On this Father’s Day weekend, I’d like to briefly reflect on the special role fathers play in the spiritual development of their children. Mothers have their role to play too, but I think the importance of the spiritual life of the father in the family is too often overlooked or ignored (or maybe some men just do not want to acknowledge the weight of their spiritual importance). When men ignore their spiritual role in the family, everyone in the family suffers.
Last week, during all the Santa Lucia activities, I watched young men and women as they observed older men carrying the statue of Santa Lucia, men singing songs, men praying in the church, men walking in procession, and kneeling before the image – all with obvious devotion and affection on their faces. The young people absorbed all this going on around them and honored it with their respect. The witness of men praying has a deep impact on young people and stays with them.
One of the treasured memories of my life was going with my dad to church at 3:00 in the morning to pray before the Blessed Sacrament during Forty Hours Devotion. I do not know what he said to God during that silent time, but kneeling next to him for that hour profoundly touched my life. I wanted to live that same kind of heroic witness to the things that really mattered. I wanted to be that strong and that committed.
One of the important things a dad can teach is that in every moment, in every act done, greatness can be seen in even the smallest of tasks, if it is God’s work that is being done. Life lived well puts God at the center and his immediate presence can be felt if we pay attention. This is not some special mode of existence, rather it is seeing in the very ordinary toil of the day, where life is most human, the profoundest of the profound can find expression. Even in times of pain and struggle, even in doing the most routine of tasks it is possible to touch the eternal.
I watched one grandpa at the festival take special time with a small little boy tugging at his pants, turning to him with all the time in the world, inviting him to take all the time he needed and to say whatever he wanted to say. This grandpa probably never even considered that he was doing anything extraordinary. He was just doing an ordinary act, but it was entirely consistent with the love that was his life. Ordinary acts of love are holy. It was a small thing this grandpa did, yet consistent small acts of love speak volumes about who a person is and make a profound impact on those around them. That small boy may be forever changed by that encounter.
Jesus is our example of this. Long before Jesus ever worked a single miracle, long before he preached the Sermon on the Mount, he was attracting followers. What drew people to Jesus could not have been what they knew about him or even the works they saw him perform. It was something else. It was some quality, some way of being, some way of looking at them that revealed a love and acceptance for each of them that was greater than the love and acceptance they felt they deserved. Jesus expressed to them how present God was in their lives – more than they ever could have hoped.
The spiritual role of the father in the family is to teach that – the presence of God. To help each of their children know that God is here in the day-to-day actions and love that is happening in their family. To look on their children with such love that they recognize it is more than they ever could have imagined. Doing so, will give the children the strength and courage to meet whatever challenges will come their way each day. Doing so, will set their children free to live life well. Doing so, will set them on the road that leads to heaven.
Happy Father’s Day!