Bishop Joseph Strickland: God Is Father

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December 3, 2019
Daily Reading & Meditation: Wednesday (December 4)
December 4, 2019

By Most Rev. Joseph Strickland, The Wanderer, Dec. 2, 2019

(Republished with permission of Mr. Joe Matt, The Wanderer)


“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:14-19).

Those beautiful words were written by the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and given to the early Christians in Ephesus. The Greek word for Father and family are connected. Paul is using them in a sort of play on words to make a profoundly important theological and ontological point.

The Fatherhood of God is an essential teaching of the Sacred Scriptures and has been taught by the teaching office of the Catholic Church since the time of the first Apostles. It reveals His Divine Nature and helps us to understand our own vocation as followers of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father.

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

The Gospel of St. Luke presents this exchange between the disciples and Jesus where they ask Him to teach them how to pray: “Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples. He said to them, when you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test” (Luke 11:1-4).

From this, and the other accounts of the same exchange, we were given the beautiful formal prayer we were taught as children which we pray at every Holy Mass, the “Our Father.” However, Jesus is teaching us much more than one formal prayer. He is revealing the relationship at the very heart of Christian prayer. Jesus also sets forth the relational framework within which life can become an ongoing dialogue of prayer.

His entire time with the disciples is an instruction in Prayer. He shows them, by example, the pattern of living in a continual communion with the Father. He invites them — and He invites us — into that communion of love which He has with the Father, in the Holy Spirit.

Through His saving Incarnation, His Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension, Jesus also removed the impediment to our being able to enter that communion. He capacitates us to begin living in that communion with the Father. He gives us the grace we need to cultivate a lifestyle of prayer, by recognizing that His Father is our Father.

In the Gospel of St. John, the last Gospel to be written, Jesus calls God His Father 156 times. Obviously, it was essential to His message. Yet, sadly, the Fatherhood of God is being dismissed in some circles, even within the Catholic Church. There have even been efforts to remove references to God as Father. Sometimes, these efforts purport to be trying to overcome some sort of “patriarchal” emphasis in our teaching, liturgy, and language. This is an error and must be exposed and opposed. The essential truth of the Fatherhood of God must be defended. To deny it is, in effect, to deny the Trinity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in its teaching on the Trinity, begins with reference to the Father:

“Christians are baptized ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ Before receiving the sacrament, they respond to a three-part question when asked to confess the Father, the Son and the Spirit: ‘I do.’ ‘The faith of all Christians rests on the Trinity’ (citing St. Caesarius of Arles).
“Christians are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: not in their names, for there is only one God, the almighty Father, his only Son and the Holy Spirit: the Most Holy Trinity.

“The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the ‘hierarchy of the truths of faith.’ The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men ‘and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin’” (CCC, nn. 232-234).

Jesus called God Father and He taught us to do the same. As a Bishop of the Church, the Mystical Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head, I will protect and defend the Fatherhood of God as a vital element of the Deposit of Faith. In the Language of our Liturgy, our devotions and our prayer, I will defend the preservation of this revealed truth, this treasure of Christianity. As the Catholic Catechism also explains:
“Many religions invoke God as ‘Father.’ The deity is often considered the ‘father of gods and of men.’ In Israel, God is called ‘Father’ inasmuch as he is Creator of the world. Even more, God is Father because of the covenant and the gift of the law to Israel, ‘his first-born son.’ God is also called the Father of the king of Israel. Most especially he is ‘the Father of the poor,’ of the orphaned and the widowed, who are under his loving protection.

“By calling God ‘Father,’ the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father” (CCC, nn. 238, 239; emphasis added).

Christianity, the fullness of which subsists within the Catholic Church, proclaims something unique in calling God “Father.” The Bible and the Catholic Catechism explain that Jesus Christ, the Word Made Flesh, called God “Father” in a unique way:
“Jesus revealed that God is Father in an unheard-of sense: He is Father not only in being Creator; he is eternally Father in relation to his only Son, who is eternally Son only in relation to his Father: ‘No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’” (CCC, n. 240).

The Fatherhood of God, as taught by Jesus Christ and handed on to the Apostles, is not an anthropomorphism. Rather, it speaks to the core of the Christian Revelation. In its teaching on the Lord’s Prayer, the Catechism of the Catholic Church cites with approval a sermon from the second-century priest Tertullian:

“The expression God the Father had never been revealed to anyone. When Moses himself asked God who he was, he heard another name. The Father’s name has been revealed to us in the Son, for the name ‘Son’ implies the new name ‘Father’.”

God is Father of the Son, Jesus Christ. And, in Jesus Christ, we enter the relationship He has with the Father. We become adopted sons and daughters, in the Son. This is what is often called by spiritual writers, a divine filiation. All who are incorporated into the Body of Jesus Christ through Baptism are invited into the intimacy that is the very life of the Trinity.

Through His life, death, and Resurrection (the “Paschal mystery”), Jesus opened a way for every man, woman, and child to enter the family circle of the Holy Trinity. He is that Way. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and no one comes to the Father but through Him (John 14:6). His Father becomes our Father. He underscores this truth right before He ascended when He instructed Mary of Magdala to tell the disciples “I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17).

On Wednesday, January 30, 2013, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, one of the great theologians of our age, explained this essential truth. This Bishop from Tyler, Texas, could never explain the beauty of the Fatherhood of God with such depth. So, I will conclude by asking you, my reader, to slowly and prayerfully read this beautiful allocution:

“(T)he profession of faith specifies this affirmation: God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. Thus, I would like to reflect with you now on the first, fundamental definition of God that the Creed presents us with: He is our Father.

