Father’s Day can be a time for reflection on the role of our own fathers and their gifts to us. It’s a time for gratitude for those who came before, who left their mark, who showed us by example what it is to be a person of faith. It also allows those of us who are fathers to ponder the great responsibility that comes with that relationship.
In Amoris Laetitia, his exhortation on family life, Pope Francis quotes Psalm 78: “All that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us, we will not hide from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders which he has wrought.” And whether the psalmist meant forebearers or biological parentage, the very use of the word “fathers” underscores the solemn responsibility to transmit the Faith.
The good news is that God works through all kinds of witnesses. Even the understated can have a profound impact. Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin said upon his appointment to Indianapolis that his own father “never once sent me to church. He took me with him.”
That comment captures the heart of a model that reverberates back to the Holy Family and the witness of St. Joseph. A powerful intercessor, particularly in matters of employment and housing (keys to sustaining family life), St. Joseph can make it seem for many Catholics that Father’s Day isn’t June 19, as it falls this year, but March 19, his feast day. So much of St. Joseph is instructive: his quiet industriousness, his willingness to trust God’s providence and the fact that he was so devoted to the formation of a young person who wasn’t his biological son.
This is echoed in the Church through the witness of so many priests who literally bring young people to God in the sacraments, serve as spiritual mentors and guides and simple examples of holiness. It is also witnessed in the Church’s embrace of families of adopted children, foster children, uncles, grandparents, extended family and those whose claims to spiritual fatherhood are the fruits of these relationships.
In a January 2015 general audience, Pope Francis spoke to this pervasiveness: “‘Father’ is a term familiar to everyone, a universal word. It indicates a fundamental relationship, the reality of which is as old as human history.” However, he warned, we have “reached the point of claiming that our society is a ‘society without fathers,’” a concern echoed by Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted in January and Dr. Greg Popcak in this week’s issue of OSV Newsweekly.
Pope Francis speaks of fathers being inactive or too busy for their role. But the notion of an absence of fathers could just as easily be applied to the Church’s concern for two populations where Pope Francis has been vocal: immigrants and prisoners. Whether fathers leaving to support their families from impossible distances, families being separated amid processes of detention and deportation, or entire communities being decimated by overincarceration, Catholics have many opportunities to put their belief into action in concrete ways.
Catholics can find ways to support fathers in our parishes and communities as well. It can be as simple as one sponsored breakfast a month for dads and their kids, the approach embraced by All Pro Dad’s Day, a program begun 14 years ago at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis and has expanded to more than 1,300 chapters in 46 states. A simple gesture is still profoundly appropriate given the gratitude we feel for the role these men play.
Editorial Board: Scot Landry, chief mission officer; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor