This year, Father’s Day and the feast of the Most Holy Trinity fall on the same day. First, some thoughts on Father’s Day.
‘The father-child relation is irreplaceable.’ Every day of his life, President Obama lives with this reality, for he grew up without his father’s presence and without his father’s love. Recently in Chicago, he lamented that “in entire neighborhoods like Hyde Park, young boys and teenage boys don’t see an example of fathers or grandfathers who are in a position to support families.” On several occasions, he has blurted out: ‘Any male can make a baby; being a father takes a real man.’
The Basic Understanding of Fatherhood
The most basic and universal understanding of father is that of begetting children. But a father is much more than a begetter. He is the creative source, and protector of life, the representative of power and authority, as well as gift, solicitude and aid. Yet not every man assumes the responsibility of fatherhood.
Father is a relation and a presence, not the name of a man. When a man becomes a new father, the externals of his person remain unchanged. But he has become a completely different person from within because of the new relationship he assumes with his child and family.
To explain. Before becoming a father, Paul is the son of his own father. When Paul’s son or daughter is born, Paul’s life is changed. In addition to his marital relationship, he has entered into the new relation of fatherhood. He is Dad, Daddy, Pop, Papa. Fatherhood is added on to his personhood.
Fathers come in all different shapes, sizes, and personalities, a fact best seen in some father-roles on the screen. In “Father of the Bride,” Stanley Banks (“Pops”) comically evokes neurotic tendencies on the eve of his daughter’s wedding. In “Life with Father,” Clarence Day (Clare) is a stickler for rules in a family with four boys. He is a banker whose thrift and dislike of surprises make for fun when, time and again, his wife (Lavinia) Vinnie and his boys outwit him.
In “The Bill Cosby Show,” Cliff Huxtable, father and obstetrician, is thoroughly engaged in the lives of his five children. He protects, disciplines, and loves them. As a moral guide, he teaches them values and life-principles by example. A devoted husband, he stands firmly with his wife Clare, especially in front of the children. The Huxtable family loves their Dad—flexible, funny, and fun.
Television commercials depict wounded veterans, mostly men, who still manage to be loving fathers to their families, despite their severe disabilities. The long and arduous rehabilitation becomes an integral part of the family unity.
Yes, we have super-Dads like Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) who, in the film, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” exceeds our expectations of fatherhood. A widower with two young children and a defense lawyer, Atticus is devoted to his children not only as father but as teacher as well.
The Father Metaphor
The word father can be as a metaphor. The universal notion of father is an essential part of mythology and religions. Zeus is the “Father of the gods,” and Abraham, “Our Father in Faith.” In America, George Washington is the “Father of Our Country,” and John Barry, the “Father of the American Navy.” In India, Mahatmas Gandhi is the “Father of the Nation;” Nelson Mandela is “Father of South Africa.” These ‘fathers’ are defined metaphorically as the authorities of the titles accorded to them. We have phrases such as Father Time, Father Thames, Founding Fathers, Fathers of the Church. In classical music, Franz Joseph Haydn is not only the “Father of the String Quartet” but also “Father of the Classical Symphony.”
Collapse of the Father
In this country, life without fathers is now established as a major social concern. More than 27 million children, four out of ten, now live apart from their fathers, and half of them do not see them. In most TV sitcoms, if a father is present, he is portrayed as a bumbling, aloof, and unnecessary member of the family.
The high cost of father-absence is reflected in school dropouts, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, nefarious behavior against teachers in public schools, and crime and violence in the streets. Father-absence contributes to social problems, emotional dereliction, male aggression, and low academic achievement. Some have blamed the collapse of the father-figure on the Freudian Oedipus-complex.
The Biblical Father-God
In his book, The God of Jesus Christ, Walter Kasper writes that “the relation of father-child is not only an inalienable aspect of being human, but it also cannot be replaced by other relations; father is a primal word in the history of humanity and religion. It cannot be replaced by another concept and cannot be translated into another concept” (138). The same holds true of the mother-child relationship. Father and mother are primary words incapable of being reduced or replaced.
God, the mystery beyond all mysteries, transcends gender and human language. Nonetheless, the Divine I-AM-The ONE Who IS is revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures as Adonai, (Lord), Melech (King), Avinu (Our Father). These are figurative and not literal ways of speaking about the source and creator of the cosmos. As her point of departure, Rosemary Reuther emphasizes the biblical understanding of God as Father of all men and women; he alone is truly the Father (Mt 23:9).
Jesus and His Father in the Gospels
In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus addresses his Abba, the intimate form of his very dear Father, connoting their intimate relationship. When did Jesus pray to his Father? He prayed before making a decision, after apostolic work, before the Lord’s Prayer, in Gethsemane, and on the cross (Lk 6; 12; 5:15-16; 11:1; Lk 2:41; 23:34, 46). In the Johannine Gospel alone, the Father is mentioned about 110 times. What did the Father mean to Jesus? The Gospel’s entire chapter seventeen expresses their mutual love in which men and women are invited to share. If the word Father is purged from the Gospels, then in practice, God the Father is dead, and Jesus Christ is his Only Son.
The Disappearing Father in Liturgical Prayer
The biblical belief in the Fatherhood of men and women has been revealed to us. Jesus taught his disciples to pray “The Lord’s Prayer” beginning with the verse, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” As we pray, so we believe; as we believe so we pray. Without the Fatherhood of God, how do we begin our prayers? “In the name of the ____?” “Glory be to the ____ and to the Son (whose Son?) and to the Holy Spirit.”
“The Father must be the addressee of praise, thanksgiving, and petition” (Kasper, 155-6). The Eucharistic sacrifice is addressed to the Father, and Christians are baptized in the name of the Father. If this belief is purged from liturgical language, then in practice, God the Father is dead, and Jesus Christ is his Only Son. Christianity collapses as does the Catholic faith.
The Triune God
This coming Sunday, the Church celebrates the feast of the Most Holy Trinity. When we Christians confess our belief in the Triune God, we are recapitulating the entire Christian mystery of salvation; in fact, we are summarizing the entire Christian mystery of salvation. To confirm our belief in the Tri-personal God, Christians recite the Creed. In the Holy Spirit, we human persons are accepted into the communion of love that exists between Father and Son” (Kasper, 244-5). The Holy Spirit makes possible our incorporation into the love of the Triune God.
Perhaps the most consoling and most beautiful truth about the Trinitarian dogma is captured by St. Paul who presses the Corinthians and the extended Christian community: “Didn’t you realize that you were God’s temple and that the Spirit of God was living among you? If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred, and you are that temple (1Cor 3:6-7).