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: Why 42 had to be impeached twenty years ago

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Twenty years ago this month, I found myself seriously double-booked, so to speak.

The editing of the first volume of my John Paul II biography, Witness to Hope, was entering the ninth inning, and I was furiously engaged in exchanging edited and re-edited copy with my editors in New York. At the same time, the Clinton impeachment drama was cresting. And as I had long done speechwriting for Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I spent week after week of split time, working on John Paul II from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., then switching to impeachment for a couple of hours before returning to Witness to Hope in the evening.

It was not the optimal way to work but it had to be done, even if it seemed likely that the president would be acquitted in a Senate trial. On December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives voted two articles of impeachment and senior House members, including Mr. Hyde, solemnly walked the two articles across the Capitol and presented them to the Senate’s leaders. On toward midnight, Henry Hyde called me and, referring to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, said, “We’re not going to make it. Trent won’t fight; I saw it in his eyes.” After a long moment I replied that, if we were going to lose, we had a duty to lay down a record with which history would have to reckon.

Which is what the great Henry Hyde did during the January 1999 Senate trial, where he bent every effort to prevent the proceedings from descending into farce.

For Hyde, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton was an unavoidable piece of nasty business. It was not a matter of partisan score-settling, nor was it a matter of punishing a president for gross behavior with an intern in the White House. It was a matter of defending the rule of law. As Henry put it to me when it seemed clear that the president had perjured himself and obstructed justice, “There are over a hundred people in federal prisons for these crimes. How can the chief law enforcement officer of the United States be guilty of them and stay in office?”

Impeachment is a political process and it was clear by mid-fall of 1998 that the politics were not breaking toward removing the president from office. They had been pointed that way over the summer, though. And as the pressures built, it seemed as if the Clinton presidency might end as Richard Nixon’s had: Party elders, in this case Democrats, would go to the White House, explain that it was over, and ask the president to resign for the sake of the country. Then around Labor Day that year, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times and other columnists began suggesting that, if Clinton were impeached and convicted, the sexual revolution would be over, the yahoos of reaction would have won, and we’d be back to something resembling Salem, Massachusetts, during the witchcraft insanity.

That was preposterous. It was also effective. And within days, at least in Washington, you could fill the templates shifting: This wasn’t about the rule of law, it was about sex and the yahoos couldn’t be allowed to win. (That Henry Hyde was the leader of the pro-life forces in Congress neatly fit this storyline, of course, abortion being a major plank in the platform of the sexual revolution.)

So once the game was redefined — Are you for or against the puritanical yahoos? — there was little chance to wrench the political process back to what it was really about: the rule of law. In his opening speech during the president’s trial, Henry Hyde tried valiantly to refocus the argument, insisting that high office did not absolve a man from obeying his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the laws of the United States and his oath swearing to tell the truth to a federal grand jury. To suggest that it did was to “break the covenant of trust” between president and people, dissolving “the mortar that binds the foundation stones of our freedom into a secure and solid edifice.”

It wasn’t a winning argument. But it was the right argument. And on this 20th anniversary, the nation should remember with gratitude those like Henry Hyde who, under fierce assault, stood for the rule of law.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore | Flickr