Every Day Is Father's Day for Eucharistic Dads
Many of us grew up in a time when the American father's primary responsibility within the family was financial.
Dad worked hard all day and came home to rest in the early evening. For the most part, he limited his parenting to the role of decision-maker on important family issues. Dad was also in charge of discipline. All of us remember Mom saying, “Just wait until your father comes home.” Fortunately, the anticipated punishment was hardly ever as bad as you had imagined.
While many of us had special moments with our fathers, these encounters tended to be fairly few and far between. Where Mom was the ever-present nurturer and teacher, Dad was the special-occasion specialist. Although it would be inaccurate to lump all fathers together into this stereotype, it's safe to say that most American fathers saw their chief role as that of breadwinner.
Is this concept of “Dear Old Dad” compatible with the Christian concept of father-hood? Just what is the most important role of a Christian father within the family, anyway? These seem important questions to consider prior to June 17, Father's Day — which, this year, happens to coincide with the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi.
In his book Gift and Mystery, Pope John Paul II outlines the primary role of a father within the family by reflecting on the impact that his own father had on his life. The Holy Father describes the lasting impression his father made on him: “My father [was] a deeply religious man. Day after day I was able to observe the austere way in which he lived. By profession he was a soldier and, after my mother's death, his life became one of constant prayer. Sometimes I would wake up during the night and find my father on his knees, just as I would always see him kneeling in the parish church.”
The Pope illustrates with this simple example that the foremost responsibility of a Christian father, whatever his other priorities might be, is to be a homo Dei - a man of God.
Any father who accepts the challenge of carrying this essential mantle needs to know well the answers to three questions: What does it mean to be a man of God? What is such a man's mission? And what are his most salient virtues?
First, a homo Dei is a man who becomes a friend of God by living his baptismal promises. He anchors his identity as a Christian father in the Eucharist, which brings to perfection his baptismal promises. In his Apostolic letter Patres Ecclesiae, (On the Fathers of the Church) the Holy Father notes this key relationship between baptism and the Eucharist: “The Eucharist is seen as the fullness of baptism, since it alone makes it possible to live faithfully in accordance with one's baptismal obligations and continually to put into effect the power of its grace.” For this reason, a father becomes a committed Christian through the Eucharist.
To be a Christian dad carries with it one crucial responsibility: to help each member of the family to know and to love God above all else. This means helping everyone in his household discover the will of God in his life. To teach anyone, even our family, about the love and knowledge of God, and to help them discover their vocation in life, is not an easy task. How does a father fulfil such a challenging obligation? He needs to ask Jesus Christ daily in the Holy Eucharist for the virtues of prudence, fortitude and charity. Every dad understands the daily challenge of knowing what to say, how to say it and when to say it, when it comes to giving guidance to someone in his family. This is why a true homo Dei needs prudence.
Christian prudence concerns itself with all the details of our daily life by discerning everything in the presence of God. To act prudently from a practical standpoint requires three conditions: mature deliberation, a wise choice and right execution. If a father keeps these three conditions in mind when relating to his family, he will certainly know how to guide them in the right direction.
However, prudence alone will not solve all the problems that a Christian family may face in a secular world. Even the best of families have their share of difficulties. That's why Christian families need fathers well-formed in the virtue of fortitude. Fortitude gives fathers the necessary strength of soul, strength of character and spiritual vigor to pursue always the moral good for their families without being deterred by the many difficulties they may encounter.
What does fortitude demand of an authentic homo Dei? First, it demands determination to seek at all cost the moral good of the family, which may imply many sacrifices. Courage and generosity are needed in putting forth all the personal effort that a peculiar difficulty the family may call for. And steadfastness is needed to prolong as long as necessary the effort to overcome any problem that may endanger the moral good of the family. A truly wise father will always realize that his fortitude does not come from himself, but from God. He will encounter strength of character principally in the worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist.
A father's witness as a homo Dei within his family will be convincing only if he lives the virtue of charity. Charity for a dad means loving his family as God loves them. We know that God's love is personal. A father's love should be personal, too. Dad's love is personal when he becomes a vital part of each ones life in his family. This occurs when he knows each member's strengths, limitations, needs, fears and aspirations. In other words, he's there to support, to motivate and to offer the best of himself to everyone in his family along their journey toward the love and knowledge of God.
Every year, Father's Day reminds us that our dads are special because every family needs a homo Dei. This year, Father's Day reminds dads themselves that help is available in the form of the body and blood of Jesus.
Father Andrew McNair teaches at Mater Ecclesiae International Center of Studies in Greenville, Rhode Island.