Deacon Keith Fournier: What I Will Do on Father’s Day

As the years have passed, my sense of loss has not dissipated. It has only changed. As I so often tell grieving family members at funerals in my ministry as a Deacon of the Catholic Church, the pain of loss on the memory of our deceased loved ones is just another manifestation of the eternal nature of love. Love is stronger than death.

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) – On Sunday, Father’s Day in the United States, I will listen to my father’s favorite song – and I will cry.

It is Louis Armstrong classic “What a Wonderful World”. Each father’s day since my father Duval died in 2001, in a melancholy mix of mourning and memories, I listen to that song and shed more than a few tears. As the years go by, its words and insights open up in their simplicity and wisdom.

My father understood that the words of that song spoke to the things that really matter – once everything that pretends to matter in life is stripped away. As his life unfolded in those later years, when his congestive heart failure seemed to take its greatest toll, he loved the song and the sentiment it expressed even more. He grew in simplicity and learned that everything, even breath, is a gift.

As the years have passed, my sense of loss has not dissipated. It has only changed. As I so often tell grieving family members at funerals in my ministry as a Deacon of the Catholic Church, the pain of loss on the memory of our deceased loved ones is just another manifestation of the eternal nature of love. Love is stronger than death.

My father grew in tenderness and compassion as he faced death. It is funny how difficulties and struggle, suffering and strife, seem to be the most effective means of refining us all. He finally died of the heart ailment which had claimed so much of his vigor.

However, like with every struggle my father faced, he did not give up easily. He was a fighter and he did not want to go. In fact, I was at his death bed a couple of times, or so we thought it was his death bed. He decided he had more jokes to tell and more love to give.

It was his fighting spirit which I have particularly grown to admire as the years have passed by. Thank God he passed it on to me. Oh, as a younger man, he perhaps fought some of the wrong battles. I know I certainly did. We all do. But, that does not really matter any longer.

Life seems to smooth it all out, and time presses us into deeper love. I see now that it only gave him time to smooth off the rough edges of a hard life and to simplify. So it is doing with me, his son. I hope he is proud of me. I sure am of him. I love my father.

How my father loved to hear from us as he grew older. Sadly, in retrospect, I regret just how little we really called him on the telephone. How I would love to have just one of those conversations today. I miss him. I think back on those final years of his life on this earth and I still have regrets. However, they move me to repentance and to amendment of life.

Though we can’t get those years back, time is meant become a tutor – as its highway stretches out before us. The lessons abound, if we have the eyes to see them and the heart to receive them. The memories of the time I did have with him take on new meaning as I walk along the path that he did, raising my family and trying to love, in both word and deed.

Now, at sixty-one, I remember him in his fifties and his sixties. I cherish the last times we had more with each passing year. I share with my own grown children, and grandchildren, the stories, and his humor. In fact, I actually tell his very jokes, use his very expressions, both facial and verbal. In so many respects, I have become just like him.

When I was in my twenties, that was one of my greatest fears. Now, it has become one of my greatest honors. How I love him more with each passing year.

Our earthly fathers and our relationships with them reflect the great meaning they symbolize in the eternal framework. Our Heavenly Father has given us His very name, His identity. In and through Jesus Christ, His only Son, we have now become “sons (and daughters) in the Son” – through our Baptism of new birth in water and the Spirit.

We are a part of an eternal family, and as the apostle Paul told the Christians in Rome, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, not even death. (Romans 8:38, 39)

I am always glad when Father’s Day falls on a Sunday; it gives me a special opportunity to pray at Mass for my father. Standing at the altar, at the side of the priest, and raising the chalice filled with the very blood of the Savior, I will thank the Lord for my father and ask for the grace to be a good father and grandfather.

Fathering is a great gift and a great responsibility. I cannot live it in its fullness without grace, the Divine Life of God which is given to us through Jesus Christ and mediated through our life in His church, in His Word and His Sacraments. In the Holy Eucharist we receive the One who is the Source and means of all grace.

As a Catholic Christian, I know – not just hope- that I am still joined to my father in the communion which stretches through time and into eternity. Living in the Church is a participation in an eternal communion of love. At that moment in the Canon of the Mass when we pray for those who have died, I pray for him and will do so on Father’s day. As a Deacon, I feel honored to be so close to the Altar when I offer that prayer.

I will, once again, deeply miss my father this Father’s Day. He died sixteen years ago, but, I guess, following my own instruction, it simply shows me how much I loved him – and still love him.

If you still have your father with you, love him openly and affectionately and let him know how important he is to you. Together, let us celebrate the Gift of Fatherhood and “kneel before the Father from whom every family in Heaven and on Earth is named” – in deep gratitude for the very gift of Fatherhood.

Those profound words were written to the Christians in Ephesus by the Apostle Paul. (Eph. 3:14-21) The Greek word for Father and family are connected. Paul is using them i to make a profoundly important theological and ontological point.

Fathers are the foundation of families, they give them identity and meaning in both life and in death. The Catholic Catechism says, “The divine fatherhood is the source of human fatherhood; this is the foundation of the honor owed to parents.” (CCC#2214)

So, I will also spend time with my own beloved wife, and children and grandchildren. I will thank them for the great privilege of being a husband, a father and a grandfather. And, I will try to foster a memory within them which they will call to mind after I have gone on to the Father’s House.

Happy Father’s Day!

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