What Pope Francis wants fathers to know

The universal word “father” points to a fundamental relationship that is as old as human history. Yet, Pope Francis says we have reached a point in history in which many would claim our society is a “society without fathers,” characterized not so much by the hostile presence of the father, but by his “absence” and “inaction.”

In the hope of fighting the many negative consequences in children and society that a negligence of this responsibility causes, the pope has often preached on the importance of being holy fathers and husbands, helping men strive for the type of holiness they are called to live out.

These are some of the key elements the Holy Father has highlighted:

Be present

Pope Francis insists that being present in the family doesn’t simply mean being or living in the same place. Rather, it means that a father must “share everything” with his wife and children: joy and sorrow, hope and hardship. He must be close to his children in the different stages of life: “when they play and when they strive, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they are talkative and when they are silent, when they are daring and when they are afraid, when they take a wrong step and when they find their path again.”

Hand down what really matters

What really matters is that a father hand down a wise heart to his son, the pope says. The Father should not say to his child, “I am prof of you because you are the same as me, because you repeat the things I say and do.” Instead, he should say, “I will be happy every time I see you act with wisdom, and I will be moved every time that I hear you speak with rectitude.” A father should teach his children the attitude to feel, act, speak and judge with wisdom and rectitude, the pope says.

Your example is a priority

In order to hand down what really matters, the pope assures that the father must be just that which he is trying to convey to his children. A wise and mature father should be able to say to his child: “I gave you a testimony of rigor and steadfastness that perhaps you didn’t understand, when you would have liked only complicity and protection. I had first to test myself in the wisdom of my heart, be vigilant of my excesses of sentiment and resentment, in order to carry the weight of the inevitable misunderstandings, to find the right words to make myself understood.” This will make it possible for his children to pass down the message to the following generation. It’s a legacy that his children will honor and that will bring abundant joy and consolation to a father, Pope Francis says.

Be a companion and a father

Be both, the Holy Father says, but don’t abuse. Sometimes fathers err on just being one or the other. When they want to be fathers by being present but without closeness, they run the risk of being controlling. “Fathers who are too controlling overshadow their children, they don’t let them develop,” the Holy Father says. On the other hand, when fathers only treat their children as peers, they are likely to retreat and neglect their responsibilities. “It’s true that you’re a ‘companion’ to your child, but without forgetting that you are the father! If you behave only as a peer to your child, it will do him or her no good” Pope Francis says.

Correct with charity

A child needs an authoritative figure, and so it is important that the father knows how to correct with firmness: “he is not a weak father, submissive and sentimental,” Pope Francis points out. Knowing how to correct, however, implies doing so without causing great damage. In other words, a father must learn to discipline with a sense of dignity.  “The father who knows how to correct without humiliating is the one who knows how to protect without sparing himself… He must punish, but he does it in a just way, and moves on,” the pontiff states. To do this, a father must learn how to wait and how to forgive from the depths of his heart, he adds.

You matter

Pope Francis understands fathers can feel “useless” or “unnecessary” at times. Yet, he insists that the father plays a key role simply by the “gift of his masculinity,” which compliments the gift of femininity, and allows him to be present to his wife and children in a unique way. He has the capacity of leading his children to God in a special way: “If, then, there is someone who can fully explain the prayer of the ‘Our Father,’ taught by Jesus, it is the one who lives out paternity in the first person. [Yet] without the grace that comes from the Father who is in Heaven, fathers loose courage, and abandon camp,” the pope says.

COMING UP: Swole.Catholic helps people strengthen body and soul

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St. Augustine once said, “Take care of your body as if you were going to live forever; and take care of your soul as if you were going to die tomorrow.”

Humans are both body and soul and both must be strengthened. This is the reason for the existence of Swole.Catholic, a group of people who dedicate themselves to nurturing their soul while strengthening their body, and through their ministry, motivate others to do the same.

According to Paul McDonald, founder of Swole.Catholic, they focus on encouraging faithful fitness. “We must take care of our temple of the Holy Spirit, because our bodies are one of God’s greatest gifts to us,” he said.

McDonald solidified the idea of faith and fitness when he was a sophomore in college. While “going through a huge moment in my life, at the same time I was really learning about the gym and learning ethical statements on my own. Both things clicked together,” he told the Denver Catholic. As a young guy, he started bible studies, and in those studies, he always had an analogy back to the gym.

He decided to make shirts for him and the guys in the bible study during his senior year. The shirts ended up becoming good conversation starters, and he decided he needed to do something with it — evangelize and motivate others to take care of their body and soul.

Thus Swole.Catholic was born. “Swole” is a slang term for bulking one’s muscles up from going to the gym, and of course, the Catholic part is self-explanatory — not only because of the Church but also for our faith and how it defines us in all we do. Swole.Catholic launched officially in Jan 2017.

The ministry consists of a website which provides resources to helps people with Catholic gyms, Catholic workouts, Catholic trainers, podcasts as well as workout wear.

The workout wear works as an evangelization tool. The word “Catholic” is printed on the front of the shirts and a bible verse is placed on the back.

“This raises questions or interest in others. It also works as a reminder of the purpose of the workout,” McDonald said. He added, “Most of the gyms we are going to have mirrors and all that, making you focus into yourself.” But the real purpose of the workout, as the members of Swole.Catholic say, is to strengthen your body and soul to live a healthy life.

Swole.Catholic also has rosary bands, a simple decade wrist band that people can wear while they workout and be flipped off at any time to pray a quick decade.

“Because everyone’s faith journey is different and everyone’s fitness journey is different, what we are trying to do is connect people with people [for them] to be able to have the correct support with their faith and fitness,” McDonald said.

That is why Swole.Catholic now has outposts around the country, with passionate Catholic members who love to help and inspire others in the fitness world while pursuing God in everything they do.

“Each one has its own flavor,” McDonald said. “In Florida we have a rosary run group where a bunch of girls meet up and pray rosary while they go for a run.” Among the outposts, there is also a group of guys in North Dakota who do a bible study and lift together. Similar to these two groups, members from other states have formed their own Catholic fitness groups and are now part of Swole.Catholic, including in Texas, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio and Wyoming and more.

“We encourage faithful fitness,” McDonald concluded. “We think your fitness fits in your faith as much as faith fits in your fitness. We are body and soul and we need to be building both.”

To join a group or a workout, visit swolecatholic.com or find them on Facebook.