Show Us the Father
I remember reading somewhere an account of St. Francis de Sales having a conversation with a young, overly confident, idealistic man who was bent on worldly success. The young man touted to Francis that he was preparing to attend a prestigious university. St. Francis replied, “And then what?” To which the young man said that he would then obtain a degree. St. Francis repeated his question, “And then what?” The young man said that he would then obtain a job, which would provide both money and essential business experience. To which Francis asked, “And then what?” “I’ll own and operate my own business.” “And then what?” “I’ll become wealthy.” “And then what?” The young man become frustrated and a bit perplexed and answered, “I don’t know.” To which Francis responded, “You will die, and then what?” Each of us, at an early age, are coached and influenced to enter the hamster wheel and begin chasing after things like a good education—because good education brings jobs and jobs bring money and money buys things and things, as we all know, bring us ultimate happiness. Truly, things, as great as they may be, only provide a momentary, almost illusory pleasure, and are incapable of satisfying our deepest longings. The apostle Philip, on the night before Jesus’ ultimate act of sacrificial love, pleaded with his Lord, “Show us the Father and we shall be satisfied” (John 14:8). Indeed, the longing for the Father is the deepest and most profound desire of the human heart. This desire is the primordial longing of every human soul. The vision of the Father alone can satisfy the human person’s craving for validation, affirmation, and love. All that is good originates with the Father. All comes from the Father and all will discover their destiny and fulfillment in the Father. Theologians define this dynamic as “exitus reditus”—exit and return. All comes from God the Father with the purpose of returning us into eternal union with the Father. Jesus Christ’s entire mission was, and is, to become one with us that we may become one with the Father. Jesus teaches us that God the Father alone,can satisfy us. He alone can satisfy our children’s longings.
The Irreplaceable Role of a Father
“Show us the Father.” Jesus’ response to Philip’s request is pivotal: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father Who dwells in Me does His works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me” (John 14:10-11). There are two important lessons we can learn from our Lord’s words. First, that because of your baptism, Christ lives in you. The kingdom of heaven is in you! Because Christ lives in you, you are capable of being like Christ—capable of imaging the eternal Father to your children. This supernatural divine power and presence within us is real, but is only actuated when trusted and responded to. Second, because the Son of the Father, Jesus, became the son of a human father, Joseph, fatherhood has been redeemed by Christ and all fathers have been made capable of imaging the eternal Father to their children, just as Joseph did for Jesus. As Pope St. John Paul II said, “Efforts must be made to restore socially the conviction that the place and task of the father in and for the family is of unique and irreplaceable importance. As experience teaches, the absence of a father causes psychological and moral imbalance and notable difficulties in family relationships. . . .” And again, “In revealing and in reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God, a man is called upon to ensure the harmonious and united development of all members of the family. . . .” (FC 25). Gentlemen, you and I have a unique role. We are irreplaceable. All comes from the Father and all finds fulfillment in the Father, and we fathers have been created with the unique and unrepeatable role of being a link between the Father and His children—our children. In fact, in the quote just cited, John Paul II references Ephesians 3:15, which says “for this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every father is named.” In other words, by Christ living in us, we are to be icons of God the Father by whom we are named and claimed. Philip’s heartfelt desire is also the deepest longing of our children’s hungry, if not starving, souls: “Show us the Father.” This is our noble duty, our divine purpose, our unique and unrepeatable mission and call to glory—to show the Father to our children by means of our own fatherhood.
God with Us—Are We with Him?
This holy endeavor can only be accomplished by fulfilling the words of Christ, “I am in the Father and the Father in Me.” In order to show the Father we must be in Christ who is in the Father. To show the Father we must become like the Father. To be like the Father we must know and become like the Son, who is the definitive revelation of the Father and His message. No Jesus—no Father. Know Jesus—know the Father. This Christmas season reminded us that Jesus is Emmanuel, “which means God with us” (Matt. 1:23). We can become numb to these words because we hear them so often and can miss the power contained in their meaning. God is with us. God is truly with you and with me. God accomplished this “being with us” by sending His Son, who emptied Himself so completely that we could be united to Him. By becoming a son of a human father, God is now the God with fathers. The question for us is this: “Are we with Him?” God is with us—but are we with Him? St. Joseph, our patron, guide, and exemplar father, when faced with the reality that His wife had conceived of the Holy Spirit, recognized his deficiency, his inadequacy, his inability to measure up to the holiness of “God with us” in Mary. Joseph had a holy fear of God and was humble enough to understand that he was not worthy of the mystery occurring in Mary. Can we not all relate to Joseph’s sentiments? We aren’t as holy as we ought to be. We are deficient. We all sin. We continually miss the mark of self-giving love. Yet Joseph, despite his deficiencies, trusted that “with God all things are possible.” Because Joseph trusted that God could “accomplish all things in a measure far beyond what we ask or concieve” (see Eph. 3:20), he became the one man who showed Jesus the Father in the flesh. Joseph was determined to be with God who was with us. Joseph could have convinced himself that the call and vocation to be a father to the Son of God was too difficult, too burdensome, too challenging—above his pay grade. And what about us? We too are challenged, sometimes burdened, and become worried and weary—and our children aren’t even God made man. Be the Father? “Show us the Father?” Are you kidding me! Even without horns growing out of my skull and a tail on my backside, most days I resemble another father rather than God the Father. Yet Joseph believed that God would provide the grace needed to fulfill the heroic vocation, and he obtained this grace in prayer. So it is with us—despite our deficiencies, our fears, our failures, the miserable attempts to love, the terrible things we’ve said and done, the challenge to show our children that the Father is worthy of us and can be accomplished if we, like Joseph, are determined to be with God, with Jesus, in prayer.
Prerequisites to Being with God
This morning, I would like to share with you a way (not the only way) to be with God who is with us. I call it: the Seven “R’s” of Prayer. But before I proceed it may be beneficial to mention two prerequisites that will provide great aid. First, setting up a prayer schedule is vital. I realize that we have discussed this previously—many times, in fact! It sounds simple, right? But how may of us have done this? How many of us have written down a prayer schedule and attempted to abide by it? A prayer schedule demonstrates that God is an essential part of your life. Without a prayer schedule, we are demonstrating that God is not essential. Second, identify a private place of prayer. It could be a bedroom, a home office, your garage, your car—even the bathroom. Most people leave me alone while I’m in the bathroom. Moses in the Exodus wanderings set up a “Tent of Meeting,” a place of prayer outside the Israelite camp, in which he and others received counsel from God. Without a dedicated place of prayer, outside the camp of everyday life, we will struggle to make time for prayer. If, however, we have a place set aside for prayer, that site becomes a place of pilgrimage. We set out to pray. Sometimes we have to “go there” to find God “in here”—in our hearts. Jesus himself would spend the night in prayer on the mountaintop, or in desolate places, finding His Father outside the camp of regular life. After you have established both time and place for prayer it is important to understand what prayer is. As St. Teresa of Avila said, “Prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God” (The Way of Perfection). Considering these things, let us proceed to the Seven “R’s” of Prayer.
The Seven “R’s” of Prayer
The steps to effective prayer are the seven “R’s”: 1) Recognize God’s presence in you. Greet God. Whether it is by making the sign of the cross, devoutly and slowly, bowing your head, or simply saying, “Hello God, I’m here. Hello God, You are here.” Most importantly, we ought to take a moment of silence to acknowledge that we are placing ourselves in the presence of God, who has placed His presence within us. 2) Every conversation has a context, a topic for discussion. It is no different with our relationship with God. The second “R” is read. It important to read God’s Word, particularly the Gospel, which contextualizes our prayer. We read until something strikes us, or a phrase connects with us. Perhaps we reread the section a couple of times. 3) After you have identified a phrase or a word that connects with you and is relevant to your current spiritual situation, reflect on that word or phrase. Consider what God is trying to communicate to you through his Word. 4) After reflecting, we ought to respond to God’s Word. We do this by discussing our life, our marriages, our children, our dreams, aspirations, desires, our struggles and sins, fears and anxieties—we simply tell Him all about it. During this time we ask for his help and guidance; we ask Him to “grant success to the work or our hands” (see Ps. 90). 5) The fifth “R” is rest. After you have recognized God’s presence, and have read His word, reflected on the phrase that resonates with you, and responded to His Word, then it is time to simply rest in Him. Simply remain in His presence for at least five minutes. This, perhaps, is the most essential aspect of prayer. During this time God infuses His very presence and life into us. 6) After you have rested in God, then make a resolution. “God, please help me do this today.” 7) The seventh “R” is to remember your resolution throughout the day, returning to the divine guidance that you have received during prayer. By entering the silence daily and listening in this manner you can be certain that God will transform your life. You will become a father of peace, of power and resilience, who is capable of transmitting God’s peace to his family. You will become confident in God and the man He has created and destined you to be.
The Demon of Distraction
Perhaps looming in the back or your mind is the question: That all sounds good, but my mind is a train wreck, a circus, a traffic jam full of distractions and racing thoughts—how do I deal with these distractions? C. S. Lewis, in his Screwtape Letters, reveals a tremendous insight regarding distractions during prayer. Screwtape, an archdemon, in his letter to his demon nephew, Wormwood, gives Wormwood advice as to how he should deal with his “patient”: “You seem to be doing very little good at present. The use of his “love” [girlfriend] to distract his mind from the Enemy [God] is, of course, obvious, but you reveal what poor use you are making of it when you say the whole question of distraction and the wandering mind has become one of the chief subjects of his prayer. That means you have largely failed. When this, or any other distraction, crosses his mind you ought to encourage him to thrust it away by sheer will power and to try to continue to normal prayer as if nothing had happened: once he accepts the distraction as his present problem and lays that before the Enemy and makes it the main theme of his prayers and his endeavors, then, so far from doing good, you have done harm. Anything, even a sin, which has the total effect of moving him close up to the Enemy makes against us in the long run.” (Screwtape Letters, p. 147). We ought to deal with distractions and temptations during prayer much like the surfer deals with a wave. We ride it, use its energy to raise us up to God; we present the temptation and distraction to God as the basis of our conversation with him. As St. Bernard of Clairvaux said, “However great the temptation, if we know how to use the weapon of prayer well we shall come off as conquerors at last, for prayer is more powerful than all devils.”
Becoming the Gaze of the Father
As Philip Rivers, the NFL quarterback once said, “Anything worth something isn’t easy.” If we are to become capable of showing our children the Father, we will have to fight, scratch, claw, and strategize to obtain a fervent and consistent prayer life. In prayer we fix our gaze on the Father, and that gaze enables us to transmit the gaze of the Father to our children. John Paul II invites us to “fix our gaze on the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph” (The Christian Family Is a Vocation, 9) Let us “go to Joseph” and ask him to show us Mary and Jesus, and ask him to teach us how to adore Jesus with Mary—not only in the manger, but also at the foot of the cross. By doing so, over time we will become capable of responding to the ache of our children’s heart: “Show us the Father.”