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Father Cantalamessa on the Joy of Fatherhood

Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday's Readings


ROME, SEPT. 16, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of a commentary by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on the readings from today's liturgy.

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His father ran out to meet him
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32

In this Sunday's liturgy the entire 15th chapter of Luke's Gospel is read. The chapter contains the three "mercy parables": the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son.

"A man had two sons": Anyone who has even the most minimal familiarity with the Gospel on hearing these five words will immediately exclaim, "the parable of the prodigal son!"

On other occasions I have focused on the spiritual significance of the parable; this time I would like to consider an aspect that has received little attention, but which is very relevant at this moment and close to life. At the bottom of the parable is simply the story of a reconciliation between father and son, and we all know that such a reconciliation is essential to the happiness of fathers and children.

Who knows why literature, art, theater and advertisements all concentrate on a single human relationship: the erotic one between man and woman, between husband and wife? It would seem that this is the only thing in life.

Advertisements and the cinema do nothing else but cook up the same dish using a thousand sauces. But we leave another human relationship, that is just as universal and vital, unexplored, one that is another great source of the joy of life: the relationship between father and children, the joy of paternity.

The only piece of literature that really deals with this theme is Franz Kafka's letter to his father. Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev's famous novel "Fathers and Sons" does not actually treat of the relationship between natural fathers and children but between different generations.

If we serenely and objectively look into the human heart we will find that, in the majority of cases, a good, understanding, and untroubled relationship with his children is, for a mature, adult man, no less important and fulfilling than the relationship between a man and a woman. We know how important this relationship is for both sons and daughters and the tremendous void that is left by its disintegration.

As cancer usually attacks the most delicate organs in men and women, so also does the destructive power of sin and evil attack the most vital relationships in human existence. There is nothing worse in the relationship between a man and a woman than abuse, exploitation and violence, and there is nothing that is exposed to deformation like the relationship between fathers and children: authoritarianism, paternalism, rebellion, rejection, lack of communication.

We should not generalize. There are beautiful relationships between fathers and children and I myself have known various ones. We know, however, that there are also more numerous negative cases and difficult relationships between fathers and children. In the prophet Isaiah we read this exclamation of God: "I raised and reared these children but they have rebelled against me" (Isaiah 1:2). I believe that many fathers today know from experience what these words mean.

The suffering is reciprocal; it is not like the parable in which the fault is entirely the son's. There are fathers whose most profound suffering in life is being rejected or even despised by their children. And there are children whose most profound and unadmitted suffering is to feel misunderstood, to not be esteemed, to be rejected by their father.

I have focused on the human and existential implications of the parable of the prodigal son. But we are not only dealing with this, that is, with the amelioration of the quality of life in this world.

The undertaking of a great reconciliation between fathers and children and a profound healing of their relationship is something that is important for a new evangelization. We know how much the relationship with an earthly father can influence, positively or negatively, one's relationship with the heavenly Father and thus the Christian life as well.

When the precursor, John the Baptist, was born the angel said that one of his tasks would be "to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers" [cf. Luke 1:17]. Today this is a task that is more important than ever.

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