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The Privileged Call of a Catholic Father

|   By Fr. James Sullivan, pastor of Church of the Assumption in Ansonia, and chaplain for the 10th Annual Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference.
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The prayer that Jesus taught us, “Our Father”, is one that most of us have known from our earliest years. Many pray it often, perhaps even several times daily. It is a prayer of adoration, thanksgiving, and supplication. We recognize God as our Father, not as an overbearing, harsh Father, but rather a loving Father who cares for his children, who feeds us, forgives us, leads us, and delivers us.

When speaking of his relationship to the Father, Jesus uses a beautiful Aramaic word, “Abba”, a term of endearment meaning simply “Daddy” or “Papa.” Our heavenly Father is not far-off, but forever approachable by his children.

What does it mean to be a Catholic father? The simple answer is, whether we are a biological father (parent) or a spiritual father (priest), as best we can, we strive by God’s grace to emulate in our lives those virtues and qualities of God our heavenly Father, who is—loving, nurturing, faithful, forgiving, humble, generous, pure, and holy.

We all have heard it said, time and time again, that there is in our world, in our society a “crisis of fatherhood.” What does this actually mean? It implies, first of all, that the vocation of a father is critical to the well-being of children and the family. Pope St. John Paul II once said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live,” in a homily in Perth, Australia, on 30 November 1986. Anyone who has experienced an absent father, for whatever reason, wishes things were different. Children desire a father who is present to them. At a general audience on January 28, 2015, Pope Francis said, “A society without fathers, is a society of orphans.” The hunger for a father’s blessing is one of the greatest hungers in the world. The great privilege and responsibility of a father is to lead his children to God, their ultimate destiny. His vocation is much more than biological, it is also deeply spiritual.

As men, we are generally good providers, workers, and coaches. We are competitive, diligent, and have a desire to succeed. “Doing” is important to us, sadly sometimes at the expense of “being.” As proficient as we are at many things, we often lack what is ultimately the most important, the spiritual. The reasons vary; however, certainly at top of the list is the reality that we have never truly encountered God. We cannot fully love One whom we do not know, and to know God is to love Him.

A man who loves God is sometimes seen by others as weak or needy because he desires something beyond himself. Our secular, individualistic, “do it my way” society continually emphasizes self-sufficiency and leaves little room for God. Religion is much more than simply being a nice guy. In reality, to demonstrate our love for God is manly. Not to do so is to live less, desire less and be less.

Statistics show that when a father consistently leads in the spiritual life of the family, his children—really, the whole family—follow him a high percentage of the time. Even if children cease practicing their faith when they grow up, they will never forget the devotion and spiritual life of their father.

A crisis? Yes—however, never without great hope! It is easy for a man to focus on past failures: “I have wasted too much time.” “Too much water is already under the bridge.” “What difference can I make now?” This thinking is not of God. Divine hope changes our focus entirely, from failure and weakness, to future possibility. It is a great comfort knowing that it is never too late for God, because God is not of time. What we may have spent years ignoring or even destroying, God can reverse and make new. “But for God, all things are possible.” (MT 19:26)

As men, we can look to St. Joseph as our model. The bible uses only one word to describe him: he was a “righteous” man (MT 1:19). In his righteousness, he continually sought the will of God in his life. When we too seek God, whether as a parent or as a priest, our fatherhood brings peace, happiness and holiness to our families, and therefore to the world.

On Saturday, October 21, 2017 at St. Paul High School in Bristol CT, the 10th Annual Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference is being held from 8am-5pm. Visit: www.ctcatholicmen.org for more information. Attending this conference may be the best gift you can give yourself and your family.