Fathers Day: As the West Rejects Marriage, Does Fatherhood Still Matter? Absolutely!
This weekend the Nation honors Fathers. My wife and I have five grown children and six grandchildren. I know the gift of being a father. As the years have unfolded, I am ever more aware of the serious responsibilities that this vocation entails. It is a vocation from which there is no vacation. You never stop being a Father.
As sometimes occurs, this secular holiday coincides with a special Feast in the Catholic Liturgical Calendar, the Feast of the Holy Trinity. That is no mistake. We are invited to enter more deeply into the mystery of who God is – as a Trinity of Divine Persons, distinct but in perfect unity, in a relationship animated by Love.
God is one, but not solitary. We are created in His Image and called to live in a communion of love. For most of us, that call is expressed within Marriage – and the family founded upon it. In that relational network of love, we learn how to love and are formed and fashioned into the Image of the God who is Love. Children need mothers. Children need fathers.
Though Fathers Day is a secular Holiday, it is infused with extraordinary spiritual meaning and vital social importance. This is particularly true in a western culture which is actively rejecting the unique gift of fatherhood, motherhood, marriage – and the family and society built upon them.
Marriage and family have been inscribed by the Divine Architect into the order of creation. Marriage is ontologically between one man and one woman, ordered toward the union of the spouses, open to children and formative of family.
Family is the first vital cell of society; the first church, first school, first hospital, first economy, first government and first mediating institution of our social order. The future of a free and healthy society passes through marriage and the family.
Marriage as existing solely between one man and one woman was not an idea manufactured by the Christian Church. It precedes Christianity. Though affirmed, fulfilled, and elevated by Christian teaching, the truth that marriage can exist only between one man and one woman is not based on religion or revelation alone. It is revealed in the Natural Moral Law, written on the human heart and discernible through the exercise of reason.
No matter what any Court or legislature says, marriage is still what it is. So too are fathers and mothers. No court, no legislature, no movement for social or Cultural Revolution can change the very structure of reality.
Our Nation is rushing headlong into a moral collapse as we jettison the unique gift and role of fathers and mothers for a profane counterfeit of two mommies or two daddies. We are already reeling under the horrid effects of a social experiment which is increasingly dangerous for our children, destructive of family and devastating to the common good of the social order.
Do Fathers really matter? Do mothers really matter? Does marriage really matter? Does a child have a right to a father and a mother? Absolutely!
This weekend, we will honor Fathers and Fatherhood. I want to take some time to pause and reflect on fatherhood. St Paul wrote to the early Christians:
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”(Ephesians 3:14 – 19)
Those words were written to the Christians in Ephesus. But they also speak to us in this age! The Greek word for Father and family are connected. Paul is using them in a sort of play on words to make a profoundly important theological and ontological point. Fathers are the foundation of families, they give them identity and meaning in both life and in death. The Catholic Catechism says, “The divine fatherhood is the source of human fatherhood; this is the foundation of the honor owed to parents.” (CCC#2214)
The Biblical understanding of naming someone was a far more significant action than many contemporary approaches to choosing names communicate. To name was understood to confer identity and introduce the child into an ongoing relationship. Naming still confers identity and relationship. Understanding the implications of that fact takes a lifetime, and beyond.
On this weekend when we pause from the frenetic pace of life to honor and remember fathers, we have an opportunity to reflect on what really matters most in our own lives. The ones who have named us, our fathers, have helped to give us our identity. They are a gift from the hand of God the Father.
We should thank them if they are still with us, and shower them with affection. If not, we should still thank them, honor them, remember them – and continue to learn all we can from the example of their lives as we seek to live our own in love.
I lost my father in 2001. Lord how much I still miss him. It does not go away. It is hard to believe it has been that long. In that same year, my beloved wife also lost her father, my father in law, with whom I also had a wonderful relationship.
We refer to that year still, with sadness, as the year of our two fathers. When father’s day rolls around, we still grieve, even as we laugh and remember them both.
I lost my beloved mother only recently. It saddens me to face Fathers Day without a mother or a father. At least, physically present. I know they live on; not only in the Lord, but in my life as I seek to live my own vocation as husband, father, grandfather and deacon of the Church.
As I age, I realize how much I am like my father, both for good – and not so good. I know this is a near universal experience for men.
My expressions, my tone of voice and my temperament, all reflect his influence. As I age, I grow in my respect for him and all of the sacrifices he made for me, my brothers, my sister and my mother. I also wish I had had more time with him. Trusting in the mercy and love of God, and growing older, I now know that wish will come to pass. I eagerly await it.
