CANCER TOOK MY DAD several years ago, but nothing will ever take from me the memories I have of him reading his Bible. I keep one of his marked-up, dog-eared Bibles within sight of my desk. And it constantly causes me to ask: Am I emulating his discipline in the Word, such that I too will leave a legacy for my children when I’m gone?
My dad, Tom Johnson, was an early riser, taking his Bible and his first cup of coffee into the living room. If I were up that early, I’d catch him head-down in Scripture in his usual chair.
Little did I know then, but Dad’s morning ritual was a way of peering into the truest mirror, seeking to see what he looked like from God’s perspective. His near-daily reference to the mirror of God’s Word gave him unique access to something many fathers lack. Without it, he would have been just like so many other dads, careening back and forth in pursuit of one false image of himself after another: the independent Tom, the successful Tom, the strong Tom, the wealthy Tom, the charismatic Tom …
“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror,” writes St. James in his no-nonsense epistle. “He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like” (Jas 1:23-24).
Or, to quote a character in a movie I saw recently, “Having looked that problem squarely in the face, let us now pass on.”
We laugh, but unfortunately, too many of us take a passive approach to life. We wake up, briefly look our problem — ourselves — squarely in the face and “pass on,” rushing to check our smartphones before running into our jammed schedules. If St. Jerome were right — that “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” — then we are men who are unaware of our own identity.
Sixty percent of Americans read the Bible fewer than five times per year, according to recent studies, and only 11% of adults read the Bible daily. If these findings are accurate, there are a lot of dads out there who don’t even know what they look like in the Lord, who are leading their children to ignorance of Christ and a life in the shallow end of the pool.
“Men who read the Bible grow in grace, wisdom and peace,” Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix wrote in his apostolic exhortation Into the Breach. What’s more, he asserts, “If a man’s children see him read the Scriptures, they are more likely to remain in the Faith.”
The stunning simplicity of this led one priest at a men’s conference I attended to nearly shout: “Gentlemen! This is your new rule: Bible before breakfast! Bible before bed! No Bible? Then no breakfast for you! No Bible? Then no bed for you!”
True spiritual leadership today means casting our distractions aside and gazing into the mirror of God’s Word to seek our true identity as beloved sons of our heavenly Father. Infinitely loved. Created in his image. Called by him to lead our families into the knowledge and love of Christ.
Never before in history have Catholic dads had so many resources to go deeper in the Word: Catholic study Bibles, daily Mass readings with commentary, even a Bible in a Year podcast. No more excuses — let’s do it. Read the Bible before breakfast. Talk about the Word at the dinner table with your kids or on the way to soccer practice.
Remember that our earthly sojourn will someday end. May we resolve to give our children the breathtaking memory of having caught us in the early and hushed stillness of the morning — as we looked into the mirror, beholding the man God sees.
SOREN JOHNSON co-directs Trinity House Community with his wife, Ever, and is a member of Holy Family Council 6831 in Leesburg, Va.
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