Father of the Fatherless

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Father in a World where many are Fatherless

This takes on a special importance in a “fatherless” society, where so many men have either physically or spiritually abandoned their wives and children; in a society where ideology has caricaturized fatherhood and razed it to the ground as an asexual or interchangeable role. Now the priest must be proactively in the front line  of true fatherhood,

You are to be father in an increasingly fatherless society where many grow up in a home without “dad” either  because he walked out or because he doesn’t act out his role. On top of that, false anthropologies and deformations of true feminism have attacked the father-figure creating in many men a sense of apology for their role and an unwillingness to exercise the masculine virtues essential for paternity.

The manner in which they carry themselves, maintain discipline and deal with their parish families (especially the children) is more important than it has ever been before, because so many young people—and even many adults—are watching them intently, looking at them not only for spiritual leadership but also as fathers in the most essential and foundational sense of the word.[1]

This  widespread destruction of fatherhood  has created a need for surrogate fathers and an especially important role for priests as the  New York psychologist, Dr. Paul Vitz,  has noted:

 Obviously, a priest will not be a substitute father in the same way that an uncle or someone who lives in the family can function in this role. It is important to note, however, how infrequently many fatherless children have interaction with any adult men. There are extremely few male elementary and middle school teachers, and many children can go through a week without a single personal interaction with an adult man.

However, the effect of a substitute father is often great, even when there has been relatively little time spent with the child—another testament to the surprising resiliency of children. Boys in particular are capable of creating positive ideal images of men even when they don’t have the chance to meet them—sports figures are a good example of this (although it is worth noting how often celebrities give an unhealthy image of manliness). Therefore, even short periods of exposure to a priest—during the Mass, in the classroom, during confession—can have a profound influence on children who are desperately in need of father figures.

Most of us can remember in our high school years that certain older students made a big impression on us even though we had little to do with them. Likewise, many a college professor has a great impact on his students in a relatively small number of class hours, and perhaps without ever having a direct conversation with the student. In this same way, watching a priest say Mass or teach a class can have long-term positive or negative effects on young people, who are often paying very close attention. An example, given by a fine and holy priest, illustrates this well.

He recounted that when he was around twelve (this was back in the 1930s) a young, masculine priest came to his parish. One of the things that the altar boys in the parish did with this priest was to go target shooting with .22 rifles. This priest remained at the parish for less than a year, but he had a profound influence on this young boy, who himself later became a priest. All his life he remained a target shooting enthusiast, and attributed his first realization of his own priestly vocation to this young priest who had spent such a short time in his parish. Priests must make an effort to be accessible as father figures within their parishes, because in a world of so many fatherless children, the priest’s role as father becomes especially important. [1]

When a boy approaches a priest after receiving counsel from him ( someone the priest has long forgotten because he  was one of so many who had come to him for confession) to say quietly and in a tone of  earnest solemnity, “Father, you changed my life”, does it not  remind the priest of the supernatural power within his fatherhood? Or when a young man in the middle of  spiritual direction suddenly interrupts the priest to say “Now why can’t all fathers speak like this to their sons?” does it not remind us again that  grace flows through our souls to others because of our priestly identity ?

[1] PAUL C.VITZ and DANIEL C.VITZ, “Priests and the Importance of Fatherhood”, in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, December 2008.