On the civil calendar, today is Father's day. I had always assumed that the occasion was invented by the greeting card companies, but heard jus a day or two ago that it came as a request from a real live lady who heard a Mothers’ Day sermon, and wanted to have a day to honor her father, a widower civil war veteran. It is, in any event, a good occasion to make our parents aware that we love them; to visit or at least call them if they are alive, and to remember them in our prayers whether they are dead or alive. In our century, family life has become a very tenuous thing, so it is good to have opportunities like this to get together with our parents or our children, even if only briefly.
One of the unique things about the Christian religion is that it views God as having taken a personal interest in the affairs of His creatures. Having created time, and having created men and women in His own image and likeness, He chose to enter human history at various times in a personal way. Throughout the Old Testament we read of Him giving instructions to His people through the mouths of His prophets; He spoke to men like Noe, Moses, Elias, and Isaias both to give them His Law and to tell them of His plans for them. In the New Testament God, became directly involved with mankind, "becoming flesh and dwelling amongst us."
Particularly in the New Testament, God reveals Himself as "the Father." Our Incarnate Lord speaks of Himself as the Son, almost always in reference to the Father. He refers to the Father so often -- and never uses any other way of referring to Him -- that it is clear that He is not speaking in some metaphorical sense. God is not "like a father"; He is the Father: "The word that you have heard is not Mine, but the Father's Who sent me.... if you loved Me you would rejoice that I am going to the Father.... I do as the Father has commanded Me."1 "He sent His only-begotten Son."2 "No one has seen the Father except Him Who is from God."3 "I must be about My Father's business."4 "Their angels behold the face of My Father."5
When He is asked how we should pray, our Lord addresses His prayer to "Our Father, who art in heaven.... Father, hallowed be Thy name.... Pray to thy Father ... and thy Father will reward thee."6 Sometimes our Lord speaks of "My Father," sometimes it is "our Father," or "your Father," but it is always "Father." He never speaks about some abstract "Supreme Being who created all things and then walked away from them"-it is always a loving and concerned "Father."
The "joy in heaven over one sinner who repents" that we read about in the Gospel a few weeks back is the joy of a Father who has seen a child go astray but then return to His good graces.7 It is very much like the parable of the prodigal son, which immediately follows it.
And the Father-Son relationship works both ways. On at least two separate occasions -- on the occasion of our Lord's baptism in the Jordan, and then again at His transfiguration on Mount Thabor -- we see God the Father acknowledge His "beloved Son in Whom He is well pleased."8 The words are virtually the same in all six references in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
But perhaps the most important aspect of the Fatherhood of God -- at least from our perspective -- is that we have been given the possibility of becoming His adopted sons and daughters. "To as many as receive Him, He gives the power of becoming sons of God...."9 "You have received a spirit of adoption as sons .... we cry out, «Abba, Father» .... the Spirit gives testimony that we are sons of God."10 "God sent His Son, born of a woman ... that we might receive the adoption of sons.... You are no longer a slave, but a son ... an heir also through God."11 "He predestinated us to be adopted through Jesus Christ as His sons."12
As we celebrate Father's day, we would do well to remember that phrase from our Catechism: "God created us in His image and likeness." The relationship that parents have with their children is part of being made in God's image. Human fatherhood and the Divine Fatherhood are not just similar -- for God created men and women and ordered them to raise their families in His likeness. It not a mere coincidence that the Commandment to "Honor thy father and mother" comes immediately after the Commandments bidding us to honor God -- the honor and the authority of parents is decreed in the image of God; even those who are not particularly good parents must be respected for their likeness to God.
Finally, the fact that God is our divine Father should suggest some practical behaviors to us. Those of us whom God has made fathers can learn our own responsibilities from the Father of all. The procreation and education of children is not simply the primary end of marriage, it is way of sharing in God's image and likeness as Creator. Fathers of families must do their best in imitating Him as Provider. They must be judges and lawgivers, doing justice with mercy and concern, just as the Father's laws are written in our hearts for the well-being of His children. Above all, we must love all those who are entrusted to our care -- for that is the root of stability in the family, and the main way in which we can show ourselves in God's image and likeness, for as St. John tells us, "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in Him."13
May God love you on this Father's Day, and may it be the occasion for you of an increase of love: Love of the Father in heaven as well as the love of your father on earth.
Thou hast commanded us, O Lord, to honor our father and mother. In Thy kindness, have mercy on the souls of my father and my mother, forgive them their sins, and grant that I may see them again in the joy of the eternal life. This we ask ...
Receive, O Lord, we beseech Thee, the sacrifice which I offer up to Thee on behalf of the souls of my father and mother; grant them everlasting joy in the land of the living, and in company with them let me share in the happiness of the saints.
We beseech Thee, O Lord, that this heavenly sacrament of which we have partaken, may win rest and light everlasting for the souls of my father and mother, and by means of it I may be crowned with them by Thy grace for evermore.