Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Loving Father

It was a tense and awkward situation.

Popular Catholic writer and theologian, Scott Hahn, was meeting with a Muslim imam to prepare an interfaith prayer service. In the course of their discussions, Mr. Hahn referred to God as “Father”. This offended the imam who immediately asked him to stop referring to the Lord in such a familiar and intimate way. Mr. Hahn apologized explaining that he did not mean to offend him but that it was typical of Christians to call God “Father” after the example of Jesus.

As their conversation continued, Mr. Hahn found himself, without thinking, referring to God as Father again. Again, the imam asked him to stop and again Mr. Hahn apologized saying that he was not doing it on purpose but that it was second nature for him and for all Christians to refer to God as Father.

Though it was an uncomfortable discussion, it taught him a lesson we often can forget as Christians. Jesus has taught us to call God “our Father”. After the example of our Savior, we understand God not to be a being who is distant and indifferent but a Father who knows us and loves us. For the people of Jesus’ day and for many people still in our day, such an intimate and personal idea of God can be shocking or ridiculous. But it is what we profess as Christians, it is the prayer that is on our lips every day - God is “our Father”.

When Jesus tells us to call God “our Father” in the prayer He teaches the disciples and which we have come to call the “Our Father” or the “Lord’s Prayer”, He has two specific meanings in mind. First, He teaches us that God our Father wants to provide for all our needs and, secondly, that He wants to forgive us.

First, our Heavenly Father wants to provide for all our needs. In the prayer that Jesus left us, we say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We turn to God and place our needs before Him confident that He will hear and answer us.

In today’s gospel, Jesus uses the example of earthly fathers. What good man would fail to give his son food when he is hungry or comfort his daughter when she has fallen and hurt herself? Just so, we can expect God to provide for us when we are needy or hurting. No matter what difficulties we are facing, our Heavenly Father cares for us enough to give us what we require to get through it.

How do we tap into God’s power to provide for all our needs? Simply by asking, seeking and knocking. If we ask, we will receive, if we seek, we will find, if we knock, it will be opened for us. If our Heavenly Father does not answer us right away, then we must persist in our prayer with confidence.

As we listen to Jesus’ words, it is natural for us to ask, “If God loves us so much, why does He not always answer us right away? Why do we so often have to ask more than once?” There are several reasons. First of all, what we are asking for might not be good for us. Just as we do not give our children everything they ask for because it might hurt them, so God does not grant all our prayers because, though what we ask for may seem good or desirable, it may not be what is best for us. Secondly, God wants to increase our desire for what He wants to give us by making us wait for it. That way, when we do receive it, we will be that much more grateful for it and less likely to take it for granted. Thirdly, God waits before answering our prayers to teach us that He grants our prayers out of His love for us and not because we deserve it. If He were to answer us immediately, we might believe that our prayers work like magic incantations, compelling God to give us what we ask for. Rather, He wants us to understand that what he provides for us comes from His great love rather than because of anything we have done.

By calling God, “Father”, Jesus is teaching us not only that He provides for our needs but that He loves us enough to forgive us. Our sin offends God. By breaking His commandments, we tell our Heavenly Father that we know better than He does what is good for us. We tell Him that we want to live by our own rules, not by His. If God did not love us, He would not care what we do. But, because He knows what is best for us and because He does not want to see us hurt ourselves, He gives us commandments to guide our actions and is hurt when we break them.

Because of this we pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Our Heavenly Father is willing to forgive us when we ask for Him to. Like every other good thing He gives us, we merely need to ask, seek and knock for mercy to be shown us. And, we also need to be willing to forgive those who offend us. If He offers us His mercy and we fail to share it with others, then that forgiveness will be denied us. Even so, we can always go back to Him for a fresh start. As our Holy Father, Pope Francis, said so beautifully in one of his first homilies as Bishop of Rome, “God never tires of forgiving us. It is we who often grow tired of asking for His forgiveness.”

At this Mass, we turn to our Father bringing our needs before Him and celebrating the love and forgiveness that He has taught us through Jesus Christ. This is an intimate and personal gathering where we meet God not in fear, not in guilt and not in shame but in love, mercy and joy. How blessed we are to know that our Heavenly Father loves us. It is now our duty to share that love and forgiveness with others so that they can join us in this family where God is our Father, Jesus is our brother and the Holy Spirit binds us all in unconditional love.

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