My Faith/Theology/Who Is God? Encountering the Father Changes Everything by Nick Bernard For about six weeks I had been battling anxiety surrounding my ability to discern the Father’s voice and lies that said I never really heard it at all. I was struggling to receive the Father’s love and feeling guilty in every moment of joy for fear that my joy was false and that my Father was disappointed because I was imperfect. It was had even to listen to praise and worship music because the lyrics that proclaimed the Father’s reckless love for me jostled against a lie of worthlessness I had built up within. But my Father is relentless and that day in Mass, He said enough. I knelt down in my pew with the Eucharist in me and tried to take deep breaths and invite the Father’s peace into my heart. Then in prayer, I saw an image: I stood as a little boy before God the Father, who knelt down so we could look each other in the eyes. Then I heard His voice, a voice so strong and firm, yet so gentle and tender; a voice that shakes the Earth, yet sings me to sleep every night. “Nick, look at me. Look at my face. I love you so much, I promise. And you’re doing such a good job. You’re doing such a good job my son, and I am so proud of you.” At the sound of His voice, I felt my frozen heart turn back to flesh. But, He wasn’t finished yet. The choir’s voices swelled in crescendo and my Father reached out His strong arms and pulled me into a warm, deep embrace. And in that moment, in the Father’s embrace, I knew nothing else. Nothing mattered except the beat of our two hearts pulsing together, the warmth of His arms holding me to Himself, and the scratch of His beard on the top of my cheek. In the Father’s embrace, I found myself again. After fighting off lies and hurt and shame, in His love, my identity as a beloved son shone through. Now, I should emphasize that I don’t have a mystical experience every time I receive the Eucharist (sometimes the host stabs me on the roof of my mouth, actually) and that, even after my beautiful image of God the Father, I have not been permanently healed of anxiety and shame. The point of my story is the love of God, my perfect Father. As Catholics, we know God to be a communion of three divine persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — one God, three people, existing in an eternal exchange of love. The story of salvation history tells us that the Father sent His only Son to Earth, and that the Holy Spirit is the very love the Father and Son have for one another. These three persons existing in a loving communion constitute God’s identity and without any of these identities, God would cease to be His true self. For the majority of my life, I didn’t know God as Father. Jesus was more tangible because I could see Him in Renaissance paintings and on crosses around my friends’ necks, and the Holy Spirit was basically the magic colorful wind in Pocahontas that tells her how to save the world. But, God the Father? For the longest time I would have struggled to describe Him to you. However, thanks be to God, last December, I encountered God the Father, and since then, my life has been changed. I have been brought into a deeper understanding of God’s love than I ever thought possible. Our Father is Different Than Other Dads On Father’s Day, my family usually gets my dad a card that has a picture of a grill or a football or tools or beer (I’m probably not alone here). These popular images of earthly fatherhood are not entirely off base, but, of course, there’s more to fatherhood than what we see at the Hallmark store. Even so, God the Father does resemble our earthly fathers in certain ways: He protects us, provides for us, leads us, and fixes things (have you heard of, my entire life?). But, God’s fatherhood goes far beyond the “dad stereotypes” we find in popular culture, and it is quite unfair to our heavenly Father to let our perceptions of earthly fatherhood (good or bad) limit or taint His identity as our Father. The heart of God reaches far beyond our traditional notions of manhood and masculinity, yet there is something very special and perhaps even necessary about the children of God relating to Him as Father. That’s why Jesus taught us to call God “Father” in the Lord’s prayer (Luke 11:2-4) and why Christ gave men the gift of priesthood, so they might reflect God’s divine Fatherhood in this world. Moreover, in the midst of attacks on the family, there exists a parallel crisis of fatherhood. So many young people are wounded (mentally, emotionally, physically) by their fathers, and many others grow up with distant or entirely absent fathers. In far too many hearts throbs a deep “father wound” left by dads who were abusive, neglectful, absent, or just lazy. The devil delights in these wounds because he knows these are perfect avenues for keeping us at a distance from our heavenly Father and for further skewing our image of fatherhood into something toxic and painful. However, Christ implores us not to give up on our Father. In fact, Christ’s entire ministry points us back to the Father, from the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), to His farewell sermon at the last supper (John 14-17), to His dying breath and shout of “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Jesus reveals to us the truth of God’s identity as Father — a Father who is strong and firm, yet simultaneously gentle and tender. A Father whom Jesus calls “Abba” and whom we might call “Papa.” The Heart of the Father Christ draws us into His Church to point our attention, through Himself, to His Father so that we might encounter Him in the sacraments. Jesus cries out to His Father in times of distress (Mark 14:36), gives thanks to the Father in times of joy (Luke 10:21), and lifts up His apostles and followers to His Father (John 17:20-26). We are called to mirror Christ in all three of these ways in order to experience the same intimacy with the Father that Christ enjoys (John 17:21). In His ministry as the good shepherd, Christ shares with His followers the heart of His Father and loves them with the Father’s love. Throughout the Gospels, Christ gives thanks to His Father for His apostles and other followers, praying that His community of disciples might experience a loving union that mirrors that of Himself and His Father. Through His parables and ministry, Jesus shows us that His Father’s heart is relentless like the good shepherd (Luke 15:4), strong like solid ground (Luke 6:48), and tender like the father of the prodigal son (Luke 15:20). Christ desires that we should know and love His Father just as He does, that we might have such intimacy with the Father to follow Christ’s example and cry out “Abba” or “Papa.” Not only does Christ desire this intimacy for us, He goes so far as to make it attainable through His life, death, and Resurrection. In His life, Christ models perfect intimacy with the Father, so, as we die to ourselves and become more like Jesus, we also journey deeper into relationship with the Father. In the Christian life, we might mirror Jesus through our charity shown to others, our increased conviction to grow in holiness, or our continued participation in the sacraments. Every time we love as Christ loved, see ourselves and others as He sees us, and receive His Body, we become more and more like Jesus. Jesus gives us these outlets for the transformation of our hearts not because He thinks He’s all that and wants everyone to be just like Him, but because He desires with all of His being that we should know and love the Father just as He does. Jesus prays to His Father that the love which they share might be in the hearts of all His disciples (John 17:26), making us ever more like Jesus and ever more in love with His Father The Father’s Heart Beats for You The Father has created you to share in His divine love and He loves you just as much as He loves Jesus. As a beloved son or daughter of the Father, you have been wonderfully made with a heart that beats for communion with the divine and for the Father’s warm, deep embrace. No matter your relationship with your earthly father, your heavenly Father relentlessly pursues you and has no plans of ever leaving you alone. He’s ready and waiting for you to run into His arms, to hear His heartbeat against yours, and to feel His beard tickle your cheek. No amount of shame, regret, or mistakes can stop Him from chasing after your heart. The Father’s arms are open wide to welcome you home; all He waits for is your yes. A yes to His heart and invitation into infinite, intimate love. All He wants is to assure you that you’re doing a good job and that He is so, so proud of you. To enter more deeply into this encounter with the Father, join us in praying through our annual theme, Relentless Father.