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By: Soren Johnson

“If my home is a country,” a fellow dad admitted recently, “then I am its ambassador-at-large.” The remark reminded me of Pope Francis’ admonition to bishops to “stay” in their home dioceses and “steer clear of the scandal of being ‘airport bishops.’”

With Father’s Day upon us, we dads of young and teenage children would do well to drop to our knees in gratitude (and perhaps exhaustion) and reflect on the health of our home country.

Advanced apologies to those seeking Hallmark sentiments on fatherhood. And all dads who are fully engaged presidents (or more accurately, VPs) of their home countries are welcome to return to their Father’s Day bacon and eggs.

Ambassadors-at-large and “airport dads,” read on.

First, you are not alone. Recent Pew studies find that the average dad spends 7.3 hours a week with his kids. As staggering as that is, it’s nearly triple the 2.5-hour average of 1965.

Father and ChildrenBut my informal research of inspiring dads I know finds that they share a baseline commitment to be on the scene in the evenings, roughly 15 hours a week. When you add 10 hours per day on the weekends, these dads clock 35 hours a week with their families — 480 percent above the national average.

Welcome to the home country.

The (non-weekend) hours? These are Sunday through Thursday (school nights), 6 to 9 p.m. These dads are present for dinner, homework, family prayer, story-time, baths, kitchen detailing, and laying out tomorrow’s clothes. They don’t skim Ephesians 5:25 —“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her;” they live it. They can take the “honey-do” list in stride.

Dads committing to this 15-hour baseline candidly admit that the 6 to 9 p.m. window can find them grumpy, jerky, exhausted, moody, irritable, or combustible. Up since sunrise, they often out-perform their peers at the office because they are getting the job done by 5, and not stringing it out into what some call the premium hours lifestyle of overtime, returning home at 9 or 10 p.m. Upon arrival at 6 p.m., they face complex emotions and logistics that dwarf anything at the office.

These dads daily and hourly resist two convenient escape routes.

First, media. The average American spends 12 hours a day looking at a screen — more than two hours on the smartphone, more than four of television, and five on the computer. We dads can throw our kids a tablet or game system and check out (and return to work e-mails), anesthetizing the entire family and blunting the “edge” of the 6 to 9 p.m. climb.

Second, the premium hours club offers dads a convenient opportunity to be an ambassador-at-large or “airport dad” in so-called sacrifice for the family. I don’t dispute the real prospect of financial gain. Yet, these monetary or professional advances often come with lasting consequences and a demotion to ambassador-at-large.

Scratch the surface of these two escapes, and we find laziness and a lack of trust in God. Herewith I commence a sermon-to-self, as one who has binged on media and enjoyed the perks of premium hours.

If we dads are showing up, the evening hours will exact a toll. Tedium, grind, and occasional panic will punctuate the joy of meaningful interactions with our families. Engaged dads routinely hit the wall, tearing new muscles over time. The body mightily resists: if we’ve already blazed neuropathways around the deliciously easy and lazy escape of media, we literally crave it.

Further, the premium hours club conveniently affords the ambassador-at-large a widely-accepted “free pass” from marriage and family. This “pass,” however, promotes a fiction: that families depend upon dad’s job, and not, fundamentally, on the Lord.

The best dads I know are largely off the grid of our media-driven and premium hours culture because they have returned to their home countries. They have accepted the repercussions — at times, lower incomes, smaller professional networks, or delayed promotions.

Known for her radiant joy, Blessed Teresa of Kolkata privately wrote of her struggles. “The work holds no joy, no attraction, no zeal,” she once confided to her spiritual director. But in striking faith she wrote that “in spite of all feeling” she had decided to “refuse Him nothing.”

“In spite of all feeling,” we dads have a daily chance with our wives and children to “refuse Him nothing” and live Ephesians 5:25 in the heart of our families. With patience and perseverance, we can discover a joy in our home country that is beyond any price. Lord willing, we will finally hand in our letter of resignation for our ambassadorship-at-large. In return, we will receive a new job offer to report to our true baptismal work at home as priests, prophets, and kings.

That will be a promotion to celebrate.

Johnson, a husband and father of five, is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde’s special assistant for evangelization and media. He can be reached at s.johnson@arlingtondiocese.org.

This column first appeared in The Arlington Catholic Herald. View it here

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By: Natalie Plumb

With the marriage debate looming, for author Soren Johnson the battle hit a striking parallel between the academic thought of our day and the effect our “evasive thinking” could have on the family, our country and our future.

“Lost in all the cheery, evasive thinking, I fear, are the legitimate needs and rights of these children.”

This column originally appeared in the Arlington Catholic Herald.

By: Soren Johnson, Catholic Herald Columnist

“On Evasive Thinking” was required reading in my college. The 1965 essay by Czech playwright and future president Václav Havel jumped to mind as I closed Attorney General Mark Herring’s Jan. 23 email entitled “The Right Side of History.”

