Steve Bollman, founder of the national apostolate Paradisus Dei (ParadisusDei.org) and That Man Is You, vividly remembers the first time he saw his dad go to confession.
He was about 6 or 7 years old; his older brothers were 10 and 11. The family went to either an Advent or Lenten penance service.
After the communal part of the service, the congregation fanned out for individual confessions with priests scattered around the church. His dad — and his mom — chose to go to a priest in open sight, in the middle of the church.
“From a distance, I watched my dad kneel beside the priest, bow his head, make the Sign of the Cross and then whisper in the ear of the priest,” Bollman vividly recalled. “I remained spellbound with the thought that my dad was confessing to the priest that he had done something wrong. When he finished his confession, my dad went to a pew, knelt down and prayed, with his face in his hands, for what seemed like the longest time.” When his mom finished, they piled into the car.
“For the entire 15-minute drive home, my dad was besieged by three young sons begging to know what he had said to the priest and what the priest had told him to do for penance,” Bollman said. “Of course, there were lots of jokes — ‘Did you tell him about the time you yelled at me last week?’ ‘Did the priest tell you to buy me some candy from the store?’ In later years, I’ve come to believe the most appropriate penance that the priest could have given my dad was to endure the nonstop questioning from his three sons for the entire car ride without saying a word and to simply smile — which is exactly what my dad did.”
Bollman never forgot the lesson. “The enduring image is one of my dad kneeling, with his head bowed and hands folded, as he confessed his sins to the priest. It was so powerful for me that I’ve made sure that my children have seen it many times” from myself.
Bollman’s father’s example reflects what St. John Paul II said of fatherhood in Familaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World): “the witness he gives of an adult Christian life … effectively introduces the children into the living experience of Christ and the Church.”
For Father’s Day, several other Catholics shared favorite memories of fatherly faith lessons.
Lisa Hendey, founder of CatholicMom.com, said that long before she understood the meaning of the words “domestic church,” she received “a firsthand master course in what it meant for parents to be primary faith teachers of their children.”