- “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.”
The Feast of the Holy Family is always a great time for Catholic Dads to reflect upon their imitation of Saint Joseph, earthly Father of Christ Jesus. God had placed great trust in Joseph to be the dad of His only Begotten and Beloved Son, as well as the spouse to Saint Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant. For his part, Joseph returned that trust given to him by placing it back in God to help lead his family in the right way.
Before I went to prison I was a happily married Agnostic dad to three beautiful girls. After I got out of prison five years later, I was a divorced Catholic dad to three beautiful young women. After prison I returned to the town where they were living, but things weren’t working out well in some ways. I had felt God calling me back to where I was raised. I had fought God quite awhile on that idea of His, because I didn’t want to live three hours away from my daughters. They were going to Mass with me regularly, and were just beginning to start classes to get Baptized and Confirmed. After my conversion to Catholicism it had been my daily prayer to be able to bring my daughters into the faith, and I couldn’t understand why when my prayer was in the process of being fulfilled why God would take me away. So I bounced around from banging my head on brick walls for awhile, until I finally acquiesced and moved back home. That was about fifteen months ago to this day.
We can’t escape the fact that God intended for children to be raised by their biological father and mother. We also can’t escape the fact that the hand of Satan has worked to tear many families apart. There are many Catholic Dads raising their children now either by themselves, or outside of the home. Some Dads, such as myself, live a few hours away from their children. Some of you live many hours away from your children. Some of you are in a situation were the mother is making it difficult for you to be the type of father God has called you to be. Yet, despite the less than ideal situation that you are in, nothing has changed about your calling. God has entrusted you with the duty to be the earthly father to your children. Regardless of the situation, we are all called to do the best with what we have to work with.
There are some good books available about Catholic parenting, and the website Catholic Dads is always a good resource, but there aren’t many reference helps available that deal specifically about how to be a Good Long-Distance Catholic Dad. So, I put together a list below of what I think are the Five Essentials based upon my experience.
DEVELOPING A DEEP PRAYER LIFE IS ESSENTIAL
There were important things that I learned in prison about being a father. The first was that God is actually their true father; second was that there were a lot of things going on in their life that I couldn’t control. What I learned was that I had to develop a deep prayer life, and immerse the health and salvation of my daughters into that prayer life. Whatever was going on in their life, whether it was academics, sports, friendships, whatever I prayed for their needs and intentions daily. I had to immerse their mother in prayer, for her health, salvation, protection, and relationships. I got my spiritual mother Mary involved in their life through the Rosary – everyday I would pray a decade for all of them; sometimes a decade a piece of them. I prayed novenas for them. I asked people to light prayer candles for them at Mass. Most importantly, I had to pray for myself; that God would help me be the best father I could be in my situation. These same lessons I learned in prison, I now apply living three hours away from them.
Prayer is nothing more or less than an invitation to God for Him to act in an extra ordinary way in regards to the intention that we offer up to Him. Prayer is the hand that opens the door for God to walk through and involve Himself with what’s going on in our lives. Prayer is the vacuum of grace – it’s essential for salvation and all things below it. For fathers, prayer is the key to your fatherhood. Without a deep prayer life, fatherhood lack peace, and is tremendously less efficacious than it ought to be. If you’re a dad, but you aren’t praying for your children daily, and for your fatherhood daily, then you are slacking off on your responsibility to God. You must invite God into their life, even if just to counteract all those who are inviting Satan into their life.
TEACHING YOUR CHILD THE FAITH AND MORALS IS ESSENTIAL
The Fourth Commandment is, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” When Jesus parents came to take Him back home the sacred Scriptures tell us that, ‘He was obedient to them’. The Apostle Paul taught, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,’ (This is the first commandment with a promise.) ‘that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth” (Eph 6:1-3; cf. Deut 5:16). In this regard, the Catholic Church has always taught that parents have a God-given obligation to rear and education their children. This is not a responsibility that parents can pass off to the Church, to the State, or to television. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that, “The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and spiritual formation” (CCC 2221).
If the custodial parent of your children is not a Catholic or a practicing Catholic, then you have even more of responsibility on your hand as a Dad to do all you can to educate your child. What I do is use every opportunity I have with them to pass on the faith. Being that I always know when I am going to see them, I am able to premeditate a program to will enlighten them. This may be Bible studies, studying the creeds, answering questions, or watching relevant movies. One thing I have always done is buy them Catholic books and Bibles, and ask them questions about what they read. Don’t make this all too rigorous – make it enjoyable. What you want to do is facilitate a situation in which they learn to love and appreciate what you are handing on to them. The great advantage you have is that as their father who they don’t see very often, they are going to love whatever you have to share. Make use of this opportunity!
As a father it is your duty to tell your children what is right and wrong. Clearly communicate the axioms and the consequences of behaving contrary to them. I like to use the teachings of the Church as a segue for discussions to talk about morals and values. It does no good to tell a person what’s right or wrong, when you can’t tell them why it is right or wrong. If their mother is a secular person, understand that what you may be teaching them is something other than what they might be hearing at home with her. If she allows them to watch any television show they want, understand that you are also fighting against media. What you have to your advantage is that Jesus is God and His word is always true. The Church He established through His Apostles is the Catholic Church and she has also be consistent and true in her teachings. Use the advantage we have with the saints. We actually have people who are in Heaven, and who we can prove that are in Heaven. Communicate to your child that our way has been proven to work. If Heaven is their goal, then being a faithful Catholic is a proven way to achieve it.
LEADING BY EXAMPLE IS ESSENTIAL
Leading by example goes without saying. If you are teaching your children to wait for marriage to have sex, which you should be, then live that life. The example you set may not be the same one that they might be seeing with their mother. If you are pointing your children to the saints, then do your best to imitate them as well. We all need lots of prayer and reception of the Sacraments to be who we are called to be, but your children truly need to see their parent doing all they can to get to Heaven. It’s not only inspiring to them, but it makes what seems impossible, possible.
DEVELOPING A DEVOTION TO A PATRON SAINT IS ESSENTIAL
Saint Joseph has always been my patron Saint. I’ve made it a habit to simply say, ‘Saint Joseph, my Patron saint, pray for me”. I have a couple of others who I ask for prayers as well, but Saint Joseph is who turn to to ask for prayers to help me be a better father. As a Catholic Dad who doesn’t have daily involvement with your child, you can’t go wrong with having a close friend in Heaven who prays for you. Therefore, find a saint and developing a relationship with them to help you with this calling from God.
Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
who walks in his ways!
For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork;
blessed shall you be, and favored.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
in the recesses of your home;
your children like olive plants
around your table.
Behold, thus is the man blessed
who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion:
may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life.
Scripture texts in this blog are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.