The Fatherhood of God            (E.J.Tyler)

   St Paul says that “everyone moved by the Spirit is a son of God. The spirit you received is not the spirit of slaves bringing fear into your lives again; it is the spirit of sons and it makes us cry out, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit himself and our spirit bear united witness that we are children of God. And if we are children we are heirs as well: heirs of God and coheirs of Christ, sharing his sufferings so as to share his glory.” (Rom 8: 15-17). Let us reflect on the fact that, by the gift to us of the Holy Spirit, God is our Father and we are his beloved children.

  There are many ways man has imagined and understood God, and these ways have had a profound effect on his religion or lack of it, and on the character of his culture and civilization. There are religions which do not involve the explicit notion of a God at all, let alone that he is our Father. For instance, in classical Buddhism there is no notion of a living personal Father who while transcending us is intimately involved in our life. Other religions could be mentioned. On the other hand, the word “Father” has been used of the highest god in many cultures and religions. Some early myths thought of the sky as the force that creates in the world, and together with Mother Earth, was considered to have produced all the life of the world. In this sense, the sky was considered by some as the father of men. Greek philosophy made this more spiritual and abstract. Plato understood the transcendent idea of the good as the father and lord, but not really in a personal sense, and certainly without a personal relationship with the world. And in the thought of the ancient Stoics there is no relation to a personal, caring, loving, angry and forgiving Father. He is merely the highest point of the whole cosmos, not a real, divine person who is the Father. This “Father” is in classical Greek thought very much a philosophical abstraction, a rational conclusion. In traditional Aboriginal Religion along the eastern part of Australia there was the cult of the “All-Father”. But this All-Father was really a part of the world, although occupying a very high and important place in it. All of these religious, philosophical and cultural uses of the word “Father” when speaking of God are the fruit of reason or human experience or culture.

   The danger is that when we refer to God as Father we can unconsciously, without realizing it, be understanding the term in a sense not unlike that used by other religions and cultures of man. Simply to be calling God our Father does not mean that we necessarily look on him as our Father in the sense in which he has revealed it. The revealed sense in which God is our Father is accessible only to faith, our faith in Christ and in what Christ has revealed. We must avoid unconsciously drawing simply on our own reflection on God and the world, or on what we have heard people say who themselves have drawn on such human sources. Our image of God, our impression of him, our thought of him, and consequently our relationship with him, must be drawn from what our Lord has revealed as it is transmitted to us by the Church. We must meditate on the words, the teaching and the very person of our Lord as the Church proclaims him. He said that he who sees me sees the Father. St Paul tells us that our Lord is the image of the unseen God. At the Last Supper our Lord says that this is eternal life, to know you Father and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. So if we wish to think of God as our Father, we must listen to Jesus and contemplate him.

   So let us consider God our heavenly Father. To begin with, the true God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord continually referred to God as his own Father. We remember how after searching for our Lord for three days and three nights our Lady and St Joseph found him in the Temple dazzling with his intelligence and his questions the teachers of the Law. He said to his holy parents, did you not know I must be about my Father’s business? God in heaven was his own Father, his own Father in a unique way. I suspect there have been hardly any persons in history who have referred to God in the way our Lord did. After the resurrection he told Mary Magdalene to go to the brothers, and tell them “I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, my God and your God.” He did not refer to God as “our Father”, but as “my Father and your Father”, because God was not his Father in the same sense as God is our Father. He threw out the sellers of animals and the money changers from the Temple, saying to them that “My Father’s house is a house of prayer.” He was full of zeal for his Father, loving him with a tremendous love and could not bear such disrespect. On one occasion when he was attacked by the leaders for curing on the Sabbath and so breaking the prohibition not to work on the Sabbath day, our Lord said that inasmuch as my Father is working, so, therefore, I do too. He was then accused of calling God his own Father, and so of making himself equal to God. His enemies knew what our Lord was claiming.

The way our Lord referred to God as his own Father gave the unmistakable impression that he and his Father were on the same level, and that there was nothing to compare with his closeness to his heavenly Father.  As far as I am aware, great religious figures in history might have referred to God as the Father, or as our Father, but not simply as “my own Father” in an absolutely unique sense. The finding of the child Jesus in the Temple shows that from his childhood he referred to God as ‘my Father’. After this event he may have referred to God as his own Father within the holy family generally, which would have kept his divine sonship before the minds of Mary and Joseph. I doubt if he would have spoken that way with other townspeople and relatives till the time came for his public mission to begin. I say this because his townspeople had no inkling of his special relationship to God nor of his claims. When the time came, though, the way our Lord uttered the words “My Father” gave the impression of tremendous intimacy with God, a tremendous love and closeness, a shared life with God like no other. It gave the impression that no one else had that same relationship with the Father as he had. It also even gave the impression of his being equal to God. On occasion too, such as at the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan, and during his transfiguration on the mount, The Father himself spoke of Jesus as his beloved Son. No other individual in the Scriptures was spoken of in quite that same way by God.

