Sunday, June 19, 2016

God the Father and Fatherhood - Homily for the 12th Sunday in OT (Father's Day)

Most of you probably know of the Catholic scholar Scott Hahn. He’s brilliant and he’s charitable. Good combination, that.

He tells the story about how he found himself sitting at a restaurant eating breakfast with a scholar of Islam. They were eating breakfast because they were going to have a public dialogue and they wanted to set some basic parameters and starting points for that dialogue.

Four or five minutes into the breakfast, Scott Hahn referred to God as Father, Abba.

Now, that seems innocuous enough. But the Islamic scholar slammed his hand on the table and said, “Do not blaspheme!” Dr. Hahn was taken aback—calling God “Father” is a blasphemy? I mean, Jesus told us to call God Abba and to pray “Our Father…”

So Hahn asked the scholar why? The Islamic scholar explained: because Allah is not Abba. Allah does not love as a Father; Allah is an owner, a master.

In this moment, Dr. Hahn came to “a great clarity” about how our religions are different: they differed on this point of God as a loving Father.

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There is a lot of talk today about what Islam is and what Islam is not. Is it a religion of peace or is a religion of terror? The reality seems to be that it can legitimately be both.

How so?

The brief answer: Islam has no overarching authority or power to resolve disputes in doctrine, nothing to say “yes, this peace is It” or “no, this terror is not It.” In other words, they have no Magisterium. As such, any interpretation of Islam—peace or violence—can be advanced as valid.

Catholicism, on the other hand, believes that there is a capital-T Truth to Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” and Catholicism further believes that there is something that helps us to arrive at that answer, namely the Magisterium.

In fact, the existence of the Magisterium is a hallmark of our God’s Fatherhood.

What I mean by that is, if you are a dad, you don’t want your children to have to guess about how to live: about what is right and what is wrong. Even less do you want them to guess about who you are and about how you love them. So, you teach them and you make things clear.

Our Heavenly Father loves us and, through His Son, Jesus Christ, established the Catholic Church and promised the Holy Spirit to guide Her, such that whoever heard the Church heard Him (cf. Luke 10:16). This Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church, was given by our heavenly Father through Jesus Christ and He promised He would guard and preserve His teaching through the Church while also presenting and interpreting His teaching in every age and in every place so that all nations would know Him beyond a shadow of a doubt and know how to Love Him and our neighbor in the Truth.

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The Father goes so far as to say, when giving this power to His Church, that the “gates of hell will not prevail against her [the Church]” (Mt 16:18).

He said this because He knew that the Church would be under attack.

In the winds of secularism that are blowing (secularism being the belief that God doesn’t matter or doesn’t care and that there are no overarching moral Truths by which we are to center our life and so on)—In these winds of secularism, every religion is under attack. Islam included.

Islam, however, has nothing to protect itself, nothing to defend itself from devolving into secularism—except itself and however it wishes to do that, by peacefully being silent or by being violent.

Our brothers and sisters in the Protestant communities also face the same battle; but without a Magisterium, they too can easily devolve.

Indeed, the same can be said about every Catholic that protests against the Father’s Church. All who separate themselves from the Father’s protection in the Church open themselves up to the corrupting and terrifying forces of secularism where nothing really matters, where Truth really isn’t real, where God is no longer seen as caring or as a Father, and where disunity and hatred reign.

St. Cyprian of Carthage, when he saw the North African church tearing itself apart in 251 AD, wrote, “You cannot have God as Father without having the Church as Mother.”

What he meant was: If we do not have the Church to protect us, then we will lose the Truth about who God our Father is, about how He is loving and merciful and provident and creative. And what’s more: if we do not have God as Father, then we will never be a child of God or see others as children of God either. That’s the perfect storm for violence. But we know we are called for and made for love.

In a secular kingdom, those who lead will have no idea how to battle radical Islamic terrorism precisely because the objective moral grounds on which we could battle are lost. Instead, the battle would come to any person who is not secular. Secular Muslims and secular Protestants and secular Catholics don’t have to battle. Rather, it’s those who hold to Christ and to His Father who will have to battle (like the Little Sisters of the Poor who have to battle against mandates that try and force them and us to violate our conscience and our Father’s teachings in the Church). To think: the Little Sisters and us are seen as radical precisely because we love Jesus and His Father’s Church—radical precisely because we are not secular.

That day is now. And Jesus wants to know: who do you say that I am? Each group in our society has an answer… but Jesus is asking you and me: who do you say that I am?

The radicals are the ones who respond by "taking up their cross" and following Him.

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Why do I mention this on Father’s Day?

Fatherhood is connected to God the Father, the one who is creative and the giver of life, the one who is strong and who uses that strength to pardon, to be patient. and to bless.

Fatherhood was not something that just happened biologically (we aren't fathers just by growing older); rather, it was something bequeathed. Before becoming a father, a boy would have to become a man and a man would have to be man enough to be a husband. Only then could he have the right to have the same title as God the Father. Exhibit A should be the priest: we call him Father not because of biology, but because by grace the priest participates (or, at least, should participate) in the one Fatherhood of God.

In short, fatherhood is supposed to be passed on, bequeathed, by our fathers: and that's our dads, our priests, and any male role-model.

When our secular culture attacked us with doubts of faith, Fatherhood was quickly disconnected from its divine roots. We were faced with having to redefine Fatherhood. And redefined it was! Dad didn’t have to be like God the Father; he could simply be a bread-winner or a sports coach. When contraceptives and cohabitation were thrown at us, fatherhood was redefined again: fathers could be boys without ever having become men or husbands first. The winds of secularism blew and fatherhood was even separated from being male. We were just. like. everyone. else. The reason for our strength didn’t make sense anymore….

We had become Adam in the Garden, quiet and weak as Eve was attacked by the devil himself.

And notice: the secularization of Fatherhood resulted in a massive vulnerability and attack on Motherhood and Women.

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Where do we go from here?

If we are men who have fallen prey to this and been rendered impotent by our secular culture, the Church is here to help us rediscover our strength and our authentic Fatherhood. I will admit, it is a battle, but the Church is with us, giving us the strength of God in the Sacraments and the witness of 2,000 years of saintly men who have stood up in battle against the devil himself.

For my part, I ask you to pray for me who am called “Father.” It is so easy to fall into the two camps opposed to true fatherhood: the one camp that simply turns fatherhood into a job, a way of owning; and the other which is simply boyish and afraid to stand up in the winds of danger. This is when I have to go to my heavenly Father and say, “Father, help me. I’m afraid” or “I need your help” or “I’m not good enough, please help me to be a good Father.”

Please pray for me and for all fathers—priests up here and for the men in the pews.

And fathers, let us band together like a band of brothers and pray for each other: an Our Father every day. We are in this together. We need each other.

Let us pray for all our brothers and sisters, including those of the Islamic faith, who do not yet know this loving Father, that they may see Him.

I truly believe that, the more we encounter God our Father, the more we will grow to be like Him: loving, merciful, provident, patient—a good Father. He will bequeath on us all of His treasures, His kingdom—indeed, His own dignity as Father. Let us go to Him now, therefore, He who loves us and let us ask Him for His blessing. Amen.

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