by Archbishop William E. Lori
(This article was originally posted at The Catholic Review.
A few weeks ago, I attended a symposium on the efforts of the church to address the deep and longstanding problems in Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods. Various speakers told how the church is helping to address these problems. I am proud of all that our Catholic hospitals, schools, parishes and social service agencies are doing to address major needs in many areas of the city.
The heads of these Catholic service agencies were impressive. However, the most important comments of the day were made by a group of students from a local Catholic high school. These five young men spoke about growing up in neighborhoods rife with violence, drugs, high unemployment and abandoned row houses. They told how, with the help of Catholic schools, they were pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. You could tell that these young men were seeking to fulfill their God-given potential in a future full of hope.
One person in the audience asked, “What does it mean to have a male role model in your life?” One of the young men, intent on pursuing a career in financial services, answered, “It would have been ‘magical’ to have a dad who was engaged.” Another said that having a dad and mom would have made “a huge difference” for him and for his brothers and sisters. Still another said, “Having a man to look up to makes you think you can succeed.” Still others told us they had found male role models and mentors at their school and said how grateful they were to them.
These young men were speaking from their experience – much of it very difficult. They conveyed a sense of awareness that by God’s grace they’ve been pulled from the brink; that they are among the most fortunate. Key to their good fortune is a father or a father figure.
What is true of these young men from inner-city Baltimore is true of all young people. As children grow toward adulthood, their fathers play – or should play – a crucial role in their development. Absent a father, young people at least need to have a father figure whose virtue and wisdom in some way reflects the wisdom and love of God the Father. Yet it is not only inner-city fathers that tend to be missing-in-action. Fatherly absence cuts across all socio-economic lines.
Fathers help their children to be open to the challenges of the wider world while demonstrating the goodness of an authentically masculine love and concern for his wife and for his family. As mothers and fathers love each other and their children in distinct yet complementary ways, children learn how men and women should relate to one another – with deep respect for each other’s dignity and worth. And research shows that when a father practices his faith, his children are far more likely to grow up to be practicing Catholics.
Throughout my own life, I have been blessed by a loving father. My dad, a veteran of World War II, a man who worked hard all his life to provide for his family, taught us more by example than by word about the meaning of love. And his love and concern for his sons continues to this very day. Just recently my older brother died and I saw once again how deeply my father loves us.
As we celebrate Father’s Day this month, let us celebrate the role of our dads in building the domestic church, working hand in hand with their wives in making our homes places of prayer, learning, virtue and service, and in handing on the faith to the next generation.