April 29, 2011

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

How John Paul II taught me to be a good father

Sean GallagherI remember like it was yesterday. My father, a family friend and I were playing golf on a course in Brown County.

We had finished our round, and walked into a condominium that my parents and their friends had rented next to the course. My mom and her friend were watching the news.

When we walked into the room where they sat, I heard a news announcer say, “Pope John Paul II has just died.”

A few minutes later, a bishop came out to St. Peter’s Square to announce the pontiff’s death to the thousands of faithful who were gathered there.

When they started chanting the Salve Regina (“Hail Holy Queen”), I tried to join in with them, but couldn’t. My emotions and tears kept the notes from coming out.

He was the only pope that I had known in a very formative time in my life. I was 8 when he was elected, and 34 with a wife and two sons of my own when he died.

That is a time of life when a boy who is growing into a man can benefit from the example of a loving father.

I certainly did in spades from the example that my own father gave me—and is still giving me.

But I was doubly blessed to have the additional model of the fatherhood of Pope John Paul. When he died, it was like I had lost my own father.

How was this celibate man a good model for me in my vocation as a father?

Well, first, it was clear throughout his pontificate, but especially during the World Youth Day events that he created, that he loved spending time with young people.

Wanting to be around children and teenagers seems like an obvious thing for a father to have in his personality.

But, speaking from my own experience, it doesn’t always come naturally, especially when I put more priority on my own plans and desires than on what my boys want to do.

Pope John Paul showed me that if you put your focus on young people, then the vitality of who they are and hope to be—their dreams and aspirations—can fill you with life, too.

While accepting young people for who they were, Pope John Paul challenged them to avoid the cynicism that leads us adults too often to abandon the ideals of our youth and instead to embrace them with gusto.

But he always wanted to make sure that those ideals were truly good, and truly centered on and flowing from Christ.

His challenging words had power for so many people of my generation because we knew that there was no hint of hypocrisy in them. He strove to live the ideals that he called young people around the world to embrace.

Over the past nine years of my life as a father, I have sought, with the help of God’s grace, to plant the seeds of faith and the virtues in my four sons.

And in recent years, I have been blessed to see those seeds ever so slightly starting to bear fruit.

But because I know well that the example I have given my boys has been mixed at best, I have come to realize that their human and spiritual growth is due much more to grace than my own efforts.

And that is what leads me to the final example that Pope John Paul gave to me as a father—prayer.

A deep and persevering life of prayer undergirded and suffused all that he said and did.

And knowing my own inadequacy before the great mission given to me as a father leads me to pray every day for my boys, my wife, Cindy, other families and myself.

I will be praying on May 1—which is my son Michael’s birthday—when Pope Benedict XVI declares Pope John Paul one of the blessed in heaven. †

Local site Links: