I don’t ever remember my father having a new pair of shoes. I do remember that his shoes always had holes in them. I know this for two reasons: first because we would tease him about the holes in his shoes; second, you could see them when he knelt down to pray in church. I was thinking about this because I came across a picture of me at Mass taken many years ago when I was a brand new priest. I was kneeling in front of the altar and there it was—a hole in the bottom of my shoe. I thought to myself: “I am now my father.” This is good.
I am thinking about the little boy whose mother had died and was being raised by his father. The father and son lived alone in a small apartment with a long and narrow hallway. At one end was a window with a large statue of the Blessed Mother. The light used to surround her like a halo by day. At night the little boy would quietly cross the hallway to the bathroom. He would see his father kneeling silently before the statue of the Blessed Mother saying his rosary with hands outstretched. The image was emblazoned into the mind of the little boy. It was the strong and silent faithfulness of his father that inspired the boy to greatness. The boy’s name was Karol Wojtyla. Later he changed it to Pope John Paul II.
In my years as a priest I have been inspired by many fathers. They usually don’t know they have inspired me. I remember the first father I met in a former parish. He was getting out of his old car to pay his school tuition. I asked him his daughter’s name. He told me his daughter had died, but he was here to pay the tuition for someone else’s child—anonymously. He was in a rush and had to get to work. He had three jobs.
I remember the young carpenter-father who called me to his home to bless the tiny casket he had made in his woodshop for his infant son who had just died. I’ll never forget him and how much he cried. I felt like I was in Saint Joseph’s workshop.
Then there was the father in his early 70s who had a son severely handicapped. He took care of his son his whole life and in the many years since his wife had died. One day he came to me to ask me for help in finding a place for his son to live. Through his tears the father explained to me that he himself was getting older and his son was all he had in life. He knew that the best place for his son would be in a group residence. The father knew this decision of love would leave himself alone. The father loved his son so much that he would accept loneliness in order that his son would be cared for.
These are just a few of the fathers I have known who have been a great inspiration and example of unselfish love. Most do not even know it.
If you want to see a Father’s Day movie that shows just how much a father loves his son, I suggest the Italian film “Life is Beautiful/La vita è bella.” Best movie I ever saw.
On this Father’s Day we thank our Fathers for all they have done for us. They feed us and give us a home. They are patient and merciful, but perhaps most importantly they show us glimmers and reflections of the selfless love of a God whom we call “Our Father.”
– Father Gerard Gordon