Happy Father’s Day

On this Father’s Day we congratulate and honor all the fathers in our community, and all the men who play the role of protecting life and fostering well-being in any way.

I remember my father coming back from Church on Sunday and complaining that the priests always pay a lot of attention to Mother’s Day, but give short shrift to Father’s Day.  Let that not happen here at Old St. Joe’s.  But that was an unusual complaint coming from my father who was usually quite self-effacing, though his complaint about the content of a sermon was not uncommon – something that still sends trepidation through my bones when I prepare to preach!

Little did my father know that decades later the observance of Father’s Day could be politically controversial.  Are we just honoring the remnants of patriarchal society, the feminists complain. Well, we don’t mean to endorse patriarchy.  But this day is a good occasion to reflect upon the genuine vocation of fatherhood.

Scripture has much to tell us.  I know that some people can only think of the unfortunate line in the letter to the Ephesians about wives being subject to their husbands.  Taking that line out of context and misapplying it, as is so often done, undermines the profound truth the sacred author is trying to convey.

Much better to stick to the real portrait of fatherhood in the Bible.  Jesus had a loving relationship with his Father, which was his favorite way of pointing to God.  One of the many places in Scripture that captures Jesus’ sense of fatherhood is in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  The father is the patient, loving, faithful advocate for his sons – one of whom is a squandering fool and the other a self-righteous narcissist who can think of no one but himself.  I don’t know what this says about the father’s parenting skills, but it speaks volumes about the father’s faithful love and complete abdication of pride.  The father is a powerful figure in the story precisely because he has bent all his strength to caring for his sons.

I’ve been struck by the number of fathers who hold their infant children at mass on Sunday morning.  In the “old days,” I guess, the custom would be to just hand the child off “to the wife” for her to bear the burden.  But today, fortunately, most young couples see the burden of child rearing as a shared responsibility.  That’s not to say that this is a brand new idea.  One of my fondest memories as a small child is being carried upstairs to bed by my father when I was too tired to walk on my own.  As I grew older, I got way to heavy for him to accomplish that feat. But he continued to do it, nevertheless, in other ways.  And for that, I’m very grateful to him.

At least two of our recent presidents lament the fact that they were deprived of the presence of their fathers.  It was a handicap they were forever speaking of needing to overcome.  Whatever your experience of your father was like, let us today honor with gratitude the role that so many men have played as fathers of their children.

Father Walter F. Modrys, S.J.