Elizabeth Foss
Foss is a freelance writer who lives in Springfield.

In revealing and reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God, a man is called upon to ensure the harmonious and united development of all members of the family: He will perform this task by exercising generous responsibility for the life conceived under the heart of the mother, by a more solicitous commitment to education, a task he shares with his wife, by work which is never a cause of division in the family but promotes its unity and stability, and by means of the witness he gives of an adult Christian life which effectively introduces the children in to the living experience of Christ and the church.(Familiaris Cosortio, 25)

Imagine what Jesus learned in Joseph's workshop; a trade to be sure, but even more. He learned to be a man of character, to earn an honest living, to be an upright citizen. Jesus spent thirty years at home before he went into public life. Though little is written of Joseph in scripture, we know he was a man of great character because we know his Son. Joseph was a man for whom the Holy Father's exhortation above would have been a welcome and holy call.

Fathers, your wife and your children are your vocation. You have been called by God himself to sanctify them and return them all to Him in heaven. By the grace of your baptism and the sacrament of matrimony, you are priest, prophet, and king in the domestic church. The responsibility is awesome, the blessings abundant.

To the small child in particular, you are God. When he is very little, all he knows is that God is a father and since you are his father, God must be just like you. (The way I figure it, if you've lived up to your child's image of you at this stage, everything else is a piece of cake.)

I think John Paul II knows the hearts of men. He reminds them not to be consumed by their work to the extent that work becomes divisive in the family. The pope cautions the workaholic. Wives and children would surely trade material wealth for time with Dad. It was with tears in her eyes that my friend showed me her new diamond anniversary band, "I would have much rather had him home than have him work the hours that it took to pay for this ring."

To be sure, fathers have the enormous responsibility of providing for the physical needs of the family. To do the job well, however, does not require all the latest gadgets or even a fully-funded college education. Instead it requires that as you meet their needs, you make sure that your children are ever-mindful of God's providence. God will not abandon the faithful but will provide for their needs. If your children leave your home understanding that money, like everything else, belongs to God and is to be used to do His will you will have been a financially successful father.

In this passage and several others, John Paul II reminds fathers of their responsibility as primary educators of their children. Whether formal education is undertaken in a public, parochial or home school, the ultimate responsibility is the father's. Practically speaking, fathers must remain in constant communication with mothers and with teachers. Parents should make it a habit to frequently discuss their children's strengths and weaknesses, particularly with regard to character.

A father's primary responsibility however, is the one to be a Christian witness to his children. The most immediate opportunity for evangelization is in our own homes. The most pressing need is to bring our children to a real and personal relationship with Christ. To that end, it is imperative that children see their fathers pray. Teach them the rote prayers of the Church, to be sure, but also teach them how to share with their Lord and Savior those things which lie within their hearts. Show your children how to talk to God.

When parents have decisions to make, take children through the process of prayer and discernment. Show them that as Christians every choice is one to be made in light of the will of God. Being Catholic is not simply something we do on Sunday, it is who we are. We are children of God, created in His likeness, to bring glory to Him. To be a man of God is a call to leadership, to action, and to prayer. To be a Christian father is to reveal and relive on earth the very fatherhood of God.

Taken from:
The March 9, 1995 issue of
The Arlington Catholic Herald,
The diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA) diocese.

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