Reflection-1

In the 300-word message sent from “Mark Herring for Attorney General,” Herring explains his decision not to uphold the Virginia Constitution’s Marshall-Newman Amendment of 2006. Passed with the support of 57 percent of Virginians, the amendment underscored the commonwealth’s definition of marriage as “a union between one man and one woman.”

“Virginia is in many ways the cradle of democracy,” Herring expounds, providing the ostensible context for his decision.

“Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Mason, Monroe and others called our state home. And America’s first freedom, religious freedom, was written into law only a few blocks from my office in Richmond,” he writes.

“It is time for the commonwealth,” Herring concludes, “to be on the right side of history and the right side of the law.”

“Click here to join me,” he invites, with a link to a petition.

Penned long before the dissident Havel’s imprisonment, “On Evasive Thinking” is a careful reflection on a mundane matter.

In quick succession in early 1965, two window ledges had come loose and fallen from aging buildings in Prague. Two pedestrians were killed by the falling ledges, one on Vodičkova Street, the other on Spálená Street.

Responding to widespread outrage, the Communist-controlled media immediately downplayed the deaths and urged citizens to free themselves from “petty, local, municipal matters” and instead recall Czechoslovakia’s “progress,” “the dignity of the human mission,” and the nation’s “prospects for the future.”

Those who questioned what the state was doing to prevent a third ledge from falling were accused of ignoring the “wider context” and utilizing “disproportion” and “tactics.”

“When we talk about window ledges,” Havel wrote, “we should talk about window ledges and not bring the prospects of mankind into it.” To do otherwise is to fall prey to what he called “evasive thinking”: a “model of thinking,” which, through “false contextualization,” dissolved “everything particular” within “the vagueness of all the possible wider contexts.”

“We live in a time of struggle between two ways of thinking,” he explained, “thinking evasively and thinking to the point … when reality is in conflict with platitude … when common sense is in conflict with a distorted rationality.”

Concerned that the institution of marriage was close to becoming a platitude, I called my state representative and senator in 2006 to urge their passing of something very specific — the Marshall-Newman Amendment. I joined the majority of my fellow Virginians in supporting the measure. One of the calls I made was to then-Sen. Mark Herring, of my home district, who cast his vote in support of the amendment.

Click here to continue reading this Arlington Catholic Herald column.

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By: Soren Johnson

The Year of Faith opens today.

And to mark it, there’s part of me that would like to post an erudite and memorable reflection on any one of the extraordinary documents exploding out of the Vatican with this week’s opening of the Synod, “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Faith”.

But I’d probably be missing the point.

Because today is about a personal invitation addressed to you and me. Today, Pope Benedict XVI is inviting us to enter “into a time of particular reflection and rediscovery of the faith”. He is summoning us “to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord” (Porta Fidei).

I want to take the Holy Father’s invitation at face value, I’m praying that I will mark this Year of Faith in a worthy manner. Today begins a journey that I hope to look back on and be able to point out to my children when they’re grown—that among the many times we experienced God’s grace as a family through the years, this year beckoned us to special moments of conversion and encounter with Christ; and that we didn’t toss the invitation to the side and turn down the graces that were being offered.

Simply put, I am praying that this “particular reflection and rediscovery” will lead me to renew my relationship with Jesus Christ, within the community of His Disciples, His Church.

On a practical level I have not made any grand resolutions. I have signed up to read the Catechism throughout the year in daily installments, and I’m looking for opportunities to crack open the documents of the Second Vatican Council and give them a fresh and long-overdue closer reading. I’ve signed up to receive Bishop Loverde’s weekly Year of Faith challenge. I’m looking forward to getting back to the basics of discipleship with Christ at an upcoming workshop on evangelization with author Sherry Weddell. I’m excited to see where the Holy Spirit will lead our diocese as parishes step into the Year of Faith in so many unique ways. Through the St. Therese Society, I’m weaving prayer for the great priests and seminarians of this diocese, Bishop Loverde, and our Holy Father, more intentionally into my daily prayer.

But I recognize that I’m quick to do things in a flurry of activity—and far slower at being a disciple of Jesus Christ. If I could spend today with Jesus I would probably find it easier to do tangible jobs for Him than to sit at His feet and reflect on His words. I’d probably rather try to win His love than acknowledge that there is nothing I can do to earn it, that His love for me is already unconditional.

So, this Year of Faith—of rediscovery—should be an uphill climb for me.

And when it comes to a close, I do not plan on making my descent. I know that the moments of authentic conversion—of turning toward Him—in the past have come with a price: the decision to step out of my comfort zone and encounter Jesus there.

What could rediscovery and conversion look like for us—individually, and as members of His Body, the Church—in the Year of Faith?

Today let’s draw near to Him and ask that question.

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