This Father’s Day, I would like to share some reflections that Pope Francis offered on family and fatherhood during his Wednesday general audiences. Our Holy Father’s words from the heart are words that today’s fathers can take to heart as they live out their vocation as fathers amid the demands and distractions of their everyday lives.
Early this year, Pope Francis said that the word “father” is “a word dear to us as Christians, more than any other, as it is the name with which Jesus taught us to call God” (Audience of January 28, 2015).
Turning to human fathers, the Pope first described some of the challenges in fatherhood. In the past, fathers might sometimes be too authoritarian, inhibiting their children’s development, he said. Now another extreme has unfolded among fathers in today’s world. Especially in western culture, he noted, fathers often seem to be “symbolically absent, to have vanished,” almost leaving their children as orphans with still-living fathers.
“The feeling of orphanhood experienced by many young people is more profound than we might think,” Pope Francis said. Further, the absence of a paternal figure causes gaps and even wounds in the development of children and adolescents.
In the face of the human condition, compounded by the cultural trends of our times, Pope Francis encouraged fathers to look to the example of Jesus, who promised his disciples, “I will not leave you orphans.” The young need their father’s closeness and love, and their everyday examples and guidance, he added.
At his next talk, Pope Francis reflected on what it means to be a good father, and how fathers can pass on “wisdom of the heart” to their children through “closeness, gentleness and firmness” (February 4, 2015). Fathers must first “be present in the family,” he taught, explaining that for a father, presence means “to be close to his wife, to share in everything, joy and pain, burdens and hopes. And to be close to the children as they grow: when they play and when they make efforts, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they dare and when they are afraid, when they make missteps and when they return to the right path.”
Pope Francis noted how “the Gospel provides us with the example of the Father in heaven,” pointing to the parable of the prodigal son and the merciful father (Luke 15:11-32). “How much dignity and tenderness we find in the father who stays at the door of his house awaiting the return of his son!” he emphasized. “Fathers need to be patient. Sometimes you can do nothing other than wait; pray and wait with patience, gentleness, magnanimity, and mercy. A good father knows how to wait and how to forgive, from the bottom of his heart.”
Our Holy Father concluded that reflection on fatherhood by encouraging fathers to emulate the example of Saint Joseph and be “indispensable guardians and mediators of the faith for new generations, in goodness, justice and God’s protection.”
In contrast to the world around us, where fatherhood and family life in general are experiencing great stresses, leading to a tragic breakdown in too many cases, the Church presents a beautiful vision of fatherhood, marriage and family. The theme for the World Meeting of Families this fall, “Love is Our Mission,” reminds us of our need to share this Gospel message – and the need of our communities to receive it.
It is my prayer that these words from our Holy Father offer encouragement and guidance to fathers, as they open their hearts, and the hearts of their children, to the love and mercy of God the Father.
Happy Father’s Day!