Throughout the course of salvation history, from Adam to our present day, God has chosen to share his very fatherhood with certain men in the human family. He has selected specific men, empowered them, and given them the grace to reflect his own fatherhood in their respective families.
This is the particular vocation that we honor today on Father’s Day.
Every human father has been given a divine gift. Saint Paul tells us that every family receives its name from the heavens. In similar fashion, every father receives his fatherhood from the Eternal Father. The selected man is even blessed with the very name of God, since his own children call him “father.”
As we honor them today, it is vital for human fathers to realize that they have been marked as witnesses to God our Father. They are summoned to selflessly accept this vocation that God has given them and to labor throughout their lives to fulfill its responsibilities in a loving and virtuous way.
Admittedly, the men who are called to be fathers are found across the spectrum of temperament, personality, abilities, and virtue. Although fallen themselves, most earthly fathers do their best to love and care for their children. As Saint Paul reminds us of all heavenly gifts: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”
Yes, the gift of fatherhood is given to weak men. They hold this heavenly treasure in “earthen vessels,” namely, in their own brokenness and sinfulness. Even the best of fathers will sometimes get distracted, make mistakes, and forgo the glory that has been entrusted to them. This is why, at every turn, men-turned-fathers are beckoned by God to pay attention, to do their best, and to always fight the good fight seeking to be true ambassadors on earth of our Father in heaven.
With this perspective in mind, we can ask: What, then, are the attributes of true fatherhood? What does it look like? How do good earthly fathers model it for us?
The Sacred Scriptures go to great length to describe a good father. Each of these attributes give us a glimpse into the fatherhood of God. We can summarize the biblical notion of fatherhood as a supreme vocation to love prudently and selflessly. A father’s love, according to divine wisdom, is expressed in how he protects, cares for, feeds, provides for, and teaches his children. In particular, a father’s instruction is focused on truth, virtue, discipline, and hard work.
In breaking down this general summary, the Bible teaches us that a father is to always view his children as a blessing, especially in moments of anger or disappointment. He is called to be a paradigm of righteousness and a model of both justice and mercy. In addition, a father is summoned to hold virtuous and high standards for his children and provide them with the earthly and spiritual means to achieve them. He is to be tender, but also exercise discipline.
In this process, a father is to exude unrelenting confidence in his children. He is to manifest an overflowing compassion towards them as they struggle to be virtuous and excellent in all their tasks. He is to be present and available when they fail and need tough love or encouragement to help them get back on track.
In particular, the Bible calls on fathers to be motivating, accessible, and always ready to affirm and discipline their children when they succeed or fail, suffer or prosper, want to give up on themselves or flourish in their lives. A father’s love is to be constant and unconditional. He is to be a foundation for his children that never wavers or cracks.
In addition, a father instructs his children on righteous suffering and selfless service. He dies to himself by loving his wife without deference to himself or his desires, as Christ loves the Church. A man’s children witness this generous love to their mother. They also experience this same sacrificial love towards themselves as their father loves and cares for them.
A father also teaches his children, especially his sons, about fortitude and charitable service to the widow, orphan, and other vulnerable people. A true father extends his paternity to the common good. He is attentive to the movements of culture and fights against any attack against the innocent or weak, especially children.
These are some of the prominent biblical points about fatherhood. And only God does them perfectly.
Our earthly fathers hold the glory of their vocations in earthen vessels. The good ones do their best, as they sometimes fail or are distracted. Today, on this Father’s Day, we honor and thank the good fathers among us.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby