I can’t think of a sweeter cross than the one I carry as a husband and father. God knows I don’t do it perfectly and you probably won’t either. But there is good news. I finished the Book, and the war has already been won. We just need to show up and
Zac McCay is a devoted husband and father of eight. As a convert to Catholicism, he joined the Catholic Church in 2007. He is active in several ministries including Fraternus, ACTS, and Men of St. Joseph. Working from a home-based business, he also spends time helping individuals trying to recover from addiction and speaking to men’s groups, youth and recovery communities.