CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - "For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."(Ephesians 3:14 - 19)
These profound words were written by the Apostle Paul to the early Christians in Ephesus. The Greek word for Father and family are connected. Paul is using them in a sort of play on words to make a profoundly important theological and existential point. Fathers are the foundation of families, they give them identity and meaning in both life and in death. The Catholic Catechism says, "The divine fatherhood is the source of human fatherhood; this is the foundation of the honor owed to parents." (CCC#2214)
The Biblical understanding of naming someone was a far more significant action than many contemporary approaches communicate. To name was understood to confer identity and introduce an ongoing relationship between the parties. Naming still confers identity and relationship. Understanding the implications of that fact takes a lifetime, and beyond.
On this day when we stop the frenetic pace of life to honor and remember fathers, we have an opportunity to reflect on what really matters most in our lives. The ones who have "named" us, our fathers, have helped to give us our identity. They are a gift to be received and we should thank them.
I lost my dear father in 2001. In that same year, my beloved wife also lost her father, my father in law, with whom I also had a wonderful relationship. We refer to that year still, with a heartbreaking sadness, as the year of our two fathers. When father's day rolls around, we still grieve, even as we laugh and remember them both.
My father's favorite song was the Louis Armstrong classic "What a Wonderful World". Each father's day since he died, in a melancholy mix of mourning and memories, I listen to that song. As the years go by, its words and insights open up in their simplicity and wisdom. My father understood that the words spoke to the things that really matter - once everything that pretends to matter is stripped away. As his life unfolded in those later years, when his congestive heart failure seemed to take its greatest toll, he loved the song and the sentiment it expressed even more.
As the years have passed, my sense of loss has not dissipated. It has only changed. As I so often tell grieving family members at funerals, the pain of loss on the memory of our deceased loved ones is just another manifestation of the eternal nature of all love. Today, I know the truth of that insight as I watch the smiling eyes of our latest grandchild and only wish my Dad were with us to enjoy these precious moments. When we are with our own children and grandchildren, we tell the stories of our fathers with fondness and ever deepening gratitude.
My father grew in tenderness and compassion as he faced death. It is funny how difficulties and struggle, suffering and strife, seem to be the most effective means of refining us all. He finally died of the heart ailment which had claimed so much of his vigor. However, like every struggle my father faced, he did not give up. He was a fighter and he did not want to go. In fact, I was at his "death bed" a couple of times, or so we thought it was his death bed. He decided he had more jokes to tell and love to give.
It was that fighting spirit which I have particularly grown to admire as the years have passed by. Oh, as a younger man, he perhaps fought the wrong battles. We all do. But, that does not really matter any longer. Life smoothes it all out and time presses us into love. I see now that it only gave him time to smooth off the rough edges of a hard life and to simplify. So it is doing with me, his son.
How my father loved to hear from us as he grew older. Sadly, in retrospect, I regret just how little we really called. How I would love to have just one of those conversations today. I miss him. I have a good friend who is much younger. He and his wonderful wife are in the early years of raising their children. Last year she lost her dear father. Now, his father is in the throes of what may be the latter stages of a struggle with cancer. I tell him every time I see him, cherish these days. I pray for him regularly, and I remember.
I think back on those final years with my own father and I still have regrets. Though we can't get those years back, time is meant become a tutor as its highway stretches out before us. The lessons abound...
The memories of the time I did have with him take on new meaning as I walk along the path that he did, raising my family and trying to love in both word and deed.
Now, in my fifties, I remember him in his fifties. I cherish the last times we had and I share with my own grown children, and grandchildren, the stories, and his humor. In fact, in what is the most common experience of all, I actually tell his jokes, use his expressions, both facial and verbal and, in so many respects, I have become just like him. When I was in my twenties, it was one of my greatest fears. Now, it has become one of my greatest honors. How I love him more with each passing year.
Our earthly fathers and our relationships with them reflect the great meaning they symbolize in the eternal framework. Our Heavenly Father has given us His very name, His identity. In and through Jesus Christ, His only Son, we have now become "sons (and daughters) in the Son" - through our Baptism of new birth in water and the Spirit. We are a part of an eternal family, and as the apostle Paul told the Christians in Rome, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, not even death. (Romans 8:38, 39)
I am always glad when Fathers Day falls on a Sunday; it gives me a special opportunity to pray at Mass for my father and my father in law. Fathering is a great gift and a great responsibility. I cannot live it in its fullness without grace, the Divine Life of God which is given to us through Jesus Christ and mediated through our life in His church, in Word and Sacrament. In the Holy Eucharist we receive the One who is the Source and means of all grace.
As a Catholic Christian, I know that I am still joined to my father and my father in law in the communion which stretches through time and into eternity. That Church is a participation in an eternal communion of love. At that moment in the Canon of the Mass, when we pray for those who have died, I will pray for them both on Father's day.
Then I will reflect for the rest of the day upon the great gift of the years that I had with my Dad. I will call my own children. The ones who are now back with us in the home will receive bountiful hugs, as will our grandchildren. The ones separated by geographical space will receive our phone calls and our prayers.
I miss my father. If you still have yours with you, love him and let him know how important he is to you. Together, let us celebrate the Gift of Fatherhood and kneel before the Father from whom every family in Heaven and on Earth is named in deep gratitude.