Father’s Day offers us a good opportunity to consider seriously the crisis of fatherhood in the world. The present challenges to fatherhood cannot be understood in isolation from the culture in which we live. 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 pastoral minister for nearly 25 years, I can attest to the very serious “father” crisis in the lives of far too many young people. When I reflect on the incredible appeal the Servant of God John Paul II had for young people, I am more and more convinced that the young people responded so positively to him because in many cases the old Pope was the father that many of these young people never had and the grandfather they never knew. Pope John Paul II was a great role model for them- he taught them what paternity was all about. He was able to draw such love and loyalty because he embodied paternity in a world increasingly bereft of fatherhood, with its unique combination of strength and mercy.
A big part of our culture has little use for fathers, except perhaps as the butt of jokes on sitcoms and commercials. More and more I see a deep hatred for fatherhood, as demonstrated by irresponsible men who abandon their families, and some radical feminists who proclaim that fathers are unnecessary. We see the father’s legitimate headship betrayed by both xtremes: on one hand, a father abuses his authority by using it for his own desires; on the other hand, a father neglects his authority and leaves his family without a leader.
We have often failed to call men to full responsibility. This failure has contributed to the stereotype that women alone can appreciate the dignity of human life and the worship of God. Men can be tempted to think that they are somehow excused from their responsibilities in service to the family and the rest of humanity.
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. Sexual differences are real; and they are more than simply physical or simply spiritual. They are grounded in the origins of the human person, for as the book of Genesis says: "male and female God made them."
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" (and terribly false) freedom of self-absorption. To be conquered by love in this way was to be liberated in the deepest sense of human freedom: for only in "the radiation of fatherhood...does everything become fully real."
That was what John Paul II's paternity meant: in a world of delusions and illusions, he made things "fully real," because his spiritual fatherhood was a reflection of the fatherhood of God.
Several years ago, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (who has now become Pope Benedict XVI) remarked that, "the crisis of fatherhood we are living today is an element, perhaps the most important, threatening man in his humanity."
To all who are fathers, or about to be fathers, look at John Paul II's life and witness. Don't hesitate for a moment to ask the Servant of God, John Paul II, to intercede for you and give you a small portion of his faith and courage.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation