Jesus teaches us that God is our Father        (E.J.Tyler)

  I invite you to reflect on God as our Father, indeed on our notions of God. Many people do not make much effort to know God, and the fact is that it requires real effort together with grace to know him as he wants to be known. In respect to effort, even in the case of something we actually see we must the effort to study it carefully if we want to understand it well. If you come across some plant in a garden or out in bushland, you will not gain a good understanding of it just by looking at it.  It may require a lot of study and reading. But what of something which is impossible to see? What of the work of coming to know God?  The danger is that because we cannot see God we can easily be content to have careless notions about him. These notions of God can be floating around in our minds, scarcely ever reflected on, notions that are very inaccurate and far from the truth, and all this without realizing it. How then in the plan of God are we to gain a true notion of him?

Knowing God personally

    Let us remember that God is utterly other than the world, utterly beyond our senses and our natural experience. Of course, inasmuch as he is the creator of all that we see there has to be some likeness between him and the things he made. So by reflecting on the things we see we can come to a dim idea of God their creator. But it is only a dim idea, simply because God is infinitely greater than anything he has made. We look up at the sky and see the stars and we gain a dim idea of the vastness of God’s power. The beauty and order of the world may give us some notion of his beauty and of his mind. But it is all very vague, and I doubt that many people make a leap to God as a living person simply by going on the things they see. For very many people the idea of God scarcely means anything. I would say that if a person has not cultivated a personal relationship with God, generally his idea of God will be vague and fairly meaningless. And this stands to reason, for the best way to get to know a person is actually to meet the person in some sense. If we go simply by hearsay, by what people say about a person, or if we go simply by what we see or hear a person has done, our knowledge of that person will be very limited and probably very mistaken.

   I might know about a person from what I have read or been told, but that is very different from meeting that person and enter into a friendship with that person. Doing this might even change my life. To know a person properly generally we need to get a personal  introduction to him, or in some other way actually meet him. So too with God. God may be in effect just an image in my mind, just a notion. He has to become a real person. Now, who is it who gives us a personal introduction to God? Who is it who can tell us about God first hand? Who can teach us about God and enable us to know God personally, of course not by sight but by faith? It is Jesus his Son, who has come from God to reveal him to us. If we want to know God, we must go to Jesus. If we want others to know God, we must bring them to Jesus. Jesus is mankind’s teacher in matters concerning God.

Jesus the revelation of God

  When we speak of what Jesus our Lord reveals to us about God, we should put him and his teaching in context. That context is the chosen people of Israel and the knowledge of God which had gradually been given to this people since the call of Abraham. That revelation concerning God is contained in the Old Testament. That is to say, the revelation of God given by Jesus and contained in the New Testament is to be understood in the context of what the Old Testament reveals about him. The typical religion of the ancient peoples was polytheistic. That is, people worshipped many gods, and their image of those gods was, we could say, a projection of their experience of life. Their gods did not transcend the world.

  Within this situation God called a chosen man, Abraham, and revealed himself to him in a covenant he made with him. Abraham was granted a true knowledge of God and this knowledge came from a personal experience of God, a meeting with him in some sense, granted to him by God himself. It was the basis of the faith of Israel. It developed with time as God dealt with his chosen people during the centuries that followed, sending prophets and teaching the people through the lessons of their history, and the consequence was that they came to know him better and better. Their knowledge of him came from above. He revealed to them that there was only one God, and that they were not to have other gods in their life, no god but him.. He revealed that he was, as it were, a husband to his people, a Shepherd to them, and that he loved them. He revealed that he is holy and required of them a holy life and the observance of the ten commandments. Many other aspects of God’s revelation could be mentioned, and the Old Testament is the inspired written record of it.

   Then finally he sent the promised One, the Messiah. In him was the fulness of revelation: nothing more would be revealed beyond what was present and revealed in him, because while the prophets were God’s true servants, he, Jesus the Messiah (or the Christ) was God’s own Son. Christ came to reveal God and his saving plan to us. He invites us to accept what he came to reveal about God even if in many of its respects it is full of mystery.

Christ’s doctrine on God

   What shocked the leaders of the people was the way Our Lord referred to God with great familiarity as his own Father, not in the general sense in which various cultures and societies at different times refer to God as the Father of his people and of all peoples. No, Our Lord spoke of God as his very own Father in a way that made himself equal to God. He clearly implied that as God’s own Son he shared in God’s very nature, which put his own being on that same divine level. Indeed, he implied that his being was the same as God’s being. God was his own Father in a sense that could not be said of anyone else. For this the leaders wanted to stone him at least on one occasion. Our Lord went on not only to reveal who God is and who he himself is, and that he would give to all who received him the power to become children of God, to share by a gift of grace in his own relationship with his heavenly Father. That is to say, God’s plan was that Christ’s disciples who by faith and baptism became members of his Church would become adopted sons of the Father, sharing not by nature, of course, but by grace in the divine life of the Son.

  So we ought appreciate how in God’s plan we come to know him. The true knowledge of God is revealed by Jesus. It is not something man primarily attains from his own resources, or background, or thought and reading.  It does not come automatically and naturally. We receive it from Christ, from his teaching as it comes to us in the Church, and from the gift of his grace making us sons of God and co-heirs of heaven. If we accept this revelation it is then supported by our own efforts and resources. One of the first things we ought recognise then is the danger of forming our ideas of God apart from Revelation. Of course, we are not likely - though some do it - to reject openly the true God and worship a false god of some kind. But it is quite possible for us to form our own fanciful ideas of God apart from Scripture and the Church’s teaching. It is also very likely that through laziness we may not actively cultivate our knowledge of God by reflecting on what our Lord taught about him.

