In the old testament, God said that King David was a man after God’s own heart. Wow, what a compliment. King David achieved this goal by uniting his will to that of God. He did this through prayer, through reading scripture and through his every day actions which gave glory to God. During the funeral activities following my father in law’s passing, I pondered what is was that he did to have such a positive impact not only on his own children and their families, but on the larger community. There were over 600 people who came out for the rosary/visitation service and perhaps a few more for the funeral mass and then around 150 who made the two hour drive to bury him in his hometown of Shiner, TX. He was a good man, but good men who are 69 years old don’t necessarily get 1000 people to come out to celebrate their life and comfort their family. What was it about Jim that made him an exceptional husband, father, grandfather, and friend?
Be a Man of Faith
A father after God’s own heart is a man of faith. This faith is not just personal and hidden from the world, it is an active, vibrant and visible faith that is demonstrated in word and deed. When I married into my wife’s family I found a faith filled family led by a strong father who was not afraid of the world, but was determined to engage it and do what he could to redeem it. A father’s faith is not something that is only visible on Sunday, but something that is lived at home, at work and in your parish. A strong father is one that owns his faith, that is not afraid to go against the cultural norms and actively teaches the faith to his children by his example and by instruction in the way they should go.
During the rosary/visitation for Jim, I was struck by the five men who led the rosary, they were Jim’s best friends, and while it was difficult for each of them to lead the rosary for 600 people at the funeral of one of their best friends, I surmise that they did it out of a sense of duty, being there for his family in their time of need. They were inspired by his example of faith and it strengthened theirs. Great fathers surround themselves with other men who are striving to make Jesus the Lord of their life, it is through this support system that they are able to make it through the difficult times and remain faithful. My brother in law told me that his father specifically requested that men be given prominent roles during the funeral services because my father in law believed very strongly that men need to be visible within the Church community and leaders in their faith and within their families.
No man is perfect, and I hope you don’t think that Jim Kral was perfect either. We all fall short of the Glory of God and thankfully our God is a loving Father who is always ready to welcome us home when we humbly acknowledge our sins before him and ask for forgiveness. During the last six months of his life, Jim made the sometimes difficult trip to the Church to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular basis. He was entering the home stretch of his life and he was keenly aware of his shortcomings and that he was not yet perfectly obedient to God at all times. A father after God’s own heart knows that he needs to turn to God daily and ask for his grace and forgiveness. The sacrament of Reconciliation is a sign of humility, a sign that we have examined our lives and know that we are in need of God’s forgiveness and grace.
Be A Man at the Service of Others
Faith is more than just a belief system, it must also be accompanied by works of charity. The goal of the Christian faith is to become in a special way the servant of others. This is the command that Christ gave us at the last supper when he washed the feet of the Apostles and commanded they to do the same for others. Fathers in a special way are called to be of service to others in their community.
My father in law did this very effectively throughout his life, he and his wife were members of the leadership team for Worldwide Marriage Encounter providing hope for other couples who wished to make their good marriages great. When one of his God children suffered the loss of their father through divorce, he stepped in and assisted the mother in providing for her children’s material and spiritual needs. Throughout his life he continued to be available to help anyone, friend or family member, if they needed help fixing something, needed a ride to the airport or if they needed someone to stop by on Christmas Day so they wouldn’t be alone in the nursing home. We as fathers should always be thinking of how we can help those less fortunate among us. Conventional wisdom would tell us that we need to pay more attention to our own families and that serving others would detract from that duty, but our experience has been quite the opposite, it is very possible to be of service to others without neglecting our primary responsibility to our own family. Our children learn everything from us, and our example speaks much louder than our words.
The greatest gift a father can give his children is to love their mother. A family is built on a solid foundation, and that foundation is built primarily on a love of God by the parents, and secondarily, a love that reflects the love of God between the parents. A man who honors, cherishes and loves his wife demonstrates to his family that there are some things that are steadfast and true, that love is stronger than any trial and that a vow is something that should be kept no matter what. My in-laws have told me that their involvement in the Marriage Encounter program saved their marriage and reoriented their family life toward safer waters. Through this renewed focus on making their marriage a great marriage, they became part of a community of families that placed Jesus at the center of not only their marriage, but of their family life.
Pope Francis’ first encyclical was written on the topic of Christian Joy. He remarked that the best way to attract people to the Christian faith was with joy. My father in law was always smiling and joy filled. This is not to say that he was always happy. During the last few months of his battle with cancer he was in intense pain and suffering which our family witnessed first hand, but his hope was in the Lord and therefore he tried his best to let that joy show through the pain. His hospice nurses, doctor and other caregivers commented several times on his joyful outlook on life despite his suffering and imminent death. It was not uncommon for him to ask a nurse about her family and no one left without receiving a blessing. When we were collecting pictures for the video tribute for his funeral, we had no problem finding photos of him smiling and happy, that is who he was. He would always seek to bring joy into every situation. This decision to be a man of joy was demonstrated during the first meeting we had with the oncologist. During this meeting when we received the grim diagnosis that he would at best live another 18 months, he was laughing and joking with the doctor and asking her about her family and sharing about his, we even went out for ice cream afterwards.
A joyful father will foster a joyful family. Fathers, do not underestimate the power of your example and leadership. If you live out your life with Christ at the center of your life, your children will too. If you love others and are a man of service, your children will be too. If you demonstrate a commitment to loving your wife no matter what trials may come your way, your children will honor their vows too. And when you come to the end of your days, your friends will surround you with love, provide meals for your grieving family, attend your funeral, speak highly of you, comfort your loved ones, tell everyone how you were their best friend and your children will be proud to call you their father and your legacy will live on with each of your children as they follow your example and raise their children in the same way you did, passing on the values that you held dear, and making the world a better place, one family at a time.