Praised be Jesus Christ! Given that it’s Father’s Day, it’s right and just that we honor our fathers. But we should also pause and meditate on what it means to be a father. Saint John Paul II said at World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002, “every man is called to be a father.” God knows there are countless definitions of what it means to be a real man: when I was a kid guys like Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Sylvester Stallone were the role models of manhood. It’s amazing how our opinion about such things changes as we get older. Manhood is a somewhat subjective category and given the great confusion regarding human sexuality, it’s better to focus on the reality of fatherhood. This allows us to be much more concrete, as certain characteristics are essential to being a good father. For example, a good father is present in his children’s lives. The famous song “Cats in the Cradle” continues to resound as so many children never bond with their fathers in the deep way that God intended. As the book Fatherless America points out, nearly half of our children grow up without much connection to their biological father. This leaves wounds in our souls. All social science points to the reality that kids do best with a Mom and a Dad in a stable marriage. There are countless exceptions to this today, and many children excel against longer odds. Just the same, having a Dad who is a part of your life is of inestimable worth. Another quality of fatherhood is playfulness. This is one of the most important aspects of a child’s life and for a variety of reasons it tends to be the father who fills this role. Pope Francis encouraged parents to play with their children, as this is an extraordinarily effective ways to demonstrate love, as well as to teach lessons of fairness and how to win or lose graciously. When I visit my family, about the only contribution I can make is to play with the kids – and they never tire of playing with someone who is fun and interested in their lives. Again, a good father is honest and holds his children to a reasonably high standard. Because we have a deep, innate desire to make our Dad proud, he has a huge influence in establishing our self-worth. So Dads, compliment your children when they do well – this is a gift only you can give. A quality of fatherhood that is sometimes overlooked is the role they play in the spiritual life. When the Dad is in relationship with the Lord and he shares this with his children, it has a remarkably positive impact. The most consistent predictor of how the children will fare spiritually is whether their Dad practiced his faith. Seeing our fathers attend Mass and go to confession is a lesson that children never forget, even if for a while they reject God and stray from Him. And while many fathers abdicate their spiritual role, programs like “That Man is You” are helping our men become real leaders in the realm of faith. Finally, fathers are characterized by the sacrificial life God asks them to live for their wives and for their children. Saint Joseph is a great model for fathers because he accepted the many challenges of raising God’s only Son while loving his wife with a perfectly pure and chaste heart. If the Dads reading this do not already have a friendship with St. Joseph, find a good prayer to this holy man and ask him to help you live your vocation with great love and courage. I began praying a 30-day novena to Saint Joseph in 2009 – I love that prayer so much that I am still praying it today (nearly 3,300 days later).
May God bless all fathers, that their faith will be strengthened and their families know the love of God!
Your friend in Christ, Father Martin