My father’s favorite song was the Louis Armstrong classic “What a Wonderful World“. Each father’s day since he died, in a melancholy mix of mourning and memories, I listen to that song and shed more than a few tears. As the years go by, its words and insights open up in their simplicity and wisdom.
My father understood that the words spoke to the things that really matter – once everything that pretends to matter is stripped away. As his life unfolded in those later years, when his congestive heart failure seemed to take its greatest toll, he loved the song and the sentiment it expressed even more.
As the years have passed, my sense of loss has not gone away, it has only changed. As I so often tell grieving family members at funerals in my ministry as a Deacon, the pain of loss on the memory of our deceased loved ones is just another manifestation of the eternal nature of love.
This weekend, I will experience the truth of that insight once again as I hug the grown children who live near us and see the smiling eyes of several of our grandchildren. I know I will hear from all of them before the day is out. I will wish my Dad were with us to enjoy these precious moments. When we are with our own children and grandchildren, my wife and I tell the stories of our fathers with fondness and ever deepening gratitude. I know they will do the same when we are home in the Lord.
My father grew in tenderness and compassion as he faced death. It is funny how difficulties and struggle, suffering and strife, seem to be the most effective means of refining us all. He finally died of the heart ailment which had claimed so much of his vigor.
However, like every struggle my father faced, he did not give up. He was a fighter and he did not want to go. In fact, I was at his death bed a couple of times, or so we thought it was his death bed. He decided he had more jokes to tell and more love to give.
It was that fighting spirit which I have particularly grown to admire as the years have passed by. Thank God he passed it on to me. Oh, as a younger man, he perhaps fought some of the wrong battles. I know I certainly did. We all do. But, that does not really matter any longer.
Life smooths it all out – and time presses us into deeper love. I see now that it only gave him time to smooth off the rough edges of a hard life and to simplify. So it is doing with me, his son. I hope he is proud.
How my father loved to hear from us as he grew older. Sadly, in retrospect, I regret just how little we really called. How I would love to have just one of those conversations today. I miss him. I think back on those final years with my own father and I still have regrets.
Though we can’t get those years back, time is meant become a tutor as its highway stretches out before us. The lessons abound. The memories of the time I did have with him take on new meaning as I walk along the path that he did, raising my family and trying to love in both word and deed.
This year I will celebrate my 60th birthday. It is amazing how time speeds up as you age! I remember my father in his fifties, and his sixties. I cherish the last times we had together. I share with my own grown children, and grandchildren. I recount the stories, and still laugh at his humor.
In fact, in what is the most common experience of all, I tell his jokes, use his expressions, both facial and verbal and, in so many respects, I have become just like him. When I was in my twenties, it was one of my greatest fears. Now, it has become one of my greatest honors. I love him more with each passing year. That is because love is stronger than death.
Our earthly fathers and our relationships with them reflect the great meaning they symbolize in the eternal framework. Our Heavenly Father has given us His very name, His identity. In and through Jesus Christ, His only Son, we have now become “sons (and daughters) in the Son” – through our Baptism of new birth in water and the Spirit.
We are a part of an eternal family, and as the apostle Paul told the Christians in Rome, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, not even death. (Romans 8:38, 39)
Fathering is a great gift and a great responsibility. I cannot live it in its fullness without grace, the Divine Life of God which is given to us through Jesus Christ and mediated through our life in His church, in Word and Sacrament. In the Holy Eucharist we receive the One who is the Source and means of all grace.
I am glad when Fathers Day falls on a Sunday; it gives me a special opportunity to pray at Mass for and with my father and my father in law. As a Catholic Christian, I know that I am still joined to my father and my father in law in the communion which stretches through time and into eternity. Living in the Church is a participation in an eternal communion of love.
At that moment in the Canon of the Mass when we pray for those who have died, I always pray for them both and will do so on Father’s day. As a Deacon, I feel honored to be so close to the Altar when I offer that prayer.
I will miss my father this Father’s Day. I miss him even as I write this article. I guess, following my own instruction, it simply shows me how much I loved him – and still love him. If you still have your father with you, love him openly and affectionately and let him know how important he is to you.
Together, let us celebrate the Gift of Fatherhood and kneel before the Father from whom every family in Heaven and on Earth is named in deep gratitude for the very gift of Fatherhood. We have a lot of work ahead to defend marriage, motherhood and fatherhood. God is with us, marriage and family are His idea and He will give us the grace we need to live and defend them.
On Father’s Day, celebrate, honor and rejoice in the gift of fathers and fatherhood. Remember, no-one Can Change the Truth About Marriage, Fathers and Mothers. Love Your Father. Be a Good Father.
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