Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day

Father's Day, June 17, 2007:

In Matthew's Gospel (15.15), Jesus asks the profound question of His disciples, “But, who do you say that I am?” Their answer shows that He could be seen as many things – a prophet, a teacher. And while these are true, there is one answer that was more important than the rest of them. Peter answers, You are “the Christ of God.” Above all the other ways that they might see Jesus, it is as the Christ, as the Messiah, that was and is the most important distinction. It is in this role, after all, that Jesus is not only a prophet and a teacher; but also is God Himself and the Savior of the world.

And this is an important message for today, Father’s Day. When we think of our father’s there are many qualities about them, many ways to think of them – in relation to their job; in relation to their interests; even in terms of the many relationships they have as friends, co-workers, husbands. So, if we as the same question of dads as was asked of Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” there is one answer that is more important than the rest of them – father. A man may be many things but of all the roles he may fulfill in life, none of them will be more important than being a father. That needs to be the role that defines him.

The history of Father’s Day goes back to 1909 when Sonora Dodd heard a sermon on the virtues of Mother’s Day in Spokane, Washington. This sermon made her recall many fond memories of her deceased father and she began a campaign for a similar day to honor Dad’s. But, while Mother’s Day has been a national celebration since 1911, it wasn’t until 1972 that Father’s Day was made a national holiday. However, in 1924, although falling short of naming it a holiday, President Calvin Coolidge signed a Father’s Day resolution. In that resolution, he called for this day to have as its goal to “establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.” It is both a thank you to our dads, a deepening of our relationship with our dads, and a reminder to fathers of the great importance of their role in the family.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the father's role comes from the fact that he “cooperates with God the Creator.” If you asked people who the most powerful man in America is, they would probably answer the President, or Bill Gates with his billions of dollars, or Ted Turner with his media influence or maybe some great surgeon who has the skills to extend people's lives. But all those answers miss the mark. The most powerful man in the United States is not the president or a billionaire or a doctor. Rather the one with greatest power is a father. Together with mothers, fathers cooperate with God in bringing a new human life into the world; into loving and shaping those lives; guiding their children to become good members of society, and holy members of God’s family. There is no power or role in life greater than that. Fathers, along with mothers, are at the very heart of God's plan.

As President Coolidge said, one of the reasons for this day is “to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.” It seems in our world today that we often have a parenting crisis. Parents are frequently more concerned with being their child’s friend, instead of fulfilling the more necessary role of parent. Just look at the stories in the newspapers too often about parents purchasing large quantities of alcohol so their children can have parties. This is not parenting. Today is a day for fathers to remember how much their children need them to be just that; a father.

There is great worry that fathers often share – a fear of not being able to provide adequately for their children, or that he won't be able get them the things they need or the right education. Fathers should never these worries because no matter their economic status, they have the one thing their children need and want the most, and they are the only ones who can give it – their love and guidance.

I always recall an experience when I was around 10 years old. It was during the recession of the late 70s. My Dad was a long haul truck driver. He would often travel across the country and be gone for weeks at a time. If you remember those years, fuel prices were accelerating (not unlike today actually), and my Dad found himself out of work for two full years. Now on any worldly standard, this would be seen as a time of failure in my family. Money was incredibly tight. We had to do without many things we were accustomed to as a family. But, my brother, my sister and I always remember this period as just about the best time in our lives. Why? Because Dad was home, all the time; and that was all that mattered – that was worth more than anything else. Fathers should not be afraid that they cannot give their children a lot of material advantages. Those things are secondary. What the child wants most is time, attention and love.

Fathers should also remember that their role is a spiritual one too. Although I will never be a biological father, as a priest my greatest joy is being able to fulfill the role of spiritual fatherhood for others. That is one of the reasons I enjoy working with our youth so much; for the opportunities to be a spiritual father to them. There is no greater joy than being a spiritual father. But, spiritual fatherhood is not restricted to priests. It is the call of all fathers. That's part of the challenge of fatherhood; to be good and loving men of God who show love to their children and help them to see the love of God. What counts most in life will not be how much money you make, the size of your house, the cost of your car, the position you acquire – it will be whether or not you are a good, holy father.

And so we pray today that we may all appreciate our own fathers – both living and dead; for all of the good ways that they have impacted our lives, shaped the people we’ve become; and we pray for them that they may become each and every day holier men of God.

Happy Father’s Day and may God give you peace.

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