Saturday, June 16, 2012

Our fathers and the Father who loves us

Archbishop José H. Gomez 
By Archbishop José H. Gomez 

Some years back, a good book for dads came out — "A Father's Covenant," by Stephen Gabriel (HarperCollins, 1996)

One of these promises made me laugh: "I will play Chutes and Ladders with enthusiasm!"

That reminded me of my childhood. That's a game my father used to play with us all the time!

And there is real wisdom in that promise.

It’s a promise to be faithful to the duty of being a father. The duty of love. Even after a long day of work, even if he’d rather be doing something else — instead he will smile and laugh and take delight in playing games with his kids. Because that’s what fathers do. They keep their promise to love.

This Sunday is Father's Day. Again we celebrate the beautiful reality of fatherhood and the importance of our fathers and grandfathers in our lives.

But we also realize that we’re living in a "fatherless" culture — where many fathers are absent from their children's lives.

Almost half of all children in our country are now born to mothers who aren't married to their children's fathers. More than a third of America’s children aren't being raised in the same home as their fathers.

Strong forces in our society are trying to re-imagine and re-engineer the basic meaning of human nature. They want us to believe that whether one is a man or a woman is just an "accident" of birth, and not important to whom we really are. They want us to believe that motherhood, fatherhood and marriage aren’t natural realities, but are just arbitrary "social constructs."

These tendencies in our society have deep pastoral implications for our parishes and for our duty to evangelize.

Because the Gospel we are called to live and proclaim is the good news of God’s "family plan" for history — and for each one of our lives. It's the good news that God is our Father — who loves us as his sons and daughters and who desires us to live as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

That’s why our Father sent his only Son to be born of his Spirit in a mother’s womb and to be raised in a family with a mother and a father.

Jesus taught us to relate to God as he did. With a child's affection. With a child’s trust that his father will always provide.

He established his Church to be his "bride" and to be the mother of all who believe in him. He called his priests to be spiritual fathers, who bring up new children of God from the font of baptism and feed them with the Bread of Life.

To follow Jesus means we should think about our lives in terms of our divine filiation. Each one of us is a child of God. He created us in our Father’s image, just as children resemble their parents.

The rhythm and direction of our Catholic life of grace — our life of prayer and the sacraments — is meant to help us grow up as his sons and daughters, until we achieve mature spiritual adulthood in the image of Jesus, the Son of God.

The crisis of fatherhood and the family makes it much harder for us to lead people to God our Father. How will they understand these beautiful realities if they don't have any contact with their fathers or if they don't have any experience of traditional family life?

Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI said recently: "A father's absence, the problem of a father who is not present in the child’s life, is a great problem of our time; and therefore, it becomes difficult to understand the profound significance of what it means to say that God is a Father to us."

We need to do everything we can to restore a "family culture" in our society. We need to do more to celebrate moms and dads and to support families in our parishes. We need to talk about the beauty of marriage to our children — from a very young age.

In our homes, we need to play Chutes and Ladders with enthusiasm! And we need to make sure that we’re spending time and giving love to our older children, too.

So let’s pray for all fathers this week — our natural fathers and our spiritual fathers, our priests! Let’s ask St. Joseph to guide them.

And let’s ask Mary, the mother of the family of God, to help all of us to grow as God’s children.

Archbishop José H. Gomez is archbishop of Los Angeles. His weekly column is provided by and appears in The Tidings, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Reach Archbishop Gomez on Facebook at www.facebook.com/archbishopgomez.

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