On February 04, 2015, Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the family, reflecting on the dignity and role of fathers. Last week he spoke of the danger of “absent” fathers, reminding us of Saint Joseph who was also tempted to leave Mary, when he discovered she was pregnant. He was prevented from leaving when the Angel of the Lord intervened and revealed God’s plan and his mission of foster father. Then Joseph, a just man, “took his wife” (Mt. 1:24) and became the father of the Family of Nazareth.
This week, the pope focuses on the positive roles and qualities of effective fathers. He discusses three great Biblical fathers to illuminate qualities of a good father: the parable of the Prodigal Son, the figure of God “Our Father,” and the figure of St. Joseph.
First, the pope begins this teaching by referring to Book of Proverbs, quoting words a father addresses to his son:
“My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will be glad. My soul will rejoice when your lips speak what is right” (Proverbs 23:15-16).
Effective fathers do not create robot sons who merely repeat verbatim what has been drilled into them. Rather, an effective father transmits wisdom right into his son’s inner core, enabling him “to feel and act, to speak and judge with wisdom and righteousness.” It is not easy to transmit this heritage of wisdom; a father must be close, gentle but firm with his children.
However, what consolation and what reward is received when children honor to this heritage! It is a joy that compensates for every effort, that surpasses every misunderstanding and heals every wound.
To form a child with a wise heart, a father must be present to his children, he has to “be there” for them. This presence is exemplified by Joseph, who famously, never speaks (at least, he is never directly quoted in the Bible), yet he provides a silent witness which is powerful. To be present,
a man must be close to his wife, share everything – joys and sorrows, efforts and hopes. He be close to the children in their growth: when they play and when they are busy, when they are carefree and when they are anguished, when they express themselves and when they are silent, when they risk and when they are afraid, when they take a wrong step and when they find the way again…. But to be present is not the same as controlling. Because fathers who are too controlling override the children, they do not let them grow.
While St. Joseph shows men how to be present, God the Father exemplifies protection. Protection includes providing for His children (“give us this day our daily bread”) the same as He provides for ‘the birds in the sky and lilies of the field.’ The Heavenly Father is the ultimate protector because His children turn to Him with impossible needs; He is the only one who can still help after people have exhausted every other possible hope. The Gospel speaks to us of the exemplarity of the Father who is in Heaven, the only one, says Jesus, who can be truly called “Good Father” (Cf. Mark 10:18). Yet
if there is someone who can explain in depth the prayer of the “Our Father,” taught by Jesus, it is in fact one who lives paternity personally. Without the grace that comes from the Father who is in Heaven, fathers lose courage and abandon the field. father of the Family of Nazareth.However, what consolation and what reward is received when children honor to this heritage! It is a joy that compensates for every effort, that surpasses every misunderstanding and heals every wound.
Thirdly, the father from the extraordinary parable called the “Prodigal Son,” or better of the “Merciful Father,” which is found in Luke’s Gospel (Cf. 15:11-32) parable models correction, which balances firmness with mercy. How much dignity and how much tenderness in the father’s waiting, who is at the door of his home waiting for his son to return!
Fathers should be patient, many times there is nothing else that can be done other than to wait. Pray and wait with patience, gentleness, magnanimity and mercy. A good father is able to wait and to forgive from the depth of his heart. Of course, he is also able to correct with firmness: he is not a weak, compliant and sentimental father. The father who is able to correct without discouraging is the same one who is able to protect tirelessly. He knows the sense of dignity! He must punish but does it justly and moves forward.
I love Francis’ formulation that a father provides a “witness of vigor and firmness,” yet it is dispensed with mercy, patience and forgiveness. He concludes his teaching with an inspiring word of encouragement.
The Church, our Mother, is committed to supporting with all her strength the good and generous presence of fathers in families, because they are, for the new generations, irreplaceable custodians and mediators of faith in goodness, in justice and in the protection of God, as Saint Joseph.