Pope Francis, returning to the theme of the family, dedicated the catechesis of today’s Wednesday general audience to the figure of the father: “a word dear to us as Christians, more than any other, as it is the name with which Jesus taught us to call God”, he said to the thousands of faithful gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.
“Father is a universal word, known to all. It indicates a fundamental relationship that is real and ancient as the history of mankind. Today, however, we have reached the point of affirming that ours would be a ‘society without fathers’. In other words, in particular in western culture, the figure of the father would be symbolically absent, to have vanished. At first, this was perceived as a form of liberation: freedom from the father-master, from the father as the representative of a law imposed from the outside, from the father as the censor of the happiness of his children and an obstacle to the emancipation of the autonomy of the young. Indeed, in the past in some cases authoritarianism, indeed even oppression reigned in some homes: parents who treated their children like servants, who did not respect the personal needs of their growth, fathers who did not help them to embark on their path in freedom, to assume their own responsibilities for building their future and that of society”.
“And, as often happens, we have passed from one extreme to the other. The problem of our times no longer seems to be the invasive presence of fathers, but rather their absence. Fathers are so focused on themselves, on their work and at times their personal fulfillment, that they even forget their families, leaving children and the young to their own devices. Now, on this shared path of reflection on the family, I would like to say to all Christian communities that we must be more careful: the absence of the paternal figure in the life of children and the young produces lacunae and wounds that can be very serious. And in effect the deviances of children and adolescents may to a considerable extent be due to this lack of examples and authoritative guidance in their everyday life, to this lack of closeness and love from their fathers”.
“The feeling of orphanhood experienced by many young people is more profound than we might think. They are orphans in their families because their fathers are often absent, also physically, from the home, but above all because when they are present, they do not act like fathers: they do not speak with their children, they do not give their children, by their example accompanied by words, those principles, those values, those rules for life that the young need in the same way as they need bread. At times it seems as if fathers are not sure what position they should occupy in the family, or how to educate their children. And so, in doubt, they abstain, they withdraw and neglect their responsibilities, possibly seeking refuge in an improbable relationship of parity with their children”.
The civil community with its institutions too has “a certain responsibility towards the young; that might be described as paternal”, the Pope added: “a responsibility that at times it neglects or exercises poorly. This too leaves them as orphans, and does not offer them true prospects. The young are therefore orphaned of sure paths to follow, orphaned of teachers in whom they can trust, orphaned of ideals to warm their hearts, orphaned of values and hopes that support them day by day. They are filled with idols but robbed of their hearts; they are driven to dream of enjoyment and pleasure, but they are not given work; they are deluded by the god of money and denied true richness”.
“Therefore, it is good for all of us, fathers and children, to listen once again to the promise that Jesus made to His disciples: ‘I will not leave you orphans’. Indeed, He is the path to follow, the master to listen to, the hope that the world can change, that love will conquer hate, that there can be a future of brotherhood and peace for all”, Francis concluded. He added that next Wednesday he will further pursue this theme, focusing on “the beauty of paternity”. “For this reason I have chosen to begin with the darkness in order to reach the light. May the Lord help us to understand these things well”.