Pope Francis dedicates second general audience address to the irreplaceable role of fathers
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VATICAN CITY —What the world needs today are committed husbands and fathers who are present and involved in their children’s lives. This was Pope Francis’ message on Wednesday, February 4th, during the general audience held in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.
Reflecting on a passage from the Book of Proverbs (23:15-16), the Pope continued his reflection on fatherhood. He spoke about the irreplaceable role of fathers in the growth and development of their children, a husband’s need to remain close to his wife, and what it does and does not mean for a father to be present to his children.
Here below we publish the full text of the Pope’s address. Please share it with your family and friends.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to undertake the second part of my reflection on the figure of the father in the family. Last time I spoke of the danger of “absent” fathers. Today, instead, I want to look at the positive aspect. Even St. Joseph was tempted to leave Mary, when he discovered that she was with child; but an angel of the Lord intervened who revealed God’s plan to him and his mission to be a foster father. And Joseph, who was an just man, “took his wife” (Mt 1:24) and became the father of the family of Nazareth.
Every family needs a father. Today we will reflect on the value of his role, and I would like to begin with several expressions found in the Book of Provers, with words that a father addresses to his son. He says: “My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will be glad. My would will rejoice when your lips speak what is right” (Prov. 23:15-16).
One cannot express more eloquently the pride and emotion of a father who recognizes that he has handed onto his son what really counts in life, i.e. a wise heart. This father doesn’t say: “I am proud of you because you are the same as me, because you repeat the things I say and do”.
No, he doesn’t simply tell him this. He tells him something far more important, which we may interpret in this way: I will be happy every time that I see you act wisely, and I will be moved every time that I heart you speak what is right. This is what I wanted to leave you with, so that you would become your own person: the attitude of felling and action, of speaking and judging wisely and rightly. And so that you might be like this, I taught you things you didn’t know, I corrected mistakes you didn’t see. I made you feel a love at once deep and discreet, which perhaps you didn’t recognize fully when you were young and uncertain. I provided you with a strict and firm witness, which perhaps you didn’t understand at a time when you would have wanted only approval and protection. I first had to test myself in wisdom of heart, and stand guard over excesses in sentiment and feeling, in order to bear the weight of inevitable misunderstandings and find the right words to make myself understood.”
“Now,” the father continues, “when I see that you being this way with your children, and with everyone, I am moved. I am happy to be your father.” This is what a wise father, a mature father, says.
A father knows well how much it costs to pass on this inheritance: how much closeness, how much sweetness and how much strength. However, what consolation and what recompense he receives when his children honor this inheritance. It is a joy worth every struggle, which surpasses all misunderstanding and heals all wounds.
What’s first needed, then, is this: that the father is present in the family. That he is close to his wife, to share everything, the joys and the sorrows, struggles and the hopes. And that he is close to the children as they grow: when the play and work, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they express themselves and when they are silent, when they are daring and when they are afraid, when they make a wrong step and when they find their way; the father should always be present. Saying he is present isn’t the same as saying he is a controller! Because fathers who are too controlling destroy their children, they don’t let them grow up.
The Gospel speaks to us about the exemplarity of the heavenly Father — the only one, Jesus says, who can truly be called “Good Father” (cf. Mk 10:18). Everyone knows the extraordinary parable called the “prodigal son”, or better yet, “the merciful father”, found in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 15 (cf. 15:11-32). What dignity and tenderness there is the waiting of that father who stands at the door at home waiting for his son to return. Father should be patient. Many times there’s nothing to do but wait; to pray and wait patiently, with sweetness, magnanimity and mercy.
A good father knows how to wait, and he knows how to forgive from the bottom of my heart. Certainly, he also knows how firmly to correct: he isn’t a weak, compliant, sentimental father. The father who knows how to correct without demeaning is the same one who knows how to protect unstintingly. I once heard a father say at a marriage gathering: “Sometimes I have to spank the children a little … but never in the face so as not to demean them.” How good! He has a sense of their dignity. He has to punish, he does it in the right way, and he goes on.
If then there’s someone who can explain deeply the prayer of the “Our Father” taught by Jesus, it is precisely those who experience fatherhood firsthand. Without the grace that comes from the heavenly Father, fathers lose courage and abandon the field. But children need to find a father waiting for them when they return from their failures. They will do everything not to admit it, not to let it be seen, by they need it. And not finding it opens wounds that are difficult to heal.
The Church, our Mother, is committed to supporting with all her strength the good and generous presence of fathers in families, since for the new generations the irreplaceable guardians and mediators of faith in goodness of faith in justice and in God’s protection, like St. Joseph.
Translation by Diane Montagna of Aleteia’s English edition.