The Beauty of Fatherhood
Celebrating the Octave of Father's Day with a Reflection
Today marks the celebration of Father’s Day across the world, a day on which the wonderful gifts, blessings and joys of fatherhood, the central role of the father in the family and the paternity of the priesthood of the Church are brought out of their frequent obscurity and popular denigration and raised up to the divine light of God the Father. Human fatherhood, like human motherhood and human marriage, is not merely a biological accident or social role; rather, it is an image, a sacramental sign on Earth of the participation of humanity in the mystery of God through the beauty of the family, both that of father, mother and children and of the Church. Fatherhood is in this way central to the identity and purpose of men, built into the very nature of masculinity. Following the archetypal origination of Adam, the examples of the great patriarchs of the Old Covenant and the Fathers of the Church, men share in the very paternity of God himself; as St. Paul poetically writes,
For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named. (Eph 3:14-15 DRA)
Fatherhood can be held up to a standard of three interrelated marks or characteristics: authority, providence and cultivation. Adhering to these marks, fathers, whether familial or priestly, represent the three divine offices of Christ, that of priest, prophet and king, and perpetuate the prophetic types of Christ in Adam the gardener, Moses the law-giver and David the priest-king. The faithfulness of fathers to their vocation is seen in how well or how poorly they image these three marks of fatherhood to those in their charge, giving themselves wholly and sacrificially in love according to their nature as men and as sons of God.
By their authority, true fathers form the headship of the family and of the Church, preserving, guarding and applying the deposit of life and faith given to them by God as its servant and steward. (1 Cor 4:15, 11:3; Eph 5:22-24) Willing to risk their lives, make the toughest decisions for the highest good and defeat the evils that threaten that which they protect, true fathers are trustworthy, reliable and responsible, living in gratitude for the gifts afforded to them by God in their fatherhood and leading their spouse and children, their Church and flock to become true disciples of Christ and live in the friendship of charity promised by his grace. Like King David, ancestor of Jesus, true fathers sing and celebrate the love of God, suffering with their family, protecting them from harm and shepherding them along lighted paths out of the valley of death. (Ps 22:4, 118:105) They judge mercifully, forgive justly, fight with discipline and rejoice with solemnity.
By their providence, fathers work, toil and struggle to maintain the life, security and hope of their loved ones. Beneath the yoke of this fallen world, a world which often hates their exalted vocation and seeks to seduce them with the temptations of irresponsibility, self-indulgence and the bitterness of despair, good fathers cling to the law of God, keeping it ever in their heart and finding consolation in its contemplation, loving it “above thousands of gold and silver.” (Ps 118:72) Like Moses, good fathers “go in to the altar of God”, (Ps 42:4) entering his holy place and the tabernacle of his presence, standing before the fire of his omnipotent Love and petitioning for the sake of their children. They receive God’s law in their heart and reflect its light to others through their smiling, grave and generous countenances, their limbs bolstered and purged by hardship and their minds trained to take up “the armour of God” (Eph 6:13) and deflect the fiery darts of Satan and his worldly servants with the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith. (Eph 6:16-17) Even amidst endless desert wanderings, when the water of relief seems forever lost and the blazing heat of disorientation, corruption and death beat down inexorably, fathers stand tall as a banner before those who look to them and remain as indomitable as the promises and commandments of God.
By their cultivation, fathers seek out good soil, nourishing it, fencing it in and guarding it against pests and diseases so that the seeds which they plant may grow into new life whose fruit will bear seeds of their own. Drawn to the beauty, the power and the radiance of the feminine, the exquisite vessel, the lustrous jewel and the glittering star of the woman who quenches his thirst made parched by the barren ugliness and brutality of the world, seeking the wife, the mother, the daughter who will be that for which he fights and suffers and who will love him for himself, fathers are, like Adam, made for Eve, bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh, (Gn 2:23) incomplete in their primordial isolation and unfulfilled apart from the requited love of their equal. As Adam, the first gardener, tended his Eden, so fathers prune errors, uproot vices, weed out toxic intruders and indefatigably ensure the harmonious balance of all things. Beholding with weeping joy the budding fertility and blossoming delight of their spouse, fathers approach “with fear and trembling” (Philip 4:12) to the most excellent mystery of fatherhood: the fruit of new life, the helpless and innocent children given over to them, whether of their own blood or that of the Church, and feeling the great responsibility entrusted to them, they prowl the borders of their wondrous garden, chasing away invaders and letting in only those who will share in and contribute to the gift that they have been tasked with cultivating. In this way, they become like Christ the Gardener, who appeared as such a humble and generous person to St. Mary Magdalene outside his own tomb; (Jn 20:15) only just emerging from planting, Christ brought forth the new seed of eternal life and bestowed its cultivation and profusion to the apostles. (Mt 28:19) Fathers nourish the minds, hearts and bodies of their families with their own life, like the great iconographic pelican whose blood becomes the very life of its children, and thus edifyingly signify for them the eternal self-giving love of Christ, not provoking their children to anger but bringing them up “in the discipline and correction of the Lord.” (Eph 6:4)
These three marks of fatherhood – authority, providence and cultivation – are the mandate of fathers, familial and ecclesiastic, and it is by their fulfillment or abuse that fathers will be judged. In today’s world, and in this fallen world throughout history, fathers often fail in their vocation, forfeiting the ship of which they are the captain for the fugitive island of earthly pleasures while their craft and its passengers are left to drift at sea. When fathers fall down on the job, especially by unrepentant malice or selfish cowardice, all of humanity suffers for it; boys become delinquent, girls become derelict and the Church becomes dulled by scandal, division and surrender to the darkness of the world. In the end, fatherhood itself is rejected, the family is counterfeited and the Church is adulterated. Identifying these marks can aid in the correction of their abuses and in the work of inspiring their faithful adherence. Just as the value of celibacy and marriage in society are reciprocally mirrored, so is the value of familial and priestly fatherhood.
This Father’s Day, remember the example of the greatest human father of all, the blessed St. Joseph, father of Our Lord, ever-faithful, ever-vigilant, loving, self-giving, authoritative and righteous in every respect. (Mt 1:19) Give thanks for the love of all good fathers, holding up St. Joseph to those fathers who have failed in their duties and reminding them of the incomparable joy and honor available to them in their God-given vocation.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2020), 2214. Kindle.
 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 92, a. 3, at New Advent, www.newadvent.org.