Love, Faith and Presence on Father’s Day
Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to Washington last year and his recent apostolic exhortation on marriage and family life, Amoris Laetitia, both offer fathers, mothers and children many things to reflect on as we prepare to celebrate Father’s Day.
Our Holy Father knows well the challenges to fatherhood in these times. “Some fathers feel they are useless or unnecessary, but the fact is that ‘children need to find a father waiting for them when they return home with their problems. They may try hard not to admit it, not to show it, but they need it,’” he implores. To be sure, “God sets the father in the family so that by the gifts of his masculinity he can be “close to his wife and share everything, joy and sorrow, hope and hardship’” (Amoris Laetitia, 177).
Pope Francis often encourages that we look to “the icon of the Holy Family,” a family that, like families today, faced challenges and burdens in their daily life (Id., 30). Most importantly, they faced those difficulties with trust in God. “First and foremost,” said the pontiff during his visit to Catholic Charities, Saint Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, “was a man of faith. Faith gave Joseph the power to find light just at the moment when everything seemed dark. Faith sustained him amid the troubles of life. Thanks to faith, Joseph was able to press forward when everything seemed to be holding him back.”
It was in this spirit that Joseph and Mary offered young Jesus daily lessons about God’s steadfast love by their example and in their living “covenant of love and fidelity” (Id., 66). Our fathers and mothers can model that same kind of selfless love to their children by welcoming Christ into their homes and hearts, and encouraging their children to do the same. Parents – children’s first, best and most important teachers – instill the most enduring lessons by the example of how they lead their own lives and treat their own families.
The Holy Father also affirms how scripture presents the family as the place where children are educated in the faith, quoting Psalm 78 which says, the Lord “commanded our fathers to teach to their children” all of God’s glorious deeds, and his might and the wonders that he has performed (Amoris Laetitia, 16). In a special way, adds the Pope, fathers and mothers can transform their homes into domestic churches where families can grow in faith and love together: “The family is called to join in daily prayer, to read the word of God and to share in Eucharistic communion, and thus to grow in love and become ever more fully a temple in which the Spirit dwells” (Id., 15 and 29).
Pope Francis recognizes that the fast pace of life can stress parents and even lead them to not spend valuable time with their children. “In many cases, parents come home exhausted, not wanting to talk, and many families no longer even share a common meal” (Id., 50). In particular, he cautions, the absence of a father – which may be physical or symbolic, emotional, psychological or spiritual – “gravely affects family life and the upbringing of children and their integration into society” (Id., 55). Together with the distractions that mothers also may get caught up in, this can effectively lead to “children who are orphans of living parents” (Id., 51).
In many families today, various disappointments or resentments can cause parents and children to be strained or separated. God our merciful Father, however, heals families and unites them with a love that never gives up.
This Father’s Day, your children will give you a variety of presents, maybe a hand-drawn card or even the classic gift of a tie. But there is a more important present that you can give to them every day – you can give them your presence, you can be there for them. You can also accept the invitation of Pope Francis to “value the gifts of marriage and the family, and to persevere in a love strengthened by the virtues of generosity, commitment, fidelity and patience,” and also “be a sign of mercy and closeness wherever family life remains imperfect or lacks peace and joy” (Amoris Laetitia, 5).
By imitating Saint Joseph in faithfully providing for and protecting their families, by imitating our heavenly Father who, like the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, always welcomes his children with open arms, men become for their children the fathers that God made them to be (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 17). And that is the greatest gift of all that they can give their children.
Happy Father’s Day!