23 August 2018
World Meeting of Families

Patrick E. Kelly (USA), “Being a father, a work of art that the world needs”

“The history of salvation has been changed forever by a family.” This was the starting point of the intervention of Patrick E. Kelly, Vice Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus (USA), on the second day of the Pastoral Congress held during the Dublin World Meeting of Families (21-26 August). Kelly recalls the importance of Mary’s “Yes” to the angel, but he also emphasizes the importance of another “Yes,” that given by St. Joseph. “It is thanks to these two that the Holy Family was born,” he explains, “Pope Francis used direct, almost poetic words to promote family life and fatherhood.” Today, however, the concept of fatherhood risks being viewed from a distorted perspective. “Popular culture,” says Kelly, “often depicts men as passive, insecure, and amusing. Just watch television or look at examples in social media. What is proposed to us is a caricature of fatherhood. The truth is that today more than ever we need strong fathers. The demands and pressures borne by fathers now are stronger now than those on my father or grandfather. Today, fathers are called to be spiritual leaders who, as Amoris Laetitia reminds us, must always be present.” Kelly recalls the Apostolic Exhortation “Into the Breach” of Msgr. Thomas Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix, who says to the fathers, “Step up and lovingly, patiently take up your God-given role as protector, provider, and spiritual leader of your home.” Then, resuming Amoris Laetitia, he recalls that “a father plays an equally decisive role in family life, particularly with regard to the protection and support of their wives and children, including against their own weaknesses.” “The absence of a father gravely affects family life and the upbringing of children and their integration into society” (AL no. 55). The words contained in Amoris Laetitia are reflected in the research carried out by sociologists. “Children who have a father who is simply present,” Kelly recalls, “have far fewer behavioral disorders and a lower rate of obesity, and they are much less likely to commit a crime or run away from home.” These facts, which are also reflected in a study done by the Fatherhood Project of Massachusetts General Hospital, indicate that in families where fathers were constantly “present” the children had a much better academic performance (double the probability of going to college or finding a stable job after high school), better self-control, and greater competence in problem solving, empathy, and sensitivity. “As Pope Francis reminds us,” Kelly adds, “fathers are a work of art that the world needs. Even when they are operating in hiding, like Saint Joseph or like the heavenly Father. Many men feel unprepared to assume this role and may feel inadequately formed in the faith. The Church must announce the importance of fatherhood and encourage fathers to accept this responsibility.” In this sense, the Knights of Columbus have started a program for the formation of men as husbands and fathers. “We realize,” says Kelly, “that this is the first step towards building stronger families. Great fathers must be present physically, emotionally, and spiritually. A great father must be a man of prayer, who chooses to be present in his family and expresses his love for his wife and children. In short, a great father makes his house a domestic church. He gives himself to others and, in doing so, finds his true fulfillment, while his being a father has positive effects on his children and their future.”