An Ode to Our Fathers

[Readings: Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1; Galatians 3:26-29; Luke 9:18-24]

Fr. Michael Reding

Homily for The 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year C

Father’s Day

For about twenty years I had an icon sitting on my desk at home. It wasn’t a picture. It wasn’t a statue. It was a piece of bamboo about four inches long, split in half. And stuck inside of it was a little strip of paper that said this: Bamboo, Bamboo, I would use you.

It was given to me by a priest when I was in college, and I kept it all those years as a reminder of one of his homilies. Unfortunately, it seems to have been lost in my last move. One of these days, I should probably replace it.

That little piece of bamboo was a memento of a story told long ago. The author of the story seems to be unknown. It goes like this:

Once upon a time, in the heart of the Western Kingdom, lay a beautiful garden. And there, in the cool of the day, the Master of the garden was wont to walk. Of all the plants in the garden, the most beautiful and most beloved was gracious and noble Bamboo. Year after year, Bamboo grew yet more noble and gracious, conscious of the Master’s love and watchful delight, but modest and gentle withal.

And often when the wind came to revel in the garden, Bamboo would cast aside his grave stateliness to dance and play right merrily, tossing and swaying and leaping and bowing in joyous abandon, leading the Great Dance of the garden, which most delighted the Master’s heart.

Now, once upon a day, the Master himself drew near to contemplate his Bamboo with eyes of curious expectancy. And Bamboo, in a passion of adoration, bowed his great head to the ground in loving greeting.

The Master spoke: “Bamboo, Bamboo, I would use you.”

Bamboo flung his head to the sky in utter delight. The day of days had come, the day for which he had been made, the day to which he had been growing hour by hour, the day in which he would find his completion and his destiny.

His voice came happily: “Master, I’m ready. Use me as Thou wilt.”

“Bamboo,” – the Master’s voice was grave – “I would have to take you and cut you down.”

A trembling of great horror shook Bamboo. “Cut me down? Me, who Thou, Master, has made the most beautiful in all Thy Garden? Cut me down! Ah, not that. Not that. Use me for the joy, use me for the glory, oh Master, but cut me not down!”

Beloved Bamboo,” – the Master’s voice grew graver still – “If I cut you not down, I cannot use you.”

The garden grew still. Wind held his breath. Bamboo slowly bent his proud and glorious head. There was a whisper: “Master, if Thou cannot use me other than to cut me down, then do Thy will and cut.”

“Bamboo, beloved Bamboo,” said the Master, “I would cut your leaves and branches from you also.”

“Master, spare me. Cut me down and lay my beauty in the dust; but would Thou also have to take from me my leaves and branches too?”

“Bamboo, if I cut them not away, I cannot use you.”

The Sun hid his face. A listening butterfly glided fearfully away. And Bamboo shivered in terrible expectancy, whispering low: “Master, cut away.”

“Bamboo, Bamboo, I would yet split you in two and cut out your heart, for if I cut not so, I cannot use you.”

Then Bamboo bowed to the ground: “Master, Master, then cut and split.”

So the Master of the Garden took Bamboo…
And cut him down…
And hacked off his branches…
And stripped off his leaves…
And split him in two…
And cut out his heart.

And lifting him gently, carried him to where there was a spring of fresh, sparkling water in the midst of his dry fields. Then putting one end of the broken Bamboo in the spring and the other end into the water channel in His field, the Master laid down gently his beloved Bamboo.

And the spring sang welcome, and the clear sparkling waters raced joyously through the channel of Bamboo’s torn body into the waiting fields. Then the rice was planted, and the days went by, and the shoots grew and the harvest came.

On that day, Bamboo, once so glorious in his stately beauty, was yet more glorious in his brokenness and humility. For in his beauty he was life abundant, but in his brokenness, he became a channel of abundant life to his Master’s world.

“If anyone wishes to come after me, [they] must deny [themselves] and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save [their] life will lose it, but whoever loses [their] life for my sake will save it.”

Such is the lesson of Bamboo. And such is the lesson, I hope, of this Father’s Day. Fathers – good fathers – make sacrifices all the time for their children. They take up their cross daily and sometimes even lose their lives.

I think of my dad, who worked multiple jobs – driving a school bus, delivering newspapers, in addition to his full-time job – so that he could support his rather large family.

I think of a dad I know who had a good job and was offered an even better job in another part of the country, but because he wouldn’t leave the Twin Cities for the sake of his family, he’s now without employment altogether, but he remains confident that something will emerge, and his faithfulness will be rewarded.

I think of fathers who would probably like to play on a baseball league with their buddies after work, and then go hang out at Bunny’s afterwards. Instead, they coach their kid’s soccer team and go to the Dairy Queen.

I think of fathers who would love to spend a romantic week in Bora Bora, or a guys’ weekend in Las Vegas, but instead they’re sleeping in a tent at Itasca State Park.

I think of all those dads who would love to be driving a Maserati, but instead they’re piloting a Dodge Caravan.

I think of Thomas Vander Woude, whose son, Joseph, fell into a septic tank. Without hesitation, dad climbed down into that tank and rescued his son, but he lost his own life in the process.

I think of Fredrick Martin, who was out with his eight-year-old boy when someone started firing upon them. Martin threw himself in front of his son in order to shield him from the bullets. The boy was saved, but Fredrick died.

I think of all those dozens of dads – fathers of young men and women who were killed last week at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando – all those dads who would have gladly done the same thing if they could – thrown themselves in front of those bullets to save the lives of their beloved children.

Fathers make sacrifices for their children every single day. Some of them are dramatic and well-known, while some of them are hidden even from the children who are their beneficiaries. This is what fathers – good fathers – do. And in that, they serve as icons of our Lord.

“If anyone wishes to come after me, [they] must deny [themselves] and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save [their] life will lose it, but whoever loses [their] life for my sake will save it.”

I realize now, that I don’t need to replace that piece of bamboo that sat on my desk all those years. I only need to look at an image of my dad.

Thanks, dads.