In the late 1800s,
Sonora Smart Dodd
, along with her five siblings, was raised by her father, a single parent and a Civil War Veteran. Once, when she heard her pastor preach a sermon about Mother’s Day, she was deeply moved, reflecting on what her own father had done. When she was a child, widowers frequently put their children in the care of others. But, Sonora’s father had raised his entire family by himself. Something unheard of in those days.
So moved was she by her father’s self-sacrifice and devotion that she initiated the first Father’s Day celebration. It took place on June 19, 1910 in the Spokane YMCA. A day to mark the irreplaceable influence of fathers on their children.
On Sunday, June 16, 2013, our nation will once again honor all those who share in the vocation of fatherhood. As sons and daughters, we remember, with love and affection, our own fathers. We include all those figures in our extended families who, in any way, have been a true father to us. As members of our Catholic family, we celebrate the sacrifice and commitment of our priests who also bear the title “Father.” And not without reason.
Already in the Old Testament, fatherhood and the priesthood belonged together. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the fathers of the Chosen People, exercised the priestly office for their clan. Even after Levitical priesthood was established with Aaron, the priest was seen as father. During the period of the judges, a certain Micah welcomed a traveling Levite into his home and said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest” (Judges 7:10).
In the New Testament, Paul himself gives the clearest example of the priest’s ministry as a spiritual fatherhood when he says to the enthusiastic Corinthians: “I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:14–15).
Rightly are priests called “Father.” Through their sacramental ministry, they engender new life in Baptism and in Reconciliation. They nourish their people with the Truth of the Gospel and the Bread of Life. Through the other sacraments and their pastoral work, they unite their people as the one family of God. They work hard to provide all the services a parish family needs, including raising the funds the parish needs to support itself.
Father’s Day is a time for all of us to express our sincere gratitude to our priests. They work so generously, so selflessly and in so many hidden ways. They are true fathers caring for those whom God entrusts to their care.
Certainly, a father shares, with his wife, one of the greatest joys any parent has: bringing children into the world and forming them for the kingdom of God. Our priests exercise their spiritual paternity by inviting other men to accept the vocation of priesthood, by encouraging them by word and example, and by supporting them both spiritually and materially. We thank them for all that they do in this regard.
To make practical our support for those who, in our diocese, are preparing to assume the priesthood, I am asking all pastors and administrators to take up a special collection on Father’s Day for our seminarians. Their needs are great. Our resources limited. The collection will be taken up at all Masses in every parish on the weekend of June 15
I have seen how much the faithful of the Diocese of Paterson love and value their priests. I know how much they appreciate the sacrifice of those who come to us from far and near to give their lives in service to our Church. As bishop, please accept my gratitude for your generous support of our future “Fathers.”