Tom McFeely is the National Catholic Register’s News Editor. He lives in British Columbia.
This video of Pope Benedict XVI speaking in Cameroon and aboard the papal plane that took him there shows a bit of the Pope’s gentle yet firm fatherly touch.
Since today is the feast day of St. Joseph, foster-father of Jesus and paternal model for every Catholic, it’s a good time to take a look at how our current Holy Father himself models fatherhood for us.
Writing in his inimitable style at InsideCatholic.com, former Register staffer John Zmirak says Benedict’s recent letter to the world’s bishops about the controversy over the lifting of the four bishops of the Society of St. Pius X spoke volumes about his spiritual fatherhood:
“It tells us what a kind, courageous, wise, and compassionate father he is,” Zmirak writes in his article, “The Prodigals and the Papa.” “Insofar as he shows us (through smoked Bavarian glass) the Father he works for, Il Papa makes us positively long to embrace Big Daddy.”
Zmirak notes that in these rebellious and feminist-formed times, paternity gets a bad rap.
”Fatherhood, authority, patriarchy . . . these aren’t ‘happy’ words anymore,” Zmirak says. “Our civilization has spent two centuries repressing these primal realities, beginning in 1789 with France’s ritual murder of that nation’s earthly father. As the sometimes insightful madman D. H. Lawrence observed in his book on American literature, modernity can best be described as ‘killing all the fathers,’ then wrestling with their ghosts.”
And, Zmirak adds, this poisonous view of earthly fatherhood compromises the capacity to comprehend God the Father properly. “If our image of fatherhood is drawn after Homer Simpson,” he says, “so we will picture Our Father in heaven — as I must confess I used to do, figuring that catastrophes like tsunamis, genocides, and altar girls could be traced to God snoring at the controls of Springfield’s nuclear reactor.”
The Pope can hardly be expected to overcome this anti-father bias with one letter, or with an entire pontificate. But his letter about the excommunications affair does afford him an opportunity to model how a true father acts when forced to deal with squabbling and uncharitable children within his own family.
In this case, the mean-spirited and childish Catholic squabblers within the Church are the traditionalist SSPX schismatics who reject the teaching authority of the Second Vatican Council, and the post-conciliar “spirit of Vatican II Catholics” who reject the teaching authority of many aspects of the Magisterium that preceded the Second Vatican Council.
“The Pope’s tone is poignant and calls to mind the tale of the Prodigal Son,” comments Zmirak. “It’s easy to see that amiable Bavarian standing between the prodigal goofball and his pharisaical elder, negotiating a truce and calling both of them to the feast. Which is, after all, what faithful fathers do.”