Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Fatherhood of God and Human Fatherhood

The only perfect father

(Eleventh Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on June 15, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Exodus 19: 2-6a; Romans 5: 6-11; Matthew 9: 36-10: 8.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Eleventh Sunday 2008]

Providentially, on this Father’s Day weekend, our Scripture readings reveal some important truths about the Fatherhood of God—which is the source of all human fatherhood as well as the model for it.

In our first reading from Exodus 19, God the Father says to his Old Testament children in Israel, “You have seen for yourselves how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagle wings and brought you here to myself. Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine.”

It’s clear from this passage: God the Father protects his children; he watches over his children; he instructs his children in the truth; he guides his children in righteousness; and he disciplines his children when necessary.

So do all good human fathers—both the natural kind (which so many of you are) and the spiritual kind (like yours truly—Remember, priests are fathers, too!).

Earthly fathers also make sacrifices, in imitation of the heavenly Father. Although God the Father was willing to sacrifice much more than he asks any human father to sacrifice. As today’s second reading from Romans 5 reminds us, God the Father was willing to sacrifice his only begotten Son, so that we might become his adopted sons and daughters: “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

And then in today’s gospel reading we see God the Father providing for his New Testament children (a group which includes us) by appointing—through his Son—“Fathers” to act in his name and to shepherd his Church: “Then [Jesus] summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.”

The call of the Twelve Apostles was a call to spiritual fatherhood!

Now all of this is both good news and bad news to those of us who are fathers here on earth.

The fact that God is the source of human fatherhood and the model for it is good news for this reason: If we develop a relationship with him through his Son, Jesus Christ, we will be become good earthly fathers ourselves.

The bad news is that we’ll never be perfect at it, like God the Father is. And that’s a big issue, because I believe that when children look to their father—either their natural earthly father or their spiritual father in the Church—they unconsciously want to see a perfect reflection of God, their heavenly Father.

And there’s no way any of us can measure up! Not completely, anyway.

This explains, incidentally, why people almost always have some complaint about their pastor. Even if he’s a nice guy—like me—there will always be some measure of dissatisfaction.

Because deep down inside parishioners are looking for God the Father, and what they’ve got is Father Ray, or Father Greg, or Father Ken—each of whom has their good points, and each of whom has their not-so-good points!

And so it is in the family, with natural fathers. Now this may sound strange to some of you dads, because if you go by what your children say, you might think that the last thing they’re looking for in you is perfection! Based on what they say, it can seem like they want you to be permissive, non-judgmental jellyfish, who let them do whatever they want to do.

But that’s not the case. Oh sure, part of them wants you to be that way, but deep down inside they desire something different.

They want a perfect reflection of their perfect Father in heaven—although they may not ever say it in quite those terms.

This came home to me in a powerful way a couple of months ago during a Thursday night youth group with the teenagers.

Because of some things that had been going on in the community at the time, I decided that the topic for discussion that night would be, “What makes a good parent?”

There were twenty teens in attendance at that youth group, and they had a number of things to say, some of which really surprised me. (And by the way, please don’t think that they told me “what I wanted to hear.” They don’t do that during these youth groups on Thursday evenings. Quite oppositely, they tell me exactly what’s on their minds—which is precisely what I want them to do!)

Let me share with you now some of the things that were said that night. I wrote them down as the teens were saying them. These points apply to both mothers and fathers, but today I’ll focus on them relative to dads.

What makes a good parent? What makes a good father?

  • A good father acts his age, not his child’s age
  • A good father is a parent first, and a friend second
  • A good father isn’t afraid to discipline his children; however he disciplines them with love
  • A good father sets a good example for his children
  • A good father helps his children to understand “why”
  • A good father does not live by the saying, “Do as I say, not as I do”
  • A good father gives his children the positive reinforcement they need
  • A good father trusts his children, but also verifies that they’ve been honest with him
  • A good father is not afraid to say No
  • A good father takes an active role in his children’s education—and in their spiritual upbringing
  • A good father doesn’t put his own children down by comparing them to other children
  • A good father allows his children to experience the consequences of their negative actions. He doesn’t always try to “bail them out” of trouble
  • A good father tries to keep his children from growing up too fast
  • A good father doesn’t give his children everything they want
  • A good father is consistent
  • A good father stands by his decisions
  • A good father doesn’t try to live his life vicariously through his children
  • A good father makes his children earn their privileges
  • A good father speaks the truth to his children, whether they want to hear it or not

Now I’m willing to bet that very few of the 20 teenagers who were there that Thursday night have ever said any of these things to their fathers or mothers!

In most cases, their fathers and mothers probably think that they believe the exact opposite of what’s expressed here.

Now, dads, I hope you were overwhelmed by these qualities I just read to you—because what these young people are saying is that they want you to be as good as God.

And there’s no way you can be.

But all of us fathers can be a lot better than we currently are!

So today let’s ask God the Father of all, through Jesus Christ his Son, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, to give us dads the grace that we need to move a little bit closer to perfection, a little bit closer to the perfect fatherly ideal that our children are looking for in us.