God calls some men to fatherhood. How each one is asked to live that call out is unique. Some live out the call physically, as biological or adoptive fathers; others do so spiritually as religious or godfathers. Each father chooses to offer his life for others.
Catholic grandfathers, deacons, foster fathers and priests are just some of the many ways men can live a holy fatherhood. Regardless of which form it takes, the vocation of holy fatherhood requires total commitment, sacrifice and self-giving — a choice to love, to will the good of another.
John Betz, husband and father of three, pondered this incarnational love especially in light of the upcoming holiday. “This may be pretty obvious, but just as Mother’s Day is a good day to think about the motherhood of Mary, Father’s Day is a good day to think about the Fatherhood of God — both as our Father, but also and primarily as the Father of the Son,” he reflected. “As for myself, perhaps the biggest challenge is the giving up of time and setting aside work, which is sometimes pressing, to be with my kids. I have learned that what they really want, more than anything other than love, is my time and attention.
“Every day presents challenges in this regard, given how much work we have to do in a world that prioritizes work, not the leisure or play of a Sunday afternoon. God the Father is our best example, and should be mine,” Betz added.
From St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Damien of Molokai to Blessed Benedict Daswa and St. Thomas More, the Church treasures the witness of men living well their vocation of fatherhood. In both spiritual and physical avenues, holy fathers mirror well the original first love from God the Father. They lay down their lives for others, literally and figuratively. They are disciples following the primary example of Jesus.
Speaking to his brother priests, Pope Francis preaches of spiritual fatherhood.
“All of us, to exist, to become complete, in order to be mature, we need to feel the joy of fatherhood: even those of us who are celibate. Fatherhood is giving life to others, giving life … for us, it is pastoral paternity, spiritual fatherhood, but this is still giving life, this is still becoming fathers.
“This ‘is a grace that we priests must implore: the grace of pastoral fatherhood, of spiritual fatherhood. … Indeed, although we can all have sins, even many sins. But not having spiritual sons and daughters, not becoming pastors, is equivalent to an incomplete life, that stops halfway. … And therefore, we have to be fathers, but it is a grace that the Lord gives.”
Following the lead of St. Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, Luca Grillo, husband of Jennie and father of two children by adoption, understands his fatherhood as “loving my children as a father means introducing them into a world which has definitely fallen but has definitely been redeemed.”
Josh Noem, a fellow parishioner of Grillo’s at St. Joseph Parish, South Bend, is a husband and father of three. “I’m constantly amazed at how each one of our three kids is unique and original and one-of-a-kind,” he said. “As much work as we do to form them with consistency and attentiveness, I’ve learned that parenting only works when it honors each one’s individuality. As they grow, it’s such a joy to walk with them as they discover the people they were created to be. It’s a humbling gift to be entrusted with.”
Being married now for 20 years, Noem added, “I’ve heard it said that the best thing a father can do for his children is to love his wife. I’ve found that to be true.”
Within the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, there are fathers who awaken at 5 a.m. to gather and read Scripture or pray the rosary together before heading to daily Mass and then a full day’s work. Coming home, they juggle the three-ring circus of family life, trying to give each family member what they need. They put the little ones to bed, then share the household chores with their spouse before night prayer and finally the opportunity to rest themselves.
“To do all this requires determination and grace – not to mention humility and a recognition that you’ll fail sometimes. Maybe even frequently. Even that, however, is good for your kids, because they’ll see that life is less about succeeding than it is about trying and persevering, said St. Matthew Cathedral parishioner Rick Becker. He and his wife, Nancy, have seven children from ages 15 to 25 and eight godchildren.
Father Zachary Rathke, CSC, of St. Adalbert and Casmir parishes in South Bend, said he has been struck by the vocational call of his two older brothers, both of whom are married and have children.
Their whole day requires abandonment of their own desires and to instead pour themselves out constantly for the family,” Rathke reflected.
“As a priest and a spiritual father of a parish, I have a similar call,” he shared. “I must not limit myself to merely putting in a workday of eight hours and then see my job as done. My vocation is a call — a call that requires me to abandon myself to God and my spiritual family, pouring myself out constantly for them, always ready to attend to the needs of the parishioners. I cannot simply tell a member of my spiritual family: ‘I’m off the clock, so don’t bother me.’ I never stop being a priest, just as my brothers never stop being a father. Prayer is that precious relationship that is at the very foundation of my call to be a priest and an instrument of Christ’s presence in this world. The more I lean into my relationship with Christ, the more He will fill me, and the more He will be poured out in love through me. That is true for me as a priest and for all fathers.”
“We give only as we receive,” concurred Msgr. Michael Heintz. “I experienced spiritual fatherhood from such great priests as Msgr. William Lester, Father William Hodde, Father Donald Muldoon, Father William Schooler, Msgr. John Suelzer and Bishop D’Arcy. Like all good dads, they taught me how to do two things simultaneously: to love and to have high expectations for those they love. I have also learned about spiritual fatherhood from the many good dads I know as I watch them live out their vocation in relation to their own children. I continue to learn from them,” he continued.
“Priests always have something to learn from their friends who are parents, as they live out the same mystery of the love that comes from the Father, from whom all fatherhood comes — as Ephesians 3.15 says.”
Philip Munoz of St. Joseph Parish, Mishawaka, is a husband and the father of young children, some of whom are on earth and others who are now in heaven. He described this unfolding of fatherhood, for the individual and society at large.
Becoming a father calls “upon one to develop certain virtues, especially responsibility, gentleness and patience,” he said. “The domestic church then offers one a stake in the community, the place you live — and its future becomes important in new ways, because it is the home of your children.”
Within the home, Munoz also found that fatherhood “helps one understand the virtues of motherhood and how mothers and wives sacrifice for their children and families.”
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