A blog for Catholic men that seeks to encourage virtue, the pursuit of holiness and the art of true masculinity.
The Three Munera, Part 3: The Father as King
August 12, 2014
This post is part of a three part series. See parts one and two.
Of all the duties of fatherhood, it is the munus regendi —the duty to shepherd, based on Christ’s role as King—that is most likely to offend modern sensibilities. The father has authority? The father is a king? Come on! That’s outdated chauvinistic patriarchy. We’ve moved beyond that. This is the 21st century, after all.
The reason for this all too common reaction is that we inevitably associate kingship and authority with abuse and oppression. The modern mind, steeped in democratic individualism, is trained to believe that all kings must be bad kings, and the only noble thing to in the face of authority is rebel.
And yet the fact remains that Christ is repeatedly described as a king, and his Church is constantly referred to as a kingdom. Seek first the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is among you. Christ is a true king, and his Church, ruled by his vicar, is indeed a kingdom.
The father, too, possesses authority as the head of the family, participating in and picturing the headship of Christ (see Ephesians 5:23). But as we will see, this authority is not a weapon to be wielded, but rather a mandate to serve. Let’s take a look at exactly what Christ-like kingship is.
I am among you as one who serves
There are many examples of Christ’s kingship in Scripture, but one passage is preeminent in illustrating exactly what Christ-like authority looks like. Here it is:
And now, rising from supper, he laid his garments aside, took a towel, and put it about him; and then he poured water into the basin, and began to wash the feet of his disciples, wiping them with the towel that girded him.
In another Gospel, we find out that right before this, the disciples were once again quarrelling about who was to be the greatest in the kingdom of God. It’s the Passover. It is Christ’s final hour of fellowship with is disciples before he is to be brutally murdered—and all his closest friends can do is argue about who is to be the greatest, the most powerful.
So what does Jesus do? He doesn’t rebuke them, he simply shatters their notions of what authority looks like. He strips of his clothes—his royal robes, if you will—and puts on the garment of a humble servant. He begins to perform the most despised of tasks given to the lowliest servants. He begins to wash their feet.
It is no exaggeration to say that his disciples are dumbfounded. What on earth was Jesus doing? Wasn’t he about to usher in a glorious earthly kingdom (that’s what his disciples thought)? They didn’t have to wonder long. Jesus explains:
Do you understand what it is I have done to you? You hail me as the Master, and the Lord; and you are right, it is what I am. Why then, if I have washed your feet, I who am the Master and the Lord, you in your turn ought to wash each other’s feet; I have been setting you an example, which will teach you in your turn to do what I have done for you. Believe me, no slave can be greater than his master, no apostle greater than he by whom he was sent. Now that you know this, blessed are you if you perform it.
Men, this is Christ-like kingship. It is not chest thumping domination. It is not forcing others to submit to your needs and wants. It is the exact opposite—it is washing your family’s feet.
Put another way, kingship means embracing the lowliest and most thankless tasks. It means changing diapers, taking out the trash, listening to your wife and understanding her feelings and concerns. It means patiently teaching your children virtue through example and loving discipline. It means washing the dishes and rocking a screaming baby. It means leading by example, never asking of your family something you are not willing to do or have not done already. In short, it means laying down your life for those entrusted by God to your care.
You know that, among the Gentiles, those who bear rule lord it over them, and great men vaunt their power over them; with you it must be otherwise; whoever would be a great man among you, must be your servant, and whoever has a mind to be first among you, must be your slave. So it is that the Son of Man did not come to have service done him; he came to serve others, and to give his life as a ransom for the lives of many.
If you are a husband, if you are a father, you do have God-given authority. You are, in a sense, a king. But if you are using your authority like a club, you are simply incurring Christ’s anger. The authority that husbands and fathers possesses is to be used in in humble service in imitation of Jesus Christ. We must use our authority to shepherd our families, lovingly, patiently and sacrificially.
Can you honestly say that you are the servant of your family? Are you laying down your life for your wife and children? I think if we are honest, we will admit that we all have room for growth in these respects.
Let’s meditate on the words and example of Jesus in the Holy Gospel, seeking to serve and give our lives for our families. For that is true kingship.