Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s address during his weekly General Audience on 4 Feb at the Paul VI Audience Hall:
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.