Don't devalue modern dads -- on Father's Day, learn from Joseph's example
On this day dedicated to fathers, we must take seriously the contemporary state of fatherhood. Several years ago, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) remarked that "the crisis of fatherhood we are living today is perhaps the most important element threatening humanity."
Many people today ask whether fathers are really necessary or even desirable for the raising of children. In spite of the convictions of some that the absent father's role can be assumed by the mother herself, or by other male influences, the effect of fatherlessness on children is deeply alarming.
Having served as a priest and pastoral minister for nearly 25 years, I can attest to the very serious father crisis in the lives of far too many young people.
A part of our culture has little use for fathers, except perhaps as the butt of jokes. At times there seems to be a deep hatred for fatherhood, as demonstrated by irresponsible men who abandon their families, and some radical feminists (women and men) who proclaim fathers unnecessary.
The father's legitimate role is betrayed by both extremes: On one hand, a father abuses his authority by using it for his own needs; on the other hand, a father neglects his authority and leaves his family without a leader.
When the equality of men and women is misread to mean that men and women are essentially the same or interchangeable, we violate common sense. We negate the mystery of sexual difference. Sexual identity cannot simply be relegated to the demands of political ideology or correctness. Sexual differences are real; and they are more than simply physical or simply spiritual. They are grounded in the origins of the human person.
In his 1964 drama, Radiation of Fatherhood, Karol Wojtyla, who would become Pope John Paul II, suggested that becoming a father meant being "conquered by love," which liberates us from the "terrible" freedom of self-absorption. "In the radiation of fatherhood, everything becomes fully real."
This is the heart of John Paul's paternity that continues for so many young people today. I am convinced they responded so positively to him because in many cases the old Pope was the father that many never had and the grandfather they never knew.
Pope John Paul II was a great role model -- teaching what paternity was all about. He was able to draw such love and loyalty because in a world increasingly bereft of fatherhood, he embodied paternity, with its unique combination of strength and mercy.
The meaning of fatherhood has become blurred and unreal for many. To recover the true meaning, let's reflect for a moment on St. Joseph, one of the great figures of Christian history who exemplifies manhood, masculinity and fatherhood.
Joseph's paradoxical situation calls attention to the truth about fatherhood. First, because he stood as father to Jesus, a boy who was his son only in the legal sense, he was keenly aware, as every father should be, that he served as the representative of God the Father.
Second, Joseph understood that he had been entrusted to be head of the family. He neither neglected this authority, nor used it for selfish gain, but exercised his role in perfect humility, in the service of his family. Third, Joseph protected and provided for Mary and Jesus, taught his son how to pray, how to work, how to be a man.
As "foster father" of Jesus, Joseph reveals that fatherhood is more than a mere fact of biological generation. Every man is called to fatherhood, whether spiritual or physical. A man is a father most when he invests himself in the spiritual and moral formation of his children. Real fathers are those who communicate paternal strength and compassion.
Joseph's life reminds us that a home is not built on possessions but goodness; not on riches, but on faith and mutual love.
To all of you who are fathers and grandfathers, abundant blessings and peace to you today!