Some years back, Stephen Gabriel's A Father’s Covenant, a book aimed at young fathers, came out. The book consists of a series of aphorisms and promises for fathers to meditate on to help them grow in their relationships with their children, their wives, and God. These promises range from the solemn to the funny, and one made me laugh out loud: “I will play Chutes and Ladders with enthusiasm!” It reminded me of my childhood; it was a game my father used to play with my sisters and me all the time. But there is real wisdom in that promise.
It’s a promise to be faithful to the vocation of being a father. Even after a long day of work, even if he’d rather be doing something else—instead he will smile and laugh and take delight in spending time and playing games with his kids. Because that’s what fathers do. They keep their promise to love.
This Sunday is Father’s Day, when again we celebrate the beautiful reality of fatherhood and the importance of our fathers and grandfathers in our lives. But we also realize that we’re living increasingly in a “fatherless” culture where many fathers are absent from their children’s lives. Almost half of all American children are now born to mothers who are not married to the child’s father. More than a third of our children aren’t being raised in the same home as their fathers. These trends are part of a broader skepticism in our society toward traditional ideas of the family and the human person.
There are strong forces at work that would have us reimagine and reengineer the basic meaning of human nature. They want us to believe that whether one is a man or a woman is just an “accident” of birth, and not intrinsic to who we really are. They want us to believe that motherhood, fatherhood, and marriage aren’t natural realities, but just arbitrary “social constructs.”
This drift in our society has deep pastoral implications for our religious communities and for the Church’s duty to evangelize, because the Gospel that we are called to live and proclaim is the good news of God’s “family plan”—for history and for each one of our lives.
There is a reason that the history told in Scripture begins with the marriage of the first man and woman and ends with the wedding of Jesus and his bride, the Church, at the end of time. In salvation history, the human family proves time and again to be the vessel through which God’s blessings are poured out on creation. It begins with his promise to make Abraham the father of a multitude of nations and to bless all the families of the earth by his descendants. Indeed, Jesus was born as a “son of Abraham” in a mother’s womb and nurtured in a holy family, with a mother and a father. And the good news that Jesus came to announce is that God is our Father who loves us as his sons and daughters and who desires us to live as brothers and sisters.
For Christians, the crisis of fatherhood and the family makes it much harder for the Church to tell the world this good news and to lead people to God our Father. How are people supposed to understand these beautiful realities if they’ve never had any contact with their fathers or if they’ve never known any experience of traditional family life? I’m more convinced than ever that our mission to proclaim the Gospel requires the Church to work to restore a “family culture” in our society.
In practice, this means resisting the anti-family forces in our society. It means defending the rights of children to grow up in a home with a mother and a father who give them life and who promise to share their lives forever.
But more than that, as a Christian community, we need to do everything we can to restore the vital sense of what Pope Benedict XVI and Blessed John Paul II called the “human ecology.” We need to promote the truth that motherhood and fatherhood are truly Christian vocations of service and love. We need to do more to celebrate our mothers and fathers and to support families in individual parishes and schools. We need to talk about the beauty of marriage to our children—from a very young age.
Perhaps most of all, in our homes we need to make sure that we are spending time and showing dedication and love to our children. We need to make that promise—that we will play Chutes and Ladders with enthusiasm.
José H. Gomez is Archbishop of Los Angeles. He writes regularly on Facebook.
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