It is imperative that all men — especially priests — be images of the unfalteringly generous father who is God. For men, it is vital to reflect the fatherhood of God in our dealings with everyone.
So counsels Father Jacques Philippe, beloved priest, and no stranger to the faithful in the Diocese of Colorado Springs. In his newly published book, “Priestly Fatherhood: Treasure in Earthen Vessels,” Father Philippe has words of encouragement and strength to priests and those who lead by the example of fatherhood everywhere.
With love, tenderness, a heart that is both grieving and hopeful, Father Philippe writes to anyone aspiring to be a priest, a better father or leader, or any who may have been discouraged or hurt by those “fathers” in their lives. There is a crisis of fatherhood in the world today, he observes, not only in the recent clergy sexual scandals but in the role of fatherhood everywhere. It would seem that we have moved from “Father Knows Best” to “Homer Simpson” in our picture of a father. Father Philippe sees this weakness everywhere, not sparing our political class, as he observes that “politicians more often give the impression of being argumentative children than people who may be given the chance one day to be recognized as the ‘father of the nation,’ like some of their predecessors.”
Father Philippe does not write out of anger but of sadness and empathy, citing the cases of those who have suffered by the absence of a father in their lives. Fatherhood is a gift both given and received, reflected in the blessing of fathers that we read in the scriptures. While he is searching in his observations of failures in fatherhood (sections addressing absence, severity, chumminess, the superman, the businessman, and those abusive of power or unworthy of trust), he does not cause us to despair. He tells us that to become a father (or a better priest), we must first become a son. He shows us the wisdom of living by the Beatitudes, and applies them to the life of Catholic priest and Catholic father. An entire chapter is devoted to the life of the priest as reflecting the fatherhood of God — encouragement and an upward call for all who would lead in the footsteps of Christ. What a wonderful book to give to our priests and any other “father” among us.
We cannot put fathers — or even priests for that matter — on some perfect pedestal as we may have in the past, which is good neither for them nor us, as Father Philippe observes. But let us not fall prey to the opposite overreaction, that we deny a certain earned respect that should accrue to fatherhood, and especially that of the priesthood of Christ. And thus we hold up our priests in prayer, in encouragement, and in supporting their work of love. Father Philippe’s latest book would be such an encouraging gift to these wonderful fathers among us.