To all the fathers in the parish I want to wish a happy Fathers’ Day. I pray that it is a special day for you to spend with your family. For those of us whose fathers have passed away, today can be a time for remember our dads, especially in our prayers, but not merely for reminiscence sake. Rather, today we should call to mind all that we learned from our fathers, so that we can put those lessons into better practice in our lives.
I have always had an interest in fatherhood. My doctoral dissertation looked at society’s changing attitudes towards fatherhood. Frankly, it seems that fatherhood is not often esteemed in society today. Think about how fathers are portrayed on TV; they are often absent — whether physically or just emotionally/psychologically — and often they are made to seem to be dopes (think of Homer Simpson and Al Bundy).
Sadly, even in the Church, there has been a neglect on much writing on the spirituality of Christian Fatherhood. This started to change in the 1990s, spurred on by the Protestant Promise Keepers movement. There was a recognition that the crisis in the family, and in society, is often a crisis in fatherhood. We need strong fathers.
To be a strong Catholic Father men must first be good sons of God the Father. Children and wives need to see that dad/hubby has a deep, loving, personal relationship with God. How else will he be able to be an icon, a witness of God the Father to the members of his family?
To be a good Catholic Father, a man must also be a good Catholic Husband. As Christ loved His bride, the Church, so Christian husbands need to love their brides, and be willing to lay down their lives for their wives and children (see Ephesians 5).
Third, the father should love his children and see them as a precious treasure that God has given to him with the primary purpose of bringing these little ones to their ultimate destiny which is heaven. A child is a gift given to father and mother but with the primary purpose of the parents being ladders by which the children can climb to heaven. An authentic father first should provide for the spiritual need of the child. He should teach his child to pray as soon as possible.
This leads me to the title of this week’s column, “Father: Priests of the Domestic Church.” An excellent book on Catholic Fatherhood is The Father of the Family: A Christian Perspective by Clayton Barbeau. A book of classical spiritual wisdom, and practical insights, one chapter struck me as an important but not often recognized aspect of fatherhood, namely, that since the family is the domestic church, a father exercises the grace of the priesthood of all the baptized by being the priest in his particular domestic church. The priest of the home must accept the responsibility of living the Gospel by his words and actions. In a world filled with temptation and sin, living Gospel values can be challenging. It takes discipline and self-control to hone virtue and holiness within the family. As such, fathers should be the locus of order and life-giving authority in the home.
As the priests of the home, men are to offer their lives as a sacrifice for their children, lead family prayers, establish faith-based household rituals and customs, give blessings, and help their kids to love the Mass. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass should lead fathers to personal relationship with God, uniting him so closely to Christ that the Eucharist becomes the very soul and center of his spiritual and family life. “The father who participates in the Mass regularly gives to his children a far more convincing statement as to the importance of the Mass than all his words do” (p. 63).
Once again, Happy Fathers’ Day to all the dads in the parish, and if you have not gotten dad his gift yet, consider getting him The Father of the Family: A Christian Perspective by Clayton Barbeau.