Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s address during his weekly General Audience at the Paul VI Audience Hall.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to develop the second part of the reflection on the figure of the father in the family. Last time I spoke of the danger of “absent” fathers. Today, instead, I want to look at the positive aspect. Saint Joseph was also tempted to leave Mary, when he discovered that she was pregnant, but the Angel of the Lord intervened and revealed God’s plan and his mission of foster father. And Joseph, a just man, “took his wife” (Mt. 1:24) and became the father of the Family of Nazareth.
Every family needs a father. Today we reflect on the value of his role, and I would like to begin from some expressions that are found in the Book of Proverbs, words that a father addresses to his son: “My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will be glad. My soul will rejoice when your lips speak what is right” (Proverbs 23:15-16).
One cannot express better the pride and emotion of a father who realizes that he has transmitted to his son what truly counts in life, namely, a wise heart. This father does not say: “I am proud of you because you are, in fact, just like me, because you repeat the things that I say and do.” No, he says something far more important to him, which we can interpret thus: “I will be happy every time that I see you act with wisdom, and I will be moved every time I hear you speak what is right. This is what I wanted to leave you, so that it would become something of yours: the attitude to feel and act, to speak and judge with wisdom and righteousness. And so that you would be able to be like this, I taught you things you did not know, I corrected errors that you did not see. I made you feel a profound and, at the same time, discreet affection, which perhaps you did not recognize fully when you were young and uncertain. I gave you a witness of rigor and firmness, which perhaps you did not understand, when you would only have wished for complicity and protection. I had to put myself first to the test of wisdom of heart, and to watch over excesses of sentiment and resentment, to bear the weight of the inevitable misunderstandings and find the right words to make myself understood. Now, when I see that you seek to be like this with your children, and with everyone, I am moved. I am happy to be your father.” And that is what a wise father says, a mature father.
A father is well aware how much it costs to transmit this heritage: how much closeness, how much gentleness and how much firmness. However, what consolation and what reward is received when children honor to this heritage! It is a joy that compensates for every effort, that surpasses every misunderstanding and heals every wound.
Hence, the first necessity is in fact this: that the father be present in the family. That he be close to his wife, to share everything – joys and sorrows, efforts and hopes. And that he be close to the children in their growth: when they play and when they are busy, when they are carefree and when they are anguished, when they express themselves and when they are silent, when they risk and when they are afraid, when they take a wrong step and when they find the way again. A father that is present, always! But to be present is not the same as controlling. Because fathers who are too controlling override the children, they do not let them grow.
The Gospel speaks to us of the exemplarity of the Father who is in Heaven – the only one, says Jesus, who can be truly called “Good Father” (Cf. Mark 10:18). Everyone knows that extraordinary parable called the “Prodigal Son,” or better of the “Merciful Father,” which is found in Luke’s Gospel (Cf. 15:11-32). How much dignity and how much tenderness in the father’s waiting, who is at the door of his home waiting for his son to return! Fathers should be patient, many times there is nothing else that can be done other than to wait. Pray and wait with patience, gentleness, magnanimity and mercy.
A good father is able to wait and to forgive from the depth of his heart. Of course, he is also able to correct with firmness: he is not a weak, compliant and sentimental father. The father who is able to correct without discouraging is the same one who is able to protect tirelessly. One time, I heard a father, in a meeting with married couples, say: “I, sometimes, must hit my child a little, but never in the face, to not degrade him. How beautiful! He knows the sense of dignity! He must punish but does it justly and moves forward.
Therefore, if there is someone who can explain in depth the prayer of the “Our Father,” taught by Jesus, it is in fact one who lives paternity personally. Without the grace that comes from the Father who is in Heaven, fathers lose courage and abandon the field. However, children are in need of finding a father who waits for them when they return from their failures. They will do everything not to admit it, not to make it seen, but they need him and in not finding him opens in them wounds that are difficult to heal.
The Church, our Mother, is committed to supporting with all her strength the good and generous presence of fathers in families, because they are, for the new generations, irreplaceable custodians and mediators of faith in goodness, in justice and in the protection of God, as Saint Joseph.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our catechesis on the family, we have been reflecting on the dignity and role of fathers. The Book of Proverbs speaks of the joy and pride which fathers feel as they see their children mature in wisdom and rectitude (cf. Prov 23:15-16). These words sum up the demanding but indispensable role of fathers in the family and in society as a whole. A good father teaches his children by giving a daily example of love and integrity. He must first discipline his own heart in order to deal patiently with his children in their growth to maturity. In a society like our own, where father figures are often absent, it is essential for fathers to be present and fully engaged in the life of the family. Jesus points to God our Father as the model of all fatherhood. Like the father of the prodigal son, God waits patiently for his children to return home; with mercy and forgiveness he is always there to welcome them back whenever they stray. As Christian fathers strive, like Saint Joseph, to protect their children and to teach them wisdom, faith and integrity, may they always experience our gratitude, appreciation and support.
Pope Francis (In Italian):
I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, including those from England, Wales, Finland, Sri Lanka and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke joy and peace in the Lord Jesus. God bless you all!
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I give a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I am happy to receive the Bishops that are taking part in the congress promoted by the Sant’Egidio Community and the women religious taking part in the course of formation organized by the International Center of Missionary Leadership. I hope that your faith in the Lord is revived and that you witness with renewed enthusiasm the evangelical tension towards the fringes and the least. I greet the priests of the diocese of Padua; the Pro Loco of Avezzano and all who are gathered on the occasion of the centenary of the devastating earthquake of Marsica, as well as the Rotary Club of Rome, accompanied by Cardinal Andrea di Montezemolo, and the United Hands Association of Taormina. May the visit to the Tombs of the Apostles foster in all a renewed adherence to the Gospel, a sincere solidarity towards brothers and a rediscovery of Christian hope.
I special thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Tomorrow we celebrate the Memoria of Saint Agatha, Virgin and Martyr. May her young existence make you understand, dear young people, the value of a life lived for God; may her indestructible faith help you, dear sick, to trust the Lord in moments of discomfort; and may her strength in martyrdom indicate to you, dear newlyweds, the values that truly count for family life.
Once again my thought goes to the beloved Ukranian people. Unfortunately, the situation is worsening and the opposition between the sides is getting graver. We pray, first of all, for the victims, among whom there are many civilians, and for their families, and we pray to the Lord that this horrible fratricidal violence will end soon. I renew my heartbroken appeal that every effort be made – also at the international level – for the resumption of dialogue, the only possible way to bring about peace and harmony in that martyred land.
Brothers and sisters, when I hear the words “victory” or “defeat”, I feel a great pain, a great sadness in my heart. They are not the right words. The only right word is peace! This is the only right word!
I think of you, brothers and sisters of Ukraine. But think about this, this is a war among Christians! You have your Baptism, you are fighting among Christians! Think about this, this scandal! And let us pray so that prayer may be our protest in front of God in times of war.[Translation by ZENIT]