Happy Father’s Day to all of you fathers! I’m reminded of the special prayer of blessing on the father of a child in the Rite of Baptism, which follows immediately after the prayer over the mother. It goes like this: “God is the giver of all life, human and divine. May he bless the father of this child. He and his wife will be the first teachers of their child in the ways of faith. May they be also the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what they say and do, in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
How much more our culture needs fathers to fully embrace this role of being their children’s first teacher in the faith… both in word and example! Fatherhood has suffered greatly in many ways in American culture over the last several decades, and this is especially true with regard to passing on the Catholic Faith. It was not long ago that fathers were seen as primarily responsible for the religious education, as well as the spiritual and moral well-being, of their children. The father was to teach his children their basic prayers, lead prayer together as a family, and bring them to church on Sunday. Of course, both mother and father did these things, but the father had the leadership in matters of religion.
While there are fathers who faithfully assume this role in their families, many fathers today, succumbing to the pressures of our culture, have abdicated their role in the faith formation of their children, or at least have taken a back seat. I recently came across the results of a study conducted in Switzerland in 1994. The study produced these statistics about the connection between the faith of fathers and the faith of their children:
- When a mother and father attend church regularly:
- 33% of their children will end up attending church regularly
- 25% of their children will end up not attending church at all
- When a mother attends church regularly, but the father does not attend church at all:
- 2% of their children will end up attending church regularly
- 60% of their children will end up not attending at all
- When a father attends church regularly, but the mother does not attend church at all:
- 44% of their children will end up attending church regularly
- 34% of their children will end up not attending at all
I’d like to share one final observation I heard recently from a father who also happens to be a deacon in the Church. He noted how most American men enjoy adventure in one form or another: hunting, camping, etc. However, when it comes to the adventure of the interior life of our relationship with God, most American men are afraid of this. Many climb mountains so as to avoid having to go inside. The father must strive to penetrate these depths, for then his children will follow him there. May we honor our fathers this day, especially those who have sown the seeds of faith in our life. And may we renew our own commitments to be our children’s first teachers in word and example.