Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Fathers Help Chart the Path to Heaven

Over the course of my life, I’ve had a lot of faith formation.

As a product of the Catholic Schools through the eighth grade, it was here I learned about Mass, the sacraments, prayers and saints through the Benedictine Sisters at Saint Bridget’s.

In high school, I was confirmed and learned from catechist volunteers at our parish more about what we believe and why, preparing at an older age to affirm my faith.

And in seminary, we dove into everything you can think of with respect to the faith: Catholic history; the sacraments; “eschatology” or the study of death, heaven and hell; virtues; vices; spirituality; moral theology; the Trinity; and the list goes on and on and on.

It goes without saying all of these experiences were important to learn the content of the faith. But there’s a reason Vatican II, in it’s Declaration on Christian Education, singled out parents for their unique role. Specifically, the words in the document are:

Since parents have conferred life on their children, they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it. For it devolves on parents to create a family atmosphere so animated with love and reverence for God and others that a well-rounded personal and social development will be fostered among children. Hence, the family is the first school of those social virtues which every society needs. …  Parents have the first and inalienable duty and right to educate their children. (Gravissimum Educationis 3, 6).

I might be biased, but as I look at the “first school” I had which was my home, I have to say for what I received, it was far better than a degree from Harvard. And that’s because both of my parents were well versed in being excellent teachers of what living out the faith means.

Thinking about my dad as we celebrate Father’s Day, I have gained, and continue to gain so much from him.

It wasn’t the Benedictine Sisters who taught me my first prayer. That was my dad. It was the Lord’s Prayer, and we would pray it nightly. But beyond that, his whole life has been a living testament to his faith.

Much like Saint Joseph did so much for Jesus in a quiet way, and there were so many moments that impacted Jesus that took place from Jesus seeing him work and care for he and Mary, the same is true with our fathers as well. In my dad’s case, he’s worked hard his whole life to provide for the family. Thanks to his hard work in maintenance in schools, teachers and kids had a great building to go to every day. He’d go above and beyond in doing great work there to make their lives better. And he did this in so many ways for us at home too.

After a long day at work, he wouldn’t disappear in front of the TV or be out with friends. He’d spend time with me as a kid, and we’d go to the park, out in the yard, or play a game of electric or Atari football (two very cool old school games if you grew up in the 80s). As the years went by, he’d be there for guidance and advice. He’d be patient as I navigated through my teen years and college wrestled with what to do with my life and found my way. He’d listen. And he’d help so many people like my grandparents, doing so much for them as they advanced in years. And he’d treat my mom like Saint Joseph treated Mary, with care, respect and love. Beyond this there were the other things that I learned over the years through seeing him do such things as shoveling an elderly neighbor’s walk without being asked; of praying each night; of showing tolerance and respect to others; of Mass not being something you even think twice about going to but that you center your life around each week; of being a man of your word, meaning what you say and living it out. The list goes on and on.

My dad has been an amazing teacher to me of how one is to lead their life. When I think of Him I think of Jesus in that I see a self-emptying love that knows no limits. He’s helped me to know what I need to do to become a better person, and most of all to know that the most important thing in life isn’t fame, recognition, money or power, but is rather about coming to know who God is and helping others to do the same.

To all of our fathers on this father’s day weekend, thank you for saying yes to this vocation. Never forget that for all the hours you put in at work providing for your family; for the time going to practices and ball games; the time working on fractions and helping your kids to sound out words; the time you had to be dad and not a friend and use tough love and the word “no”; the times you encouraged your kids to believe in themselves, to so many other things that you’ve done over the years, we your sons and daughters thank you. For in all these things, you’ve helped us to see the face of God, each action being a brush stroke on the canvas God gave you to fill through the testament of your lives. May God bless you!

Happy Fathers Day,

Fr. Paul

A Prayer for Fathers (from Saint 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.