“Now I write down a few words here, just as they come from my heart. And though I write them with chains, better than my will in chains…Neither prison, nor chains, nor even sentence of death can separate a person from the love of God, or rob him of his faith and free will…
Again and again, people try to burden my conscience with my wife and children in mind…
Let us love our enemies, bless those who curse us, pray for those who persecute us. For love will conquer and will endure for all eternity. And happy are they who live and die in God’s love.”
– Blessed Franz Jägerstätter (1907 – 1943) Martyr and Father. On August 9, 1943, Jägerstätter’s was legally killed by the German Military for refusing to kill for the German Military.
A family is formed by a man and a woman who are married to each other together with their children (YOUCAT368). As Pope Benedict XVI said back in July 2006: “…the family is a unique good for children, who are meant to be the fruit of the love, of the total and generous self-giving of their parents.” The home must be a training ground in character building for children.
A husband and father are vocations in the service of God. Men must take this vocation seriously and cooperate at all time with God’s grace. Pope Pius XI (1857-1939) said that normally a vocation to the priesthood is a result of the example and teaching of a father “strong in faith and manly in virtues.”
The Christian tradition and even nature tell us that the father is the head of the home. But like Christ, a father and husband must make sacrifices for the family including giving up time wasted on ‘frivolities’ or unnecessary leisure so as to have time to foster a holy family. As the Church is subject to Christ, so also wives should be to their husbands in everything. Husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:24-5).
In marriage, you must forget yourself for service to the other. It requires perseverance and persistent effort as well as reliance on God. Marriages can be threatened by a lack of communication or financial pressure. Forgiveness and prayer can heal any wound when you trust in God.
Each family should be about forgiveness and mercy, for “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7). The words of Mercy are sorry, excuse me and thank you. We need to ask for mercy, be merciful and completely trust in Jesus and Mary. Confession is the sacrament of mercy.
Fr. Patrick Peyton, an Irish Priest and promoter of the Rosary coined the popular phrase, “A family that prays together, stays together.” Each family can strengthen each other in faith and pray for and with each other. Humility is the foundation of prayer. It is important to set aside each morning and night a time for prayer with the family. Emulate the gentle and humble life of the Holy Family.
Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Children are instructed to “be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” (Colossians 3:20-1).
Christians are called to convert people to faith in the person of Jesus Christ. The way of Jesus seems unreasonable to a person without conversion to the person of Christ first. The person of Jesus validates the veracity of His teachings.
Conversion is completely different to coercion. The Church has been given the power of God to fulfil her mission. History shows that physical coercion only creates deep hatred and that evil men can only be subdued by genuine love.
Peer pressure works in both directions: for good and for bad. Every day it is important to engage children on the choices they have to make every day. Friends of children can guide them down the right or wrong paths. Children need to be taught about being leaders and not followers wherever they find themselves.
Technology has changed beyond all recognition in recent years. Mobile phones have many health hazards associated with them and kids will play games into the night with them. It is worth checking what you children are doing on the computer. Make sure you install blocking technology for inappropriate websites. Knowing all the passwords and pins can be important and powerful.
St Francis of Assisi says, “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.” If you come into contact with people talking of very profane acts, you must walk away; you do not have to say anything for others to recognise your disgust. You can gently discuss the situation afterwards on an individual’s basis as people act differently when in a crowd than when alone.
St Augustine says, “The life of parents is the book which the children read.”
St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle (1650-1719), Patron Saint of Teachers, Founder of the Catholic school in his instructions to teachers and administrators in his On the Conduct of Christian Schools writes, “The birch is used only out of bad temper and weakness for the birch is a servile punishment, which degrades the soul even when it corrects, if it indeed corrects, for its usual effect is to burden.”
St. John Bosco (1815-1888), who spent his life educating the children of the dirt poor who no one else wanted to educate: “To strike a child in any way must be absolutely avoided. [These punishments] greatly irritate the child and degrade the parent.”
“If thou should see him (your son) transgressing this law, punish him, now with a stern look, now with incisive, now with reproachful, words; at other times win him with gentleness and promises. Have not recourse to blows and accustom him not to be trained by the rod; for if he feels it, he will learn to despise it. And when he has learnt to despise it, he has reduced thy system to nought.” -St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407 AD), An Address on the Right Way for Parents to Bring up Children
How can parents protect their families? The answer lies in St. Paul’s letter to Ephesians
“Brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand, therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians (6:10-17)
Finally, being a father should be about sacrifice and the final quote for the talk is from Cesar Chavez, the Catholic farm worker:
“…I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of humanness, is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice. To be truly alive is to suffer for others. God help us to be truly alive!”
St Joseph was a role model of what a father should be. He had great faith and no peer pressure. He was a man of silence and prayer. A genuine way to experience God is in silence. Men spend too much time on technology and gadgets and leave no time for God. In silence, Joseph was able to hear God’s voice. He knew it was God’s voice because it was about doing good and removing the shame on Mary. Irrespective of what other people thought, St Joseph did not conform. He provided and sacrificed. Fathers should establish order in their house. Children love order and not chaos.
Based on a talk at the NACF Pilgrimage to Walsingham, 2015.