The First and Greatest Truth
Growing up as the son of an Italian father surrounded by a large extended Italian family, I was introduced to the wisdom of ‘The Godfather’ at an early age. Now, it may seem strange to look to a fictitious mobster for life lessons, but his quote from above is full of truth. I would argue that the entire first installment of ‘The Godfather’ trilogy is in fact all about a man (deeply flawed as he is) apprenticing Michael, his son, to become the leader of his family, with all that entails. And he makes clear to Michael that being the ‘Godfather’ is far more than running the family business, but above all, it entails devotion to his wife and children expressed through being in communion with them. Again, I would propose that ‘The Godfather II’, perhaps the greatest film sequel of all time, is the story of Michael’s downward spiral into loneliness and dysfunction, largely because he did not heed his father’s wisdom about his identity and vocation as husband and father.
But what does all this mean for us? In a world that glamorizes the pursuit of pleasure and material gain, Don Corleone reminds us of the great truth (or at least hints at!) that the measure of our humanity is found in giving ourselves away in love. And he is right in saying that because the most fundamental truth of all is that God is a Father.
‘You are a Father Forever’
There have always been hints that the divine is fatherly. Many ancients began to intuit that there was one Creator God who made everything and in whom everyone had their source. Even more so, the ancient Israelites identified as God’s ‘first-born son’ (Exodus 4:22), and this familial language about God’s relationship with Israel fills the Old Testament. But we are still at the level of a metaphor. It is still obvious that God is not a dad to all people or the nation of Israel in the same actuality and intimacy in which my human father is my dad.
It’s not until Jesus steps onto the world stage that we really begin to peer into the mystery and beauty of who God is as Father. The Catechism of the Catholic Church proclaims: “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[…]” (CCC 240). With Jesus, we come to see that God has been ‘spending time with his family’ for all eternity, for God Himself is a family! God’s Fatherhood is more than mere symbolism and is entirely independent of His creation of anything or anyone – it is the deepest foundation of who He is and Jesus is His Son who has always shared in the self-giving love of the Father.
‘I will not leave you orphans’
Since God is foundationally, most deeply Father, It should not surprise us that He has imprinted his divine fatherhood into His family of the Church. It is no accident that priests are called ‘Father’, for they are called to give their lives away in love to the people God has given them to care for. And there is a reason the earthly leader of the entire Church on earth is given the title Pope – because it means Papa! He is not a CEO, politician, or (worst of all) some kind of Catholicism security chief. He is the spiritual father to the world – both to those who have recognized the kingship of Christ and those who have not yet received the gift of faith.
‘The grace of adoption’
If it was not enough that God would image His Fatherhood in human fathers, both biological and spiritual, He invites each one of us to actually become His adopted sons and daughters. I would propose that this is the essential core truth of Catholicism around which everything else turns – the Father has created us to live in the same relationship of life and love with Himself that His Son, Jesus, has experienced for all eternity.
Jesus, by his very nature – being the Father’s perfect, infinite Self-Image, is God’s Son, intimately in communion with the Father for all eternity. This closeness with the Father is not something natural for us as human creatures, nor is it owed to us, nor can we earn it in any way. It is a sheer gratuitous gift of the Father (the fancy word for this is grace), and it is our destiny.
For St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:26–27). Elsewhere, St. Peter speaks of Christians becoming ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pet 1:4). While we are all children of God in a metaphorical sense, since He is our Creator and all humanity has our origin in Him, we quite literally become sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus when we are baptized. The fountain of life and love that is the Father’s heart springs up within our souls and enables us to live in the same kind of intimate friendship with Him that Jesus does.
Is any truth more beautiful? Is any truth more liberating? Is any truth more full of hope than that God has entered into the depths (even darkness) of our humanity so that we might be lifted up into the heights of His divine way of life and love?
‘Become what you are’
The great promise of divine childhood entails the response on our part to allow God’s grace to transform us into authentic sons and daughters of His in all our thoughts, desires, words, actions, and relationships. As we allow Him to change us more into His own likeness, we will in fact be filled with joy overflowing and bring His Presence into the lives of those around us that they too might taste of the Father’s love.
As we celebrate Father’s Day this month, let us give thanks for the all the ways God has shown His fatherly love to us, through the fathers in our families and in the Church. Most of all, let us give thanks to God that He has adopted us as His own sons and daughters in His Son Jesus, and ask Him for the grace to share His Fatherly love with all whom we encounter!
Director of Evangelization and Catechesis