Do you know about "The Look"? If you have glasses, you can peer over them and easily give... "The Look." Usually, The Look is part of our body language that speaks anger or disappointment or questioning, like "Really, you're really going to do that?" Yeah, The Look.
I mention The Look because many people think that God is constantly giving them The Look: the look that He's always angry with me or disappointment with me or questioning every little decision that I make. And the devil would have us in that fearful relationship just like he did in the Garden when Adam and Eve were afraid of God and so hid themselves.
But, this week, I noticed there is another side of The Look.
I was outside of the church after Wednesday's Mass-- that's the "little kids'" Mass-- and the 1st graders were coming out from the church. I give them high fives and so on, but one of the girls was really eager to get my attention: "Father Gerber! What do you think of my bow?" She had a bight bow in her hair. It was kind of a mess, but it was also kind of cute.
"Oh, my dear, your bow looks marvelous!"
She was thrilled. And immediately she started skipping. She skipped all the way back to school.
I started to wonder: how was this that I, by a look of approval and a few simple words, could cause someone to skip happily from here to there?
The answer came very quickly: I'm a priest. First graders equate me with Jesus. So, my words weren't simply my, Father Gerber's, words. They were Jesus' words. Jesus had approved of that little girl's bow. And of course that meant everything to her.
(Can you imagine had I said, "Honey, that bow looks awful. How dumb." Oy!)
Ok, so there is "The Look"-- that of anger, disappointment, disapproval-- but there's also "The Gaze." The Gaze is the loving eyes of the Father that notices us, that finds us important, and-- even when we are a mess-- says to us, "I still choose you."
In a recent Pew Study, it was noted that roughly 50% of Catholics do not believe they can have a personal relationship with God. I think a big part of this has to do with our thoughts of who we think God is. I am convinced that more people think that God is giving them The Look than showering them with The Gaze of love.
I've been wondering about this. Recently, I came across a book (Devin Schadt, "Show Us The Father") that points out that, when a man converts to the faith, his children are 93% more likely to enter the church whereas, when a mom converts to the faith, her children are only 17% more likely to enter the church. This is not a sleight against women and mothers-- for nothing can replace the affection and love of mom! Rather, it shows us that there is something peculiar about the man.
What is peculiar about the man? Well, just like the priest can reflect Jesus, dad can reflect God the Father. See, God has given to us men the ability to image Him, to bring to our children His voice, to bring to them His touch, His mercy, His generosity, His heart. Where dad is, there is the image of The Father.
50% of Catholics do not believe they can have a personal relationship with God. Could that be because Catholics, just like the rest of the culture, suffer from a 50% divorce rate-- where 50% of our children do not know their fathers?
For us fathers, how we view God the Father is so important. Our image of God the Father inspires our fatherhood and our fatherhood inspires what our children believe of God the Father.
Yeah, I know: in the Old Testament, God is destroying things. Ok, I get it. But look again at the first reading through the lens of a Father who loves. Do you see it? God the Father is protecting His vulnerable children-- that is, the poor, the foreigner, the orphan, the widow-- these are His children and He is protecting them. I mean, what Father here would not protect their children if they were in danger?
Do you believe that about God in your life-- that He would stand up for you and protect you? And if not, where has that false image of God come from?
Hear Jesus' words: "If you who are wicked know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will God the Father give you who ask Him?"
Or again: "You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased."
How would things change if, when you walked out of this church, you saw God the Father showering with love upon you, saying to you "You're important to me. I choose you, I want you."
When a person does not believe this, they will search for other things and people to affirm them.
How many seek the Father's gaze from the boyfriend or from the wife or from the boss or the job or the bank account? None of these things can replace your heavenly Father's gaze.
So too, if our children do not receive the father's gaze, to know that they are cherished and important and good in their Father's sight-- if they do not receive this from you (and I am speaking to myself, the priest, and to all dads and grand-dads), then they will seek others-- another boy, another girl, another group or gang or drink or addiction-- they will seek another of whom we often won't approve to give it to them. And what will happen when they are hurt that this "other" fails to satisfy the longing for the gaze?
Yes: true Fatherhood is like oxygen for your children. They need it to survive.
Indeed, we all need it.
This morning, we heard Jesus tell us, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind, ... soul... strength..."
If we think that God is absent, or if we think that God is mean, this commandment is nearly impossible. But if God loves us with all His heart, with all His mind, with all His soul, and with all His strength-- it's easier.
I am more moved to love God if I think that my love matters to Him. I am more moved to love Him if I know that my coldness would hurt him. I am more moved to come humbly to Him, saying that I am sorry if I know that I won't get yelled at.
And that's the thing: sometimes I doubt that: I doubt my love matters, or that I hurt Him, or that I won't be yelled at for doing wrong.
But then, I think: what if my parishioners thought that I was cold; what if they thought that I would yell at them if they did wrong; what if they thought that their love didn't matter to me? It would hurt.
Parents, I'm sure you would feel the same way about your children: you would be hurt if they thought you didn't love them.
Because, after all, that's at the heart of us being parents: we love our children.
How much more is the case, then, for God the heavenly Father! You're His child. And He loves you.
And here's the really cool thing: our heavenly Father loves you so much that He will actually give you the very power to Gaze, to love, in the way that we are seeking to do.
St. Therese of Lisieux would make this prayer: "Jesus, please give me your love so that I may love with your love." Therese recognized that her human love wasn't enough-- she needed a more powerful love. And she believed that God the Father, who is a good Father, would give precisely that higher, divine love if only she would ask: "Jesus, give me your love so that I can love God and neighbor as I ought." Please, help me to live under your gaze.
St. Augustine put it this way: "Amemus Deum de Deo": let us love God from God-- let us love Him from the very love with which He loves us, which He will give us in order to love Him. In other words, ask for the Gaze. Ask to know it, to walk in it-- and then you'll be able to give it.
Let's pray: Heal us, heavenly Father, of any ideas of you that aren't you. Strengthen us by your love. Help us to live under your gaze. Pour your love into our hearts, that we may in turn say to our children with your very gaze of love: "I choose you. You are important to me. I love you."
And I like your bow.