Crisis of the Father Figure

Analyzed by Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 21, 2003 ( Biblical revelation is a decisive key to overcome the present crisis of the father figure, says Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes.

The president of the Pontifical Council «Cor Unum,» to whom John Paul II has entrusted the coordination of the Catholic Church’s aid institutions worldwide, has written a book to address the problem.

Entitled «The Eclipse of the Father,» the book has been published in Spanish and Italian, and will soon be published in English.

The archbishop’s research takes into consideration sociological phenomena, changes in the law, psychological and pedagogical tendencies, as well as issues of the new feminism.

The crisis of the father figure, stemming from the change in relations between the sexes, the concept of authority, and other factors, is analyzed by Archbishop Cordes in the light of the Gospel, where Jesus reveals who the Father really is.

Q: It would seem that present-day culture obfuscates the force of this fundamental truth of the Gospel.

Archbishop Cordes: This central point of the New Testament was somewhat shadowed by the language of St. Augustine, who very often uses other terms: God, the Almighty, the Creator. In connection with the pagan world, there was the problem of avoiding the confusion of the God of the New Testament with Zeus, father of the gods and of men. This is why at times the word «Father» was avoided.

This was a tendency that was excessive in Luther, who had such a conflictive relationship with his father that he was unable to use this word in relation to God. During his first Mass, when he had to use the expression «Father,» he wanted to run away. A priest who was assisting him had to stop him.

Finally, Sigmund Freud gave a further blow to the idea of father in our culture, by making the myth of Oedipus the key of his anthropology. Therefore, today the difficulty of the father-son relation invites us to discover to the fullest the revelation that God is our Father.

Q: Are there signs of the times that point in this direction?

Archbishop Cordes: Susan Faludi, a famous journalist for promoting feminism with a successful book in the United States, some 10 years ago wanted to analyze the condition of the male and at the end of her research, admitted: «I wanted to write a book about men and in the end, I have written a book about fathers.»

She discovered that many men still suffered by the absence of their father, which they experienced in their childhood. Because of this, they criticized and hated him. The only way to recover their identity as men was to forgive their father and to forgive themselves. But this is not possible without opening oneself to faith in God the Father.

Q: The refusal of this opening is, perhaps, the profound cause of many problematic situations in families.

Archbishop Cordes: In my book I recall the figure of Peter of Bernardone, father of St. Francis of Assisi, who did not want to accept God’s will for his son, as he projected his image on him. This situation is in contrast to the experience of Abraham who, before the command to sacrifice his son, through suffering learns to be a father and not to doubt the love of God.

Q: But, what does this have to do with the men of today?

Archbishop Cordes: It is a lesson to accept that the role of the father is different from that of the mother. Paternity as vocation is not limited to tender love for the child. It does not seek its satisfaction, giving the child everything he wants.

Obviously, neither is it emotional animosity toward him. It is something different: it is responsibility. This is why it is necessary to have the courage to preserve one’s authority. A child today is a wonderful possibility to overcome egoism, which in general is much stronger in man than in woman.

Q: At times there are wounds that are very difficult to heal.

Archbishop Cordes: If one has not lived in one’s life the authentic dimension of paternity, one can find through spiritual paternity that which has been lacking in his life.

As the Pope says, the influence of ethical norms is not enough; we have need of testimonies that, influencing us, allow us to be free. As proof, in a book he talks about the influence on him, when he was 19 years old, and on his friends, of his catechist, Jan Tyranowski [a Krakow tailor].

Karol Wojtyla says: We did not know why he was so attractive. His words were not original, but they touched us. His interior life gave weight to his words, explained each one of his actions, he attracted in spite of his reserve and reticence.

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