“It is not always easy today to talk about fatherhood. Especially in our Western world, the broken families, increasingly absorbing work commitments, concerns, and often the fatigue of trying to balance the family budget, the distracting invasion of the mass media in daily life are some of the many factors that can prevent a peaceful and constructive relationship between fathers and children.

“At times communication becomes difficult, trust can be lost and relationships with the father figure can become problematic. Even imagining God as a father becomes problematic, not having had adequate models of reference. For those who have had the experience of an overly authoritarian and inflexible father, or an indifferent father lacking in affection, or even an absent father, it is not easy to think of God as Father and trustingly surrender oneself to Him.

“But the biblical revelation helps us to overcome these difficulties, telling us about a God who shows us what it truly means to be a ‘father,’ and it is especially the Gospel which reveals the face of God as a Father who loves even to the giving of his own Son for the salvation of humanity. The reference to the father figure therefore helps us to understand something of the love of God which remains infinitely greater, more faithful, more total than that of any man.

“‘Which of you’ — says Jesus to show the disciples the Father’s face — ‘would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him’” (Matt. 7:9 to 11; cf. Luke 11:11 to 13).

“God is our Father because He has blessed and chosen us before the foundation of the world (cf. Eph. 1:3-6); he really made us his children in Jesus (cf. 1 John 3:1). And, as Father, God lovingly accompanies our lives, giving us His Word, His teachings, His grace, His Spirit.
“He — as revealed in Jesus — is the Father who feeds the birds of the sky even though they do not sow and reap, and vests the fields with colors of wonderful colors, with clothes more beautiful than those of King Solomon (cf. Matt. 6:26-32 and Luke 12:24-28), and we — adds Jesus — are worth far more than the flowers of birds of the sky!

“And if He is good enough to make ‘his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust’ (Matt. 5:45), we can always, without fear and with total confidence, trust in his Father’s forgiveness when we do wrong. God is a good Father who welcomes and embraces the lost and repented son (cf. Luke 15:11ff), He gives himself freely to those who ask (cf. Matt. 18:19, Mark 11:24, John 16:23) and offers the bread of Heaven and the living water that gives life forever (cf. John 6:32, 51, 58).

“Therefore, the prayer of Psalm 27, surrounded by enemies, besieged by evil and slanderers, and seeking help from the Lord, and invoking it, can give its testimony full of faith, saying: ‘Even if my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me in’” (v. 10).
“God is a Father who never abandons His children, a loving Father who supports, helps, welcomes, forgives, saves, with a fidelity that immensely surpasses that of men, opening up to an eternal dimension. ‘For His mercy endures forever,’ as Psalm 136 continues to repeat in a litany, in every verse, through the history of salvation.

“The love of God never fails, never tires of us, it is a love that gives to the extreme, even to the sacrifice of His Son. Faith gifts us this certainty, which becomes a sure rock in the construction of our lives so that we can face those moments of difficulty and danger, experience those times of darkness, crisis and pain, supported by the faith that God never abandons us and is always near, to save us and bring us to life.
“It is in the Lord Jesus that we fully see the benevolent face of the Father who is in heaven. It is in knowing Him that we can know the Father (cf. John 8:19, 14:7), in seeing Him we can see the Father, because He is in the Father and the Father is in Him (cf. John 14, 9.11).
“He is the ‘image of the invisible God’ as defined by the hymn of the Letter to the Colossians, ‘the firstborn of all creation…the firstborn of those who rise from the dead,’ ‘through whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins’ and reconciliation of all things, ‘making peace by the blood of His cross [through Him], whether those on earth or those in heaven’ (cf. Col. 1:13-20).

“Faith in God the Father asks you to believe in the Son, through the action of the Spirit, recognizing in the Cross that saves the final revelation of Divine love. God is our Father, giving His Son for us, God is our Father, forgiving our sins and bringing us to the joy of the risen life, God is our Father giving us the Spirit that makes us children and allows us to call Him, in truth, ‘Abba, Father’ (cf. Romans 8:15). This is why Jesus, teaching us to pray, invites us to say ‘Our Father’ (Matt. 6:9-13; cf. Luke 11:2-4).

“The fatherhood of God, then, is infinite love, a tenderness that leans over us, weak children, in need of everything. Psalm 103, the great hymn of divine mercy, proclaims: ‘As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him For he knows how we are formed, remembers that we are dust, for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust’ (vs. 13-14).

“It is our smallness, our weak human nature, our frailty that becomes an appeal to the mercy of the Lord so that He manifests the greatness and tenderness of a Father helping us, forgives us and saving us. And God responds to our call, sending His Son, who died and rose again for us; He enters into our fragility and does that which man alone could never do: He takes upon Himself the sins of the world, like an innocent lamb, and He reopens for us the path to communion with God, He makes us true children of God. There, in the Paschal Mystery, the definitive role of the Father is revealed in all its brightness. And it is there, on the glorious Cross, that the full manifestation of the greatness of God as ‘the Father Almighty’ is manifest.”

The words of the Bishop who ordained me continue to echo in my heart and soul as I exercise my ministry as a successor of the Apostles: “Are you resolved to guard the deposit of faith, entire and incorrupt, as handed down by the apostles and professed by the Church everywhere and at all times?” The Fatherhood of God is an essential part of that Deposit of Faith and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I will continue to defend and proclaim it, entire and incorrupt.