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Genre

Nonfiction

Audience

Highschool & Up

Author’s Worldview

Catholic

Year Published

1997

Themes

fatherhood, faith, marriage, vocation, vocations, parenthood, parents and children, relationships, sacraments, confession, reconciliation, divorce, contraception, birth control, virtue, grace, hope, gender roles, Jesus, Scripture, childhood, sexual ethics, morality, conversion, repentance, sacrifice, Christianity, Catholicism, Catholic, Protestantism

 

Reviewed by

Ruby Shao

Why do fathers matter? In Christian Fatherhood: The Eight Commitments of St. Joseph’s Covenant Keepers, Stephen Wood and James Burnham celebrate the duty of married men to love their wives and children. Building up the vocation of fatherhood as a bridge between faith and family, the book combines personal anecdotes with Church teachings—spanning Scripture and papal remarks including encyclicals—to provide theologically rich, emotionally mature, and practical guidance. While targeting fathers, Christian Fatherhood would enlighten any Christian, male or female, married or celibate, who wishes to learn about the value of masculinity.

The book opens with a letter from Mother Teresa herself, expressing certainty that this book,  Christian Fatherhood will greatly bless everyone who reads and applies its contents. Indeed, in critiquing the contemporary demise of fatherhood, Wood and Burnham propose manifold solutions, delivered with clarity and concision. Their serious yet hopeful tone makes their work truly constructive.

The first chapter, “The Heart of Fatherhood,” inspires fathers to emulate their heavenly Father. Rooting human fatherhood in the fatherhood of God, the authors liken each of us to the prodigal son. In the Biblical parable, Luke 15:11–32, the prodigal son takes his inheritance to revel in debauchery abroad. After losing all that he owns, the prodigal son returns in desperation to his home, where he plans to beg his father to treat him as merely a hired servant, unworthy of being his son. To his astonishment, his father runs to him from afar, enthusiastically welcoming him with a lavish feast. Likewise, Wood and Burnham explain, once we repent of our sins, God not only restores us to our place in His family, but also invites us to an extraordinary meal, the Eucharist. This banquet renews the covenant between us and God, uniting us to God forever. “Out of the abundance of our divine sonship we discover the strength to become the type of fathers God intends for us to be: earthly fathers reflecting to our children the image of ‘our Father who art in heaven.’”

The second chapter illuminates marriage, including its indissolubility or lifelong permanence, in light of the history of the Church, from Scripture to the Church Fathers. Wood, a former Protestant pastor shares how reckoning with the Catholic Church’s teachings against divorce and remarriage spurred him to convert to Catholicism. The chapter offers distinctive insights into marriage as a covenant mirroring the relationships between God and Israel in the Old Testament, as well as Christ and the Church in the New Testament.

More broadly, Christian Fatherhood supplies well-justified tips for fathers to spiritually lead their households, such as by enthroning the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the home. “By acknowledging the kingship of Christ in the basic unit of society, the family, this ceremony advances the kingship of Christ in the larger society, the world” (39), the authors write. They give nuanced advice for men to rightly order themselves toward God, so as to not abuse their wives and children. Quoting Joshua from the Old Testament, the authors exhort fathers today: “…choose this day whom you will serve…as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15) (45).

Christian Fatherhood shows how laypeople can help save the world by fortifying their families and focusing on family-to-family evangelism. It covers topics of general interest to Christians, including Jesus and his human father St. Joseph as models of excellence; reasons to receive the Eucharist, go to confession, avoid fornication, tithe, and respect the Sabbath; Christ’s redemption of marriage; faithfulness to one’s marriage vows as the best way to love one’s children; the duty of couples to welcome any children God may send them, instead of contracepting; differences between men and women; the proper use of time; the importance of family; and our responsibility to bring the people we meet, especially our children, home to heaven.

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