Often, when we think of the word ‘Saint’ we envision a holy priest, a bishop, a sister like Mother Theresa, or a Pope like John Paul II. With the exception of St. Joseph, infrequently does a father come to mind. Although many fathers have been canonized, whose example the Church lauds and extols, and though there have existed saints who were also fathers, there are very few who are lauded precisely for their fatherhood.
This lack of recognition of the human father can initially appear to indicate a great deficiency in fatherhood as a means to holiness. Often, a father subconsciously, or even consciously, believes that being married and having children disqualifies him from achieving great sanctity. He may conclude that sainthood is impossible, and rather than pursuing radical holiness, he compromises with worldly diversions, expecting little from himself or from God.
While it is true that “He who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife; and he is divided,” the same apostle also said, “Let every man remain in the calling in which he was called. If thou cannot be free”—that is, not married—“make use of it [marriage] rather.” (See 1 Cor 7:10)
The married man and the father is beset by many challenges, and is tempted gravely in varying ways. Yet if a father is wise, he can make use of his vocational call, and thereby journey on the path of becoming an icon of the heavenly Father. Though being a father may appear to be a great impediment in your pursuit of sainthood, you are nevertheless called to use this weakness to achieve this worthy and attainable goal.
How can a deficiency be used in attaining a goal? How can an apparently weak vocation enable one to embrace sainthood? “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee, for strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Gladly therefore I will glory in my infirmities that the strength of God dwell in me….For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9)
Like St. Paul, we fathers must admit our weakness, confess that we are divided in many ways and that we are tempted by the world to misuse or neglect our gift of fatherhood, and by this confession allow God to apply the grace necessary to restore fatherhood to its noble status. By accepting the deficiency or weakness of the vocation of fatherhood, we allow God to demonstrate His strength, using fatherhood as means to redeem and transform sinful men into saintly fathers.
Our Lord confirms the vitality of fatherhood with these words: “Amen I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever, therefore, humbles himself as this little child, he is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:5) And again, “Whoever receives a little child for my sake, receives me: and whoever receives me, receives Him Who sent me. For he who is the least among you, he is the greatest.” (Lk 9:48)
A father becomes like a little child by recognizing his own dependence upon the Father, precisely in his desire to provide for the child he has received. A father who humbles himself can, through Christ the Son, become a son of God, by means of receiving a little child and becoming a father for the sake of Christ. Indeed, the rewards of the vocation of fatherhood which Christ promises are among the greatest: “Whoever therefore humbles himself like a little child, he is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:5)