Steve Bollman, founder of the national apostolate Paradisus Dei (ParadisusDei.org) and That Man Is You, vividly remembers the first time he saw his dad go to confession.
He was about 6 or 7 years old; his older brothers were 10 and 11. The family went to either an Advent or Lenten penance service. After the communal part of the service, the congregation fanned out for individual confessions with priests scattered around the church. His dad — and his mom — chose to go to a priest in open sight, in the middle of the church.
“From a distance, I watched my dad kneel beside the priest, bow his head, make the Sign of the Cross and then whisper in the ear of the priest,” Bollman vividly recalled. “I remained spellbound with the thought that my dad was confessing to the priest that he had done something wrong. When he finished his confession, my dad went to a pew, knelt down and prayed, with his face in his hands, for what seemed like the longest time.” When his mom finished, they piled into the car.
“For the entire 15-minute drive home, my dad was besieged by three young sons begging to know what he had said to the priest and what the priest had told him to do for penance,” Bollman said. “Of course, there were lots of jokes — ‘Did you tell him about the time you yelled at me last week?’ ‘Did the priest tell you to buy me some candy from the store?’ In later years, I’ve come to believe the most appropriate penance that the priest could have given my dad was to endure the nonstop questioning from his three sons for the entire car ride without saying a word and to simply smile — which is exactly what my dad did.”
Bollman never forgot the lesson. “The enduring image is one of my dad kneeling, with his head bowed and hands folded, as he confessed his sins to the priest. It was so powerful for me that I’ve made sure that my children have seen it many times” from myself.
Bollman’s father’s example reflects what St. John Paul II said of fatherhood in Familaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World): “the witness he gives of an adult Christian life ... effectively introduces the children into the living experience of Christ and the Church.”
For Father’s Day, several other Catholics shared favorite memories of fatherly faith lessons.
Lisa Hendey, founder of CatholicMom.com, said that long before she understood the meaning of the words “domestic church,” she received “a firsthand master course in what it meant for parents to be primary faith teachers of their children.”
“Daddy had unique and fun ways of catechizing the five of us,” she recounted.
“One of my most tangible memories of Sunday mornings was the ‘Penny Game’ we used to play after Mass each week. Daddy would assemble us kids at the top of the steps in our house and ask quiz questions about the liturgy, the homily and the liturgical season. If we answered our age-appropriate query correctly, we could descend a step towards where he sat on the landing. The first child to the bottom of the stairs would win an ice cream cone.
“But Daddy had a special rule: ‘One tie, all tie.’ If two of us landed at the finish line in the same round, we were all winners.” Somehow, every Sunday, at least two tied in that final round of questioning.
Hendey related how, over those many rounds of the Penny Game, “we learned the Gospels by listening attentively. We trained ourselves to spot the colors of the liturgical seasons and the parts of the Mass. We attended closely to Father’s homilies and sang worship songs with gusto.”
Looking back, she realizes, “Our active participation in the liturgy may originally have been motivated by a desire for ice cream. But, ultimately, Daddy raised the five of us — and eventually our spouses and children — to know and love God, to understand what it truly means to be a follower of Christ, to be generous spirits in the world around us, and to model the same commitment in our own domestic churches.”
Author and Register blogger Marge Fenelon also shared one of the most valuable lessons her father taught her.
“My father was a very down-to-earth Catholic, and everything he taught me about the faith was by practical example. The most memorable lesson I learned from him was never to seek revenge and instead to allow God to handle the consequences for whatever wrongs were done to me.”
Emphasized Fenelon: “‘Never seek revenge, and leave justice in the hands of God,’ he told me.”
To illustrate her father’s — and mother’s — example, Gianna Emanuela Molla, daughter of Pietro and St. Gianna Beretta Molla, shared a letter her mother wrote to her father.
On June 5, 1959, her mom, who was expecting Gianna’s sister Laura, wrote to Gianna’s dad: “You really are the dearest and most affectionate little husband, a saintly papa, not of gold, but of diamond, the biggest and most precious one there is on this earth!”
“I fully agree with my mom, and I think that her words have an even greater meaning now that the Church canonized her as a saint,” Molla said. “My saint-mom, who has entered the joy of paradise, followed my dad’s example during her life. Like my mom, I, too, try to follow my dad’s example in my daily journey towards holiness, to which each of us is called. On Holy Saturday, April 3, 2010, Our Lord called him to paradise at almost 98 years old. While living those 48 years of my life with my dad, I learned what it means to be a ‘saint of everyday life.’ He was really the greatest treasure I had on this earth.”
Hats provided a major lesson for Mike Aquilina, father of six and author and editor. “My father wore the kinds of hats that the essayist Joseph Epstein called ‘serious hats’ — a fedora or a pork pie. And I’m thankful for that. It’s to that sartorial habit that I likely owe my faith in the Real Presence.”
Whenever they were out — whether walking or driving — his father would tip his hat as he passed a Catholic church. “At some point, I must have asked him why he did that, and he must have explained that it was his way of honoring Our Lord present in the tabernacle of that particular church.”
The gesture gave a lasting lesson. “I probably saw it repeated thousands of times, since our little town had nine Catholic churches in its 1.5 square miles,” he said. “Each time my father tipped his hat, I was reminded that Jesus was near — and that that fact was very important to my father. Pop was an almost-silent man — a paragon, I suppose, of Sicilian omertà. His eyes showed always that he loved me, but no one ever accused the man of over-sharing.
“He said much with his body language. He spent hours on Palm Sunday weaving fronds into crosses to give to his children. He went to Mass every Sunday and holy day. He sat and stood and knelt, and he even sang the hymns in his tuneless way. He bowed his head when Mom led us in grace.”
“I try to do with words with my father did with silence,” he reflected. “And I hope someday to be half as effective. If so, I’ll be a success.”
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.
Prayer for Fathers
By Pope St. John XXIII
St. Joseph, guardian of Jesus and chaste husband of Mary, you passed your life in loving fulfillment of duty. You supported the holy family of Nazareth with the work of your hands. Kindly protect those who trustingly come to you. You know their aspirations, their hardships, their hopes. They look to you because they know you will understand and protect them. You, too, knew trial, labor and weariness. But amid the worries of material life, your soul was full of deep peace and sang out in true joy through intimacy with God’s Son entrusted to you, and with Mary, his tender Mother. Assure those you protect that they do not labor alone. Teach them to find Jesus near them and to watch over him faithfully, as you have done.