Patrick E. Kelly
COMMENTARY: A father can have no higher responsibility than ensuring his children’s education in the Catholic faith, leading to the formation of their spirituality and the development of a deep relationship with God.
Not a single word uttered by St. Joseph is recorded in the Scriptures. And yet his role in the Church is so important that, last Dec. 8, Pope Francis called for an entire year to be devoted to him.
This Father’s Day, it’s appropriate to focus and reflect upon this patron saint of fathers and guardian of the universal Church as an inspiration and guide for today’s fathers.
God entrusted to St. Joseph the duty to protect and defend the Holy Family. St. Joseph, for his part, was humble and obedient to God’s plan. He listened to the Lord and then made his life one of service and sacrifice to Jesus and Mary.
"As Catholic fathers, we are similarly entrusted by God to be the humble, obedient and self-sacrificing spiritual leaders of our families. St. Joseph’s example inspires us to practice heroic generosity and love in caring for our wives and children. We protect our families through countless acts that will often go unnoticed and unrecognized. These small, selfless acts allow the Holy Spirit to work and can influence our families in ways we don’t often recognize."
As protector of the family, a man can have no higher responsibility than ensuring his children’s education in the Catholic faith, leading to the formation of their spirituality and the development of a deep relationship with God. In so doing, fathers pave their children’s way toward the kingdom of heaven.
At a minimum, we must embrace our responsibility by personally taking our families to Sunday Mass every week. Participation in Mass and celebration of the Eucharist as a family is an essential element of building their Catholic identity and recognizing that they are a part of the universal Church.
Now that the pandemic has subsided, and we are able to attend Mass in person once again, we have an opportunity to fulfill our holy obligation as fathers.
A 2018 study from St. Mary’s Press and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University (CARA) found that among young fallen-away Catholics (and there are 5.4 million of them in the United States between the ages of 15 and 25), the median age at which they no longer identified themselves as Catholic was 13 years old. How does that happen if Dad and Mom are making it a point for the family to attend Mass together regularly?
A father, specifically, bringing his kids to Mass — no matter how challenging — is crucially important for another reason. According to a European study, only 3% of children will continue into adulthood as regular churchgoers if the father doesn’t regularly practice the faith — even if the mother attends on a regular basis.
Conversely, if the father is a regular churchgoer while the mother is nonpracticing, 44% of the children become regular churchgoers. In other words, a father’s example has a profound and disproportionate influence on his children when it comes to spiritual matters.
In the home, we as fathers are leaders of the “domestic church,” as Vatican II referred to the family. That’s no easy job in this increasingly secular society obsessed with materialism and unhealthy digital distractions. Remember, St. Joseph was called to fatherhood under difficult circumstances during dangerous times, so let us draw strength and inspiration from his example.
A strong foundation for our domestic church begins with personally educating our children about the faith and continues by building a strong life of prayer together. It starts with prayers at bedtime for the little ones, continues with mindful prayer at family meals and graduates to a weekly family Rosary and active family discussions of the faith. Just as with Mass attendance, kids will model their life of prayer after Dad’s faithful example.
As fathers, it is important that we also set the example when it comes to leading a genuine, day-to-day spiritual life. This means being actively engaged in our children’s lives. But it also means humility, patience, prudence, honesty and unconditional love. Children will pattern their own character after our example — asking for and practicing forgiveness, doing works of service, and living a life of virtue.
Today’s commitment to our Catholic values will also affect our future relationships with our children.
Christian Smith, an acclaimed sociologist and author of Young Catholic America (2014), notes that 73% of practicing Catholics feel “close to their father” in comparison to 49% of disengaged Catholics. On almost no measure did disengaged emerging adult Catholics have stronger relationships with their parents than those who were practicing.
None of us can perfectly live up to the role we have been given. This is understandable. But by God’s grace, we can all build upon whatever relationship we already have with our children to create something more deeply spiritual. So many of the evils in the world and the ills within our communities stem from a crisis in fatherhood. St. Joseph’s quiet example eloquently tells us that we can make a profound difference.
As children acknowledge Father’s Day with gifts of “World’s Greatest Dad” mugs, barbeque aprons and ties, may we as fathers acknowledge the gifts our children truly are and rededicate ourselves to instilling within them a lasting spiritual legacy.