    Now, the wonderful thing is that we ourselves have been drawn into this unique relationship by the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is not that we merely learn from our Lord how to address God, and how to feel towards him, namely like a child towards his father. No, we have actually become God’s children with a share in the life of God. We are his children. We share with the Father and the Son the life of the Holy Spirit. What the Father and the Son share together - namely the Holy Spirit - we share also with the Father and the Son. Of course, there is a real sense in which God can be called our Father because we are his creatures. But all this is transformed and brought to new heights at our baptism. We are born anew with a share in his life, and so we become at that instant his adopted children.

  Let us imagine a parallel. Imagine a very wealthy landowner who was very kind and benevolent towards those who worked for him. He owns great riches, and he employs people who are very poor. He is very generous towards them in every way, acting like a father. Imagine that because of this they come graduallyto call him ‘father’. He is regarded as their father because of all his goodness towards them. Imagine too that he is very generous towards his own children, who of course also call him ‘father’. While he loves and helps all his employees who call him ‘father’ because of it, he especially loves his own children precisely because they are his children and he shares his life with them. As his children they have received so much more from him and they share in his life. They are his very offspring and his heirs and will inherit what is his. Now, just because the employees call him ‘father’, this does not mean that he is their ‘father’ in the same sense as he is the ‘father’ of his own children. Nor does it mean that he has the same relationship with them as do his own children. No, his children really have him as their ‘father’, and they have a special intimacy with him, and they live with the thought of this and the care he shows towards them always. With the others, they are the employees. Some may even have been his slaves.

So too with our relationship to God our Father. Many may call God the Creator their Father, and in a very real sense he is that. But with us who share with Jesus our Lord the Holy Spirit as a gift from him, we are his very children, though adopted and not begotten of the Father as is the Son. This special relationship of sonship we have with God our Father ought shape our every day in the ordinary things of daily life.

  You notice what happens between a child and his loving father? If the father is very loving, and if the child knows this he always wants to be in the presence of the father. The child loves playing in the father’s presence, and doing things with the father. For his part the father loves doing things with the child. In other words, the child loves living near to the father, living in his presence, doing things in a way that will please the father. He will feel secure because of the love of the father he continually basks in.  That is natural. If the child has a good relationship with the father as he is growing up, even in adulthood that child will like to keep close to the father. Well, this is a pale reflection of the attitude and the life of one who is deeply aware that he or she is a child of God, and that God is his Father. It is only a pale reflection because earthly fathers are limited and sinful, but they are indeed meant to reflect the fatherhood of God. The real revelation of God our Father is our Lord Jesus Christ. He who sees me sees the Father, he told his disciples. No one comes to the Father except through me. This is something we must decide to give prolonged thought and meditation to, taking this revealed truth to heart and reflecting on its implications.

   And there are many implications flowing from the fact that God is our Father. We will be constantly trying to please him. Life will be a love affair with God, not a fearful thing. The performance of duties will not be a burden but a loving gift to our Father. When there are difficulties, those difficulties will be the occasion of great trust and abandon into the hands of God our loving Father. The knocks and reversals and disappointments will be treated in a sportsmanlike way, like the knocks received on the sportsfield. We get up, dust ourselves with a laugh, and keep running. All this because we know that God our Father is near and is looking after us in the way he knows best. He is always at my side, loving me more than earthly parents love their children. Inasmuch as God my Father is the Lord of all, I will strive to see the hand of Gd in everything that happens, even though the appearances may make it difficult to do so. When we think of the great tragedies of our time, happening time and again, the challenge is above all to find God in the midst of such tragedies. It is this which proves the presence of faith. It is this which proves my conviction that God is my Father, not when things are going well, even though that too will be the occasion for me to acknowledge the fatherhood of God.

  A child of God grows in depth and serenity, and his happiness and joy is not at the mercy of external events. Because God is near, and because God is my Father, I shall fulfil my duties well because they are done for him. In fact my whole daily routine will be lived out in the presence of my Father in heaven. I shall keep to some practices of piety to help me maintain a sense of the presence of my heavenly Father, such as spiritual communions, or keeping at hand before me some small object of devotion such as a crucifix. I will also guard my eyes and my imagination, swiftly shutting out occasions of sin when they crop up. I will cultivate a devotion to my Guardian Angel. All of this is the way a child of God would live, and so I resolve to live this way. I shall try to find God not only in the big things that may occur, but also in the little things which make up most of my life. Most of my life is humdrum in the sense of a daily round of ordinary things. God is present there, and I must learn to live for him and in his presence as his child.

   Above all, my conviction that God is my Father and that I am his child will be tested in the matter of my vocation to achieve sanctity. As I look at myself I see so much that needs to be done. It is obvious to me that personal sanctity is utterly beyond my own powers. Only God can do it, provided I cooperate with his grace and his work in my soul. He is my Father. I resolve to believe in the loving power and plan of God my Father. He can do it for me his child, and he can lead me on to cooperate successfully with him. If I don’t believe this then I don’t believe that he is my Father. He wants to transform me into the image of his only-begotten Son. I resolve to believe that unshakeably. No matter what happens, no matter how many be my sins, I shall repent and begin again. Now I begin! God is my Father and I place all my faith and my hope in that glorious truth.  Let us resolve to appreciate this great truth that God is not only my Creator and my Lord, but because of what Christ his Son has done for me he is my Father and I am his adopted child, with a vocation to personal holiness now and union with him hereafter in heaven.