   This is why it is so important that we not be lazy in respect to spiritual reading and to the study of our faith. We must seek to know God and not presume that we know him well, because anyone who rarely takes trouble to immerse himself in the reading of Scripture and to study the Church’s doctrine about God will inevitably have a false image and a false notion of God in his mind. Our image of God will tend to be a projection of our own experience, whereas the true God who revealed himself transcends all human experience. He is the Blessed Trinity. He is infinite love, but a holy love, and infinite holiness. The only way we can come to a knowledge of God is by contemplating the person and the teaching of our Lord as the Church explains it, and by asking the Holy Spirit to give us a true knowledge of God. What does Christ teach us about God? He is our Father. As Christ said, he is my Father and your Father. Putting it differently, God is love, as St John writes, and as Pope Benedict teaches in his first Encyclical. Christ is the way to a true knowledge of God.

God the Father

  So then, in order to know God we must enter into the mind of Christ and make his mind and teaching our own, with the help of the Holy Spirit. I would urge that every day you place yourself in a scene of the Gospel and be with our Lord there, learning from him and uniting yourself with him and at the same time uniting yourself with him in the Eucharist. Ask him to teach you what he has revealed about the Father. Unite yourself to our Lord and pray in union with him. To whom did he pray? He prayed to his heavenly Father. The Gospel tells us that often our Lord would go out and spend the whole night in prayer to God. He did not pray to himself. He prayed to his heavenly Father. Undoubtedly too he prayed to the Holy Spirit, and in the Holy Spirit. He may have also prayed to the great saints of the Old Testament. After all, when he was transfigured on the mount Moses and Elijah appeared to him in glory. They were conversing with him. This conversation between our Lord and the saints and prophets of the Old Testament may have been going on during his prayer on other occasions. During his agony in the garden we are told that an angel appeared to console him. Perhaps our Lord also conversed with the angels on other occasions during his prayer. We too pray to the angels and the saints.

   But above all our Lord prayed to his heavenly Father. He constantly spoke of his heavenly Father, such at the Last Supper. On that occasion Philip even wanted our Lord to show them the Father. Then, Philip said, they would be satisfied. Our Lord replied to him that in seeing him one sees the Father. That is, the best way to know the Father is to look on Jesus, to come to know him, and to live in union with him. The focus of our Lord’s life was the Father. He referred to the Father as “My Father and your Father, my God and your God.”  He is equal to the Father in his being, and He is the Father’s only begotten Son, and so as the Son his whole love is for the Father. If we wish to know God as he is, we must go to the Son and learn from him. He revealed that we are God’s children.

Praying to the Father

   The Son of God our Lord prayed constantly to the Father and he taught us to do that too. When he was asked by his disciples how they were to pray, he taught them the Our Father, a prayer in which we address God as our Father. The Aramaic word our Lord used was “Abba” meaning something like Dear Father, or Daddy. We pray this prayer to the Father in union with the Son. Imagine yourself with our Lord at prayer during his lifetime. Imagine yourself with our Lord during his agony in the garden when he was praying with the Father. Imagine yourself kneeling next to Jesus the Son of God, united with him in his prayer to the Father. We would be united in love with him in his prayer to the One who is his Father and who is our Father too. All this would be happening in the Holy Spirit. That is how we should pray now. We pray and we are called to live as sons and daughters of the Father in union with the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.

Doing the Father’s will

  Our Lord constantly lived to do his Father’s will. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that on entering the world our Lord’s attitude was that which is expressed in the words of the Psalmist, “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.” At the age of twelve when he was found in the Temple by his parents his response to their question was, “Did you not know I must be about my Father’s affairs?”  He was doing the will of his Father. At his baptism in the river Jordan at the beginning of his public ministry the voice of the Father was heard saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The Father loved the Son because he always did his will. On one occasion our Lord said, “I always do what pleases him.” On another occasion he told his disciples that his food was to do the will of his heavenly Father. During the agony in the garden he prayed to his Father saying, “Take this cup away from me, but not as I, but as you will.” And then at the end, on the cross he cried out, “It is accomplished.” He had completed the work his Father gave him to do. It is clear that the love of our Lord’s life was his love for the Father and the Father’s will.

Remaining in the Father

   St Paul writes in one of his Letters that, “it is now not I but Christ who lives in me”. God’s plan is that Christ live in us. This means in union with Jesus living a life of obedience to the will of the Father, which means fulfilling our everyday work and duties, and doing so out of love for the Father, just as Jesus did. “Remain in my love,” our Lord tells us in the Gospel, “just as I remain in my Father’s love.” Our Lord constantly remained in the love of his Father. United to our Lord, we too are called to remain in the love of the Father by doing his will, and doing it in union with Jesus and in imitation of him. With the thought of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit constantly dwelling within us our daily work will be thorough, loving and persevering. Our work will be a  constant means of living in union with God, and will give to our lives a great meaning and purpose. Perseverence in our daily work will be a constant expression of our love for our heavenly Father, especially so when our work becomes irksome and difficult, when the temptation comes to give it up and turn to something else appears more pleasant or promising. Doing the will of God will be a loving gift and a constant offering to the one who loves us, our Father in heaven. Let us then live and work and pray knowing we are children of the Father, in union with the Son and in the Holy Spirit.