On Fathers’ Day, we celebrate the fathers and father figures in our lives who have made us who we are. Would that we celebrated fatherhood throughout the entire month of June, just as we need to celebrate motherhood throughout the month of May. It is important for Catholics and everyone of good will to recognize the vital role that fathers play in our lives, recalling of course that – of all of the settings within which he could have come into the world – God chose to incarnate himself within the familial setting of a mother and a [foster-]father, Mary and Joseph.
You would not know it from what various realms of the media decline to emphasize and contextualize regarding Pope Francis’s words, but he has dedicated a great deal of his pontificate to underscoring the irreplaceable importance of a mother and a father in their children’s lives. Here are ten of Pope Francis’s most remarkable quotes regarding the role that fathers are called to fill in their children’s lives. They are listed in as accurate of a chronological order as possible, in order to highlight the continuity of Pope Francis’s paternal message throughout his pontificate.
1. “In Abraham’s journey towards the future city, the Letter to the Hebrews mentions the blessing which was passed on from fathers to sons (cf. Hebrews 11:20-21). The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Genesis 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan. Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors many features of faith.” – Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei: On Faith, paragraph 52, June 29, 2013
2. “The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensable contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born ‘of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life.'” – Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: On the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World, paragraph 66, November 24, 2013
3. “It is necessary first to promote the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its non-material goods. The family is the foundation of co-existence and a guarantee against social fragmentation. Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.” – from the opening remarks at the colloquium for Humanum, themed “The Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage,” November 17, 2014
4. “Without father figures, young people often feel ‘orphaned,’ left adrift at a critical moment in their growth and development… fathers are necessary as examples and guides for our children in wisdom and virtue.” – general audience, January 28, 2015
5. “A good father knows how to wait and knows how to forgive from the depths of his heart. Certainly, he also knows how to correct with firmness: he is not a weak father, submissive and sentimental. The father who knows how to correct without humiliating is the one who knows how to protect without sparing himself.” – general audience, February 4, 2015
6. “Let us cross the threshold of this tranquil home, with its family sitting around the festive table. At the center we see the father and mother, a couple with their personal story of love. They embody the primordial divine plan clearly spoken of by Christ himself: ‘Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female?’ (Matthew 19:4). We hear an echo of the command found in the Book of Genesis: ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).'” – Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia: On Love in the Family, paragraph 9, March 19, 2016
7. “Every child has a right to receive love from a mother and a father; both are necessary for a child’s integral and harmonious development. As the Australian Bishops have observed, each of the spouses ‘contributes in a distinct way to the upbringing of a child. Respecting a child’s dignity means affirming his or her need and natural right to have a mother and a father.'” – Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia: On Love in the Family, paragraph 172, March 19, 2016
8. “We are speaking not simply of the love of father and mother as individuals, but also of their mutual love, perceived as the source of one’s life and the solid foundation of the family. Without this, a child could become a mere plaything. Husband and wife, father and mother, both ‘cooperate with the love of God the Creator, and are, in a certain sense, his interpreters.’ They show their children the maternal and paternal face of the Lord. Together they teach the value of reciprocity, of respect for differences, and of being able to give and take. If for some inevitable reason one parent should be lacking, it is important to compensate for this loss, for the sake of the child’s healthy growth to maturity.” – Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia: On Love in the Family, paragraph 172, March 19, 2016
9. “We often hear that ours is ‘a society without fathers.’ In Western culture, the father figure is said to be symbolically absent, missing or vanished. Manhood itself seems to be called into question. The result has been an understandable confusion.” – Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia: On Love in the Family, paragraph 176, March 19, 2016
10. “God sets the father in the family so that by the gifts of his masculinity he can be ‘close to his wife and share everything, joy and sorrow, hope and hardship. And to be close to his children as they grow – when they play and when they work, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they are talkative and when they are silent, when they are daring and when they are afraid, when they stray and when they get back on the right path. To be a father who is always present. When I say ‘present,’ I do not mean ‘controlling.’ Fathers who are too controlling overshadow their children, they don’t let them develop.’ Some fathers feel they are useless or unnecessary, but the fact is that ‘children need to find a father waiting for them when they return home with their problems. They may try hard not to admit it, not to show it, but they need it.’ It is not good for children to lack a father and to grow up before they are ready.” – Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia: On Love in the Family, paragraph 177, March 19, 2016
In the midst of Fathers’ Day or otherwise during the year, let us reflect on the father’s significantly formative role: as husbands to their wives and as fathers to their children. It would be good for fathers to engage in spiritual reading regarding fatherhood. One such book is Catholic marriage and family life expert Dr. Gregory Popcak‘s new book BeDADitudes: 8 Ways to Be an Awesome Dad (Ave Maria Press, 2017). Inspired by the holy example of Saint Joseph, let us remember to value and encourage fathers. Society is in crisis, and strong fathers stepping forward is a way to fortify society for the building up of the kingdom of God. Saint Joseph, pray for us!