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June 9, 2010

An Important Question for Fathers
by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.


I want to wish all the fathers and grandfathers who might read these words a very special and happy Father’s Day! The women and mothers who read this might want to pass it on to the fathers in your family.

Imagine This Scenario

Let me set up a scenario upon which a father might reflect. Let’s say that after significant medical examinations, you discover that you have a completely unexpected terminal illness. You are still in the prime of your life and this has shaken you deeply. You’ve always been aware of your mortality, but now you are shocked because you must face death far sooner than you expected. The doctors (you’ve checked this diagnosis out with several) have all agreed that your death is imminent.

You have, perhaps, a month to live. You are very much in touch with your mind and your thoughts. The disease has affected your body, not your mental capacity. Gathering all your strength, you prepare to deal with this new course of events.

Being the responsible person you are,  you make sure your will is up to date; you do your best in providing for the financial future of you wife and children. Everything seems to be in order.

But I want to ask one more important question: “What would you want your last words to your children to be before your life ended on earth?”

A loved one’s final words are considered almost sacred. Requests from a dying father are heard with an openness that can never be matched at any other time in one’s life.

What You Might Say to Your Children

Think about writing a letter to your children expressing your last thoughts and wishes for them. If you have both sons and daughters, you might want to write separate letters. There might be things you would want to say specifically for your boys and your girls.

Allow me to offer a few suggestions. First and most important, you would want to tell them, “Children, I love you with all my heart.” At a moment like this, you would know the meaning of “fatherly love” in a way you could not have known it any time in your life.

Second, you would want to tell them that while you tried to be a good dad, you are asking their forgiveness for any ways in which you hurt them unjustly. As you prepared to leave them, you would want to open a way for any old wounds to be healed.

You would sincerely ask your children to pray for you, their dad. You’ve prayed for them many times as you watched them grow up. Now you need their prayers as you end your journey on earth. Tradition holds that, just like parents' prayers for their children have special efficacy, so, too, do the prayers of children for their parents have an extraordinary power before God. Parents sometimes forget that they can bless their children. Equally true, a child can bless its parents with the prayer that can only come from the heart of a child. (Sometime when you are sick or under pressure, ask your child to bless you by placing a hand on your head and saying, “Dear God, please make Dad/Mom healthy again; please give him/her peace of heart.”)

You might urge your sons, depending on their age, to grow up to be good and just and honest men: treating neighbors with respect, not cheating others, trying to be honest and especially loving their families. For your daughters, there might be some special things that you know fit them perfectly; remind them that in your eyes they have always been the most beautiful and cherished girls in the world.

Tell them with deep sincerity, “Take care of your Mom. She gave you birth, she nursed you, washed you, nurtured and fed you all the years you have been growing up. She’s prayed for you every day, cried with you when you were hurting, and was filled with joy when you were laughing and happy. Never forget her.”

Finally, you might tell them that when you see God face to face, you will ask him to let you continue watching over them, walking with them and though they might not see you, you will be there by their side as a good father would be for his children. Can you imagine that after Joseph died, he was not walking with Jesus during his ministry, and with Mary especially as she stood beneath the cross?

What It Means to Be a Dad

The idea of being able to leave these kinds of final words to your children is so dramatic and touching that you will undoubtedly have many more ideas. Even though you're healthy now, this exercise might remind you what it means to be a dad here and now. This is your day, after all. Your role is so very special in a family. Your example, your attitudes touch your children more deeply than you can imagine.

I came across a beautiful observation about dads and wanted to share it with you. “The warmest scarf a man can wear is the arm of his little boy or girl around his neck.” It is so true.

I wish all of you dads a very blessed Father’s Day!

Friar Jack's Inbox
Readers respond to Friar Jack Wintz's May E-spiration, Musing: Pope Benedict XVI Puts St. Anthony in Spotlight

Dear Friar Jack: Thank you for your wonderful article on St. Anthony of Padua, who is one of my favorite saints. I asked for his intercession about 10 years ago when my grandmother was critically ill and I definitely felt a presence there as I was saying his prayer. My grandmother is now 91 years old. Thank you, Anthony! Jo Beth

Dear Friar Jack:
Thank you for your E-spiration about Pope Benedict and St. Anthony. As I live in London, I attend Westminster Cathedral regularly and always pray and light candles to St. Anthony while there. God bless you! Virginia

Dear Friar Jack: Thank you for reminding us how important and inspirational St. Anthony is. He is a favorite saint of mine, and I pray to him throughout the day. Thank you, too, for your wonderful and uplifting columns. Patty

Response from Friar Jack: Thanks to each of you for your interest in St. Anthony of Padua. Let me also remind you that I remember all the readers of Friar Jack, as well as their loved ones, in my prayers each month. May St. Anthony intercede for the good health and happiness of all of you

To learn more about St. Anthony, see our special offer on how to order an autographed copy of Friar Jack's book, Anthony of Padua: Saint of the People.

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Welcome!
I am Fr. Jim Van Vurst and hope you'll enjoy
all of the news and great features at AmericanCatholic.org as well as my own writing. By the way, I am a real Franciscan friar, as is my co-worker, Friar Jack.
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