It is only about 10 days away, but Father’s Day is often a bit of an odd experience for priests. Many people of good will offer insights to which we priests might just smile, say thank you, and then try to decide how to understand.
Yes, there is kindliness in hearing that we are “fathers too” and working at Catholic Memorial High School, I will inevitably get asked what it is like to have 700 kids.
Then others will openly lament that we are not “allowed” to be fathers, or that it is sad that we don’t really know the experiences which fathers have.
Being a priest on Father’s Day is a chance to impartially view fatherhood and also to acknowledge the natural tug of the heart which we willingly and lovingly sacrificed for the sake of Holy Orders.
Taking the time to sit back and seriously contemplate the role and responsibilities of parents in general, and fathers in particular, is for me a humbling effort. In some ways choosing the celibacy of priesthood might be the easier path.
In his general audience of Feb. 4, 2015, Pope Francis spoke of the role of the Christian father. His Holiness felt the message of the good father to his children could be summarized in this way: “This is what I wanted to leave to you, that this one thing become yours: the attitude to feel and act, to speak and judge with wisdom and rectitude. And that you might be like this, I taught you the things you didn’t know, I corrected the errors you didn’t see. I made you feel a profound and at the same time discrete affection, which maybe you did not fully recognize when you were young and unsure. I gave you a testimony of rigor and steadfastness that perhaps you didn’t understand, when you would have liked only complicity and protection.”
These words are almost a soliloquy – insightful, clear and challenging. The pope’s reflections on what the good father must strive to teach, how to teach, and how it will be received, are far weightier than the world would seem to affirm.
Judging by the world of entertainment, or politics, or to look at entire impoverished sections of some cities, fathers and true fatherhood seem to have been deemed unnecessary. But for Christians, this is impossible to understand, or to accept.
Fatherhood is a singularly important means to understanding what God offers to us. Jesus’ consistent and intentional invocation of his Father cannot be dismissed.
Numerous passages of Scripture only make proper sense to us when fatherhood is important, alive and vibrant. Fatherhood possesses complementarity and equality with motherhood. While distinct, both inform so much of the work of communities, extended families, and of the church.
Essentially, we cannot know the fullness of what we receive from God without a proper understanding of fatherhood. Nor do we have a full understanding of the loving gift we must give to a new generation, or to a neighbor, or to anyone in need, without a proper understanding of fatherhood.
Reread the words of Pope Francis above. While any person of Christian goodwill can and should take on this obligation, to view them as the heart of the mandate of a father who lovingly takes on the obligation of making a life offering to his son or daughter, gives the words special vibrancy and greater inspiration.
To have a good example of fatherly love in your life can transform your own parenting and your own understanding of God’s love being offered to us each day.
After the unfortunate death of my father, I was raised by a single mom. Raising up and appreciating the purpose and power of Christian fatherhood in no way lessens what my mother did for my siblings and me. Maybe like the priest who looks at Father’s Day from a unique point of view, those raised in homes like mine can look upon fatherhood with a unique appreciation.
There is a verse in the Book of Proverbs which very likely was part of the inspiration for the Holy Father’s reflection on fatherhood. “My son, if your heart is wise, my heart also will rejoice; and my inmost being will exult, when your lips speak what is right.” (Prv 23:15-16)
Fathers are to pass on wisdom and are to teach the means to speak and do what is right. Another prayer of the church asks that hope will live on in our children. Taken together, I believe that on Father’s Day people of faith celebrate and give thanks for the fact that every father truly becomes a father when he is for his children a herald of hope!