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The upcoming celebration of Father's Day is a fitting time to examine the irony that in our current culture, fatherhood is rarely mentioned. When mentioned at all, fathers are mocked or portrayed negatively. Some movies and stories downplay the role of the father in a child's life, yet simultaneously portray the child as suffering from the father's inability to live up to that role.
In reality, the nobility and significance of fatherhood remain a powerful witness in the lives of those who have had the opportunity to grow up with a present and caring father. And there are, of course, profound stories and testimonies to counter the culture's defeatist attitude towards fatherhood.
Alongside a mother's unique and nurturing role, the father also has a vital part to play in safeguarding the sacredness of new human life and in forming the younger generation. The father's special role in protecting and defending both mother and child helps ensure the stability and healthy development of the whole family.
Pope John Paul II wrote of the importance of fatherhood in his Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio:
"[A] man is called upon to ensure the harmonious and united development of all the members of the family… by exercising generous responsibility for the life conceived under the heart of the mother, by a more solicitous commitment to education, a task he shares with his wife, by work which is never a cause of division in the family but promotes its unity and stability, and by means of the witness he gives of an adult Christian life which effectively introduces the children into the living experience of Christ and the Church" (no. 25).
The dedication and commitment of husbands and fathers to their families needs to be affirmed and supported if we are to build a culture of life.
June is also the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. How fitting is Christ's example of sacrificial love when we recall how he gave his life for his bride, the Church. The extent to which he pours out his heart for humanity shows the ultimate model of a man of compassion and quiet strength. We can see concrete examples of this in the Gospel, in the way he treated the Samaritan woman with dignity and in the way he welcomed the little children who wanted to meet him.
When a baby is growing in the womb, the first vital organ that develops is the heart, which starts beating by about 21 days. What does this say about the human person? It is almost as if God honors the capacity to love by giving the heart supremacy even in the physical development of the human being. While not physically connected to newly developing life in the same way as the mother, the father need not be excluded from this beautiful mystery. During this month of June, may all hearts look to the Sacred Heart as a source of inspiration, and may all husbands and fathers be renewed in their calling to build up the culture of life, starting in their own families.
Kimberly Baker is a staff assistant for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. To learn more about the bishops' efforts on religious freedom and rights of conscience, visit www.usccb.org/conscience.
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