My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As we celebrate Father’s Day this year, reflecting on fathers is always a useful exercise. We recognize, as we look at our culture today, that one of the missing elements is a stable father figure in most families. The unfortunate situation in so many single-parent families, mostly headed by women, doesn’t provide the necessary paternal example, especially to young boys, that is necessary for an integral development.
Both boys and girls are affected by the absence of a parent and in a particular way by their father who represents in a family the opposite elements of maternal care. Mostly this is regarding the stability and disciplinary aspects of family life. Mothers can be gentle, fathers need to be more firm, perhaps, in giving the family structure. Much research is being done right now regarding the difficulties that single-parent families face, although many are valiant and are able to make up for many deficits. Knowing these difficulties ahead of time can be very helpful.
I read an interesting study done recently concerning immigrant families. Many times both parents are working, however, the family unit seems more united not by economic interdependence but by familiar bonds. Some might ask how those immigrants do it, how do they buy a business? In my own experience, I know that when Friday night comes and everyone receives their paycheck it all goes on the table. First, the immediate expenses are taken care of and then they save what is necessary for a goal that the family has set for themselves. The family shares in their future, and it is not determined by individual, personal goals, but rather for the family good. It is truly a community in which family is based.
Fatherhood certainly affects our Nation. The lack of fathers in our families is a real deficit, as again other studies remind us especially for male children, disciplinary problems today originate from the lack of a father figure in their home. It is so important that we look to the ways in which we can strengthen family life in our own parishes.
At my recent day of recollection with our 10 newly ordained, I made a point of asking them to be involved in the pre-sacramental programs, especially Baptism preparation, First Communion, Penance, and Confirmation. These are times when we do meet families and many of them try to come together. It is a unique opportunity to influence them and to help them strengthen their family life. When all is said and done, priests are fathers and they must model fatherhood even for natural fathers.
This brings me to a reflection on priests as fathers. Perhaps the best term ever given to a priest is to be called “Father.” Many times people do not know what to call me as a bishop and they call me “Father.” I say that is wonderful, that is the best acclamation that I could receive, because all fatherhood in heaven and on earth replicates the fatherhood of God.
Truly, priests are fathers in that they image God the Father for the faithful being ordained in the image of Jesus Christ. They bring with them the understanding of the family life which is the Trinity itself. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit form a communion which can be likened to the human family, but it is one which is perfectly united. Our faithful use a term of endearment for priests when they call them “Father.” Truly, it can help us to understand God’s love for us in an image in the life and ministry of our priests.
Finally, the old saying, “The family that prays together, stays together,” is especially important. Much credit for this has been given to the Venerable Patrick Peyton, C.S.C. who was the founder of the Family Rosary Crusade, where he made this term famous. Recent research, however, has confirmed that it is true. When families do pray, not necessarily in Church, but at home, they really do stay together.
An article by Ashley McGuire on this subject says, “A lot of research has been devoted to the question of whether religion is a force for good among today’s families, and while the findings are mixed, studies have found plenty of reason to believe that faith can be a powerful adhesive for families working hard not to come undone. Regular religious services attendance is tied to lower divorce rates, for example, and religious institutions can be powerful intermediaries in helping families in crisis and promoting chastity and fidelity, which in turn affect social ills like out-of-wedlock childbearing and divorce.”
Most importantly, if the father of the family exercises and fulfills his religious responsibilities, we know that the family can be that much stronger.
As we come to celebrate this Father’s Day, we know that every exercise in paternity is like putting out into the deep recognizing difficulties and responsibilities. Today, we come together to pray for our own fathers, and fathers in general in the United States, that our Nation can reclaim the necessary elements that will make our families stronger to support our Nation and our Church.