A reflection on Father’s Day from Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.
Like “Mother’s Day” in the United States, “Father’s Day” celebrations began here in the early 20th century. Their true origins, however, are rooted in Catholic religious devotions to St. Joseph in the Middle Ages. For the most part, the national observance of “Father’s Day” is a secular holiday.
For us as Catholics who cherish family life as an “ideal” modeled by the Holy Family, it is important to stop and recognize or remember our dads, living or deceased, on this day dedicated to them.
Throughout the Scriptures, God is presented and affirmed as “Father.” Yes, I acknowledge the issues raised by some when speaking of God as “masculine,” but the Scriptures refer to the Creator that way as does our long Church tradition. The fact of faith with which we can all agree is that God is the source of our existence.
“Honor your father and mother” is one of the Ten Commandments with which we are all familiar. “Father’s Day” certainly responds to that command. Hopefully the “honor” extends for more than just one Sunday in June!
In ordinary usage, “father” conveys the notions of “provider,” “guardian,” “caretaker,” in roles that complement and share a mother’s “unconditional love.” Although, unfortunately, some of us have grown up without the presence or love of a father in our lives for any number of reasons, the concept of “fatherhood” is a noble one, worth our respect and recognition.
So often in the life of the Lord Jesus as told in the Gospels, we find him in all kinds of conversations with his “Father,” the term he most often uses to describe or address God. Not surprisingly, we find the same type of references in other New Testament writings. That, in itself, conveys something very profound for all of us who are or use the title “father” in our own lives. The expression “father” is an invitation, really, for men so called, to imitate and pattern their “paternity” on the loving care of our “heavenly Father,” no small task!
Apart from the difficulties that, sadly, may exist in some family situations, to “be” a “father” or to “have” a “father,” denotes one of the two most important relationships any person can have in the world. Fathers need to keep that in mind and reflect upon it daily. Daughters and sons need to keep that in mind and reflect upon it daily. Spouses and mothers also need to keep that in mind and reflect upon it daily as they share their loving responsibilities with fathers.
One thing I have observed and heard about from families in these times of pandemic is that “staying home” required by the declared state of emergency has actually “re-introduced” family members to one another. Being together at home for most of the day, taking meals together, watching TV together, doing school lessons or other work together, watching live-streamed Masses together have enabled the roles within a family to become more defined and – despite a little spat here and there – have drawn families closer together, especially with the father’s presence more pronounced.
In my neighborhood, I have enjoyed watching “dads” outside playing with their children, walking with their wives and family, and even – bravely – getting used to riding a bike again with their little ones. These scenes are the beautiful, positive and happy consequences of a not so positive and happy pandemic. Perhaps the past few months have been a teachable moment!
Going back to the Lord Jesus, Mark’s Gospel relates a conversation with his Heavenly Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, addressing him as “Abba, Father (Mark 14:36),” an expression used two other times in the Letters of St. Paul to the Romans and Galatians. While scripture scholars love to debate such usages, it is basically an Aramaic word for “father.” Translators make the case that it connotes a genuine, deep intimacy between parent and child but not in a childish way.
That makes sense, given the fact that the adult Lord Jesus uses it during the Agony in the Garden. There is an urgent dependency in the account and the Lord Jesus turns to “Abba, Father” in his moment of need. But it can certainly be used in other circumstances as well to express the depth of the relationship: one of a father’s creating, caring, affirming, listening, challenging and, above all, loving a son or a daughter, no matter what their age, and of a son or a daughter returning that love.
The “teacher” in me sometimes takes over, so let me return to the topic at hand: Father’s Day!
Secular though it may have become in our country, let’s make the celebration of this holiday here in our Diocese an occasion, a moment of faith. I invite you to be grateful to God our Father – first, foremost and always – for creating and sustaining us as his sons and daughters. And, then, express gratitude to God for our own fathers and all that they have done for us and mean to us.
Fathers, renew your loving care and commitment to your children and families. Make sure they know how much you love them. Daughters and sons, “honor your father and mother,” not just on a holiday named for them but each and every day. Don’t let the relationship slip through your hands. Keep in touch and do so in a way that drives the message home – like the TV commercial, “I love you Dad” … and repeats it often, not just in words.
Father’s Day is not simply another secular occasion for greeting card companies to cash in. No, it is an experience of family life that deserves to be celebrated as an aspect of our faith as well.
Fathers are with us in our homes and families all too a short a while – but they live in our hearts forever!