by Bishop Robert Reed
I had two fathers when I was growing up.
I know that sounds strange. The fact is, my birth father, William, was killed in a car accident just before I received my First Holy Communion. My mother remarried a friend of my father some years later. Both my dad and Charlie were World War II veterans; one was a Presbyterian, the other a Catholic.
But it’s interesting to think about how innocently people back then would have thought about my opening statement. My father, and later Charlie, could never imagine the changes that the American family would undergo in the coming decades. We have witnessed an explosion in a number of problems such as divorce, fatherlessness, out-of-wedlock births, and abuse. And we have seen our society accept a “redefinition” of marriage.
Much has changed. But one thing has not changed and will not change: the need of a child for a stable family life, ideally with both father and mother.
Rightly so, there’s a lot of focus on the Church’s teaching about contraception, abortion, and euthanasia. But Catholic teaching also has much to say about life, love, and family. We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example, that “the Christian home is the place where children receive the first proclamation of the faith. For this reason, the family home is rightly called ‘the domestic church,’ a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues, and of Christian charity” (CCC, 1666).
It’s all in the interest of the child, especially her or his spiritual good.
Granted, there are situations where some families will be without a father, such as in our case, when we tragically lost our dad.
But we should all be striving to support the ideal: the presence of a loving mother and a loving father who not only give support to one another in rearing their children, but also provide the role models necessary so their children know what it means to be a good father and a good mother.
After all, we wouldn’t expect young men and young women to have to take a special course in parenthood in high school or college. And we wouldn’t expect pre-Cana to be able to provide a crash course in fatherhood or motherhood to a prospective groom or bride. Like the faith itself, parenthood is something “more caught than taught,” something a child learns about by the witness given by his or her own mom and dad.
Much of what is important about being a father can be summed up by something Pope Francis said during an audience in 2015. Families can be “fatherless” even if the father is alive. How? When a father is consumed by his work and makes no time for play and family time, Francis said.
Children, the pope said, “are orphaned in the family, because their fathers are often absent, also physically, from the home, but above all because, when they are present, they do not behave like fathers. They do not converse with their children. They do not fulfill their role as educators. They do not set their children a good example with their words, principles, values, those rules of life which they need like bread.”
What potential children have, and how enhanced that potential can be if a father takes the words of the Holy Father seriously!
We in the Church have spoken much over the past few years of the apparent decline in belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. We would not be exaggerating too much if we say that a father’s “real presence” in his family would do wonders in helping young Catholics be more attuned to the Real Presence of Christ in our midst. A loving father is a wonderful aid to a child’s belief in a loving Father-Creator.
A dad has many opportunities to witness the faith to his children. If he lives according to the Catholic faith, the children are likely to do likewise throughout their lives. Even if they fall away from the faith at some point, they will have a reference point and a compass for the times when they find themselves in difficulty and are searching.
What a difference it will make later in life if a father has taken his children to Mass and to confession. Or if a father has tempered his emotions in a tense moment, whether at home or outside, rather than “blowing up” in anger. Or if a child can see that his father was wronged in some way and yet forgives generously.
Fathers, our society, and our Church are undergoing crises. You have the power to change the course of things, beginning with the children God has entrusted to you!
BISHOP ROBERT REED is an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Boston and the editor-at-large of Catholic Digest