A Father’s Love
As our nation shows appreciation for our fathers today, the Church also happens to lift up for us the Holy Trinity, the mystery of God’s inner life. While it is a mystery – the central mystery of the Christian faith – reflecting on the Trinity can shed light on what it means to be a father and also what it means to be the child of a father.
The Church’s faith has always been Trinitarian. The greatest human minds have tried in various ways to explain this mystery that was divinely revealed to us, but the essential elements remain the same: we worship one God who is an eternal communion of three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “While they are called three persons in view of their relations, we believe in one nature or substance” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 255). The three divine persons in this one divine God differ only in that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, the Spirit is not the Son, and the Spirit is not the Father.
Whatever explanation we choose to try to penetrate this profound mystery, at the center we find relationship, specifically, the fullness of love that is communion. The doctrine of the Trinity is compressed into Scripture’s most compact definition of God: “God is Love” (1 John 4:8, 16). The author G.K. Chesterton observed that the Trinity is “simply the logical side of love.”
Within God himself is one who loves (Father) and one who is loved (Son), and is the Love itself (Spirit). The love which proceeds from the Father and the Son is not merely some warm sentiment but, since God is Love, is a living Person as well – the Holy Spirit. While challenging, this is no abstract exercise in theology but a life-giving truth since we humans are created in the image and likeness of God the Trinity. Just as God is three in one and enjoys the communion of the three divine persons, so too are human beings, made male and female, called to live in a fruitful communion of persons.
Here is revealed the essence of true human fatherhood – it is not simply biology or obligation, it is relationship and love. In particular, as we read in the Catechism, the standard for all human fathers is God the Father (CCC 239, 302, 2214). Like our Father in heaven, the criterion for fathers in the natural created order is unconditional love – warm affection, giving of self, and seeking the good of his children. Most fathers understand this implicitly and, like God in his Providence, they have been engaged in our lives, looking out for us, guiding us, prompting us and providing opportunities for us.
Not everyone, of course, has had a positive experience with their natural fathers. The reality is that our fathers are imperfect humans, not divine, and they sometimes may fall short of what we would like them to be. Yet we overcome such obstacles by drawing nearer to the Trinity, to God the perfect Father who more than makes up for the shortcomings of others, to the Son who asks us to love as he loves, and to the Spirit of Love who heals us and helps us to forgive one another.
On this Father’s Day, which is in a certain sense a public affirmation of the Fourth Commandment, we honor and express our love for the men who have helped to give us life together with our mothers and God, who is the source of all human fatherhood. As we thank fathers for all that they have done for us, devoting their time, energy, resources and love, may God’s blessings be upon them.