On Father’s Day, June 18, we celebrate fatherhood, parental bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. I must admit that as I prepared to write this article I discovered I did not know much about the origin of this special day. This prompted me to do a little research.
Father’s Day was initially celebrated in local communities, for example, in Vancouver, Washington; Chicago; and Spokane, Washington. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge recommended that the day be observed throughout the entire nation but stopped short of issuing a national proclamation. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who designated the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day, issued the first presidential proclamation. Six years later the day became a permanent national holiday when President Nixon signed it into law in 1972.
Our Catholic tradition of honoring fathers dates back to the Middle Ages when March 19, St. Joseph’s Day, was the customary day for honoring fathers in Catholic Europe. The celebration was brought to the Americas by the Spanish and Portuguese, and in Latin America, Father’s Day is still celebrated on March 19.
In the litany of St. Joseph, Joseph is called Spouse of the Mother of God, Guardian of the Virgin, Foster Father of the Son of God, diligent Protector of Christ, Head of the Holy Family and Pillar of Families. Joseph guides and protects his wife and foster Son. He is a great model for fathers.
In a series of talks on the family, Pope Francis identified the essential but demanding characteristics of a good father. Allow me to share three characteristics Pope Francis mentioned in a general audience address on February 4, 2015.
“A father needs to be present to his family . . . close to his wife . . . and close to his children as they grow: when they play and when the strive, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they are talkative and when they are silent, when they are daring and when they are afraid, when they take a wrong step and when they find their path again – a father who is always present.”
A good father knows “how to wait and knows how to forgive from the depths of his heart.” The father in the parable of the Prodigal Son is the model for waiting and forgiving. How long he waited for his son’s return. How tenderly he welcomed him home. “Fathers must be patient,” Pope Francis said. “Often there is nothing else to do but wait; pray and wait with patience, gentleness, magnanimity and mercy.”
Join me in praying for all fathers, living and deceased. They are called to be guardians and protectors of their families. This is a noble vocation. Society needs the witness of faithful husbands and loving fathers. “Fathers are so necessary as examples and guides for our children in wisdom and virtue. Without father figures, young people often feel orphaned; left adrift at a critical moment in their growth and development” (Pope Francis, General Audience, January 28, 2015).
To all fathers I say “Happy Father’s Day!” Be assured of my support and prayers for you. May you be the irreplaceable guardians and protectors of your family as St. Joseph guarded and protected Mary and Jesus.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.