So now that the pine needles have settled, it’s a good time to stop and reflect on what we have experienced in the last few days. With the arrival of the real Christmas season, as well as the beginning of a new year, it is a good idea to take a deep breath and refocus our attention on what God is trying to share with us.
In a paradoxical way, Christmas time can be a hard time to be a Christian. We are being bombarded by premature seasonal decorations, the spirit of materialism, and a whole host of other distractions designed to “choke the Word”, which is meanwhile silently trying to take root in our hearts. This year, my own little family had a lengthy to-do list involving annual family parties to attend, gifts to purchase, cards to send (which we didn’t get to this year) and oh yeah, don’t forget to make some space for prayer and worship! I myself found Christmas to be a whirlwind of family faces, wrapping paper, excited but tired toddlers, and even more tired parents. But despite the happiness of sharing the holidays with our children and extended family, I still found that an empty space remained in my heart, making this pursuit of “seeking Jesus” all the more necessary.
You wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell from our culture’s celebration of Christmas, but the celebration of Christmas is an occasion to celebrate God’s Incarnation, “the Word made Flesh”, that mystery when God decided to enter into human history and live and die as one of us. Naturally, Christmas is a time when we contemplate the Christ Child, usually in the arms of his loving mother Mary, with the peaceful presence of Joseph close at hand. But where is God the Father?
This aspect of God’s fatherhood is always on my heart now, especially as this was my third Christmas since becoming a father. Being blessed with two beautiful children, I have found that fatherhood has been a grace-filled window in which the rays of God’s light seem to shine through with greater clarity. In other words, I feel like I understand more about God now than I ever did when I was a self-focused single man. I’d like to share a few thoughts with you about the paternal nature of God that Jesus emphasized again and again in his teachings.
First of all, let’s start with the basic question all over again: who or what is God? Scripture tells us simply but enigmatically, “God is love.” Pope Benedict XVI chose to highlight this truth of the Faith in his first encyclical with the same simple phrase, Deus Caritas Est. This is what “we have believed and have come to know” through our personal encounter with Jesus. At least that is how it was for me, for I feel that I did not really know God until he shared His Name and His Face with me in the person of Christ. But Jesus is only one Person of the three Divine Persons that form the Holy Trinity. As Christians we believe that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But how do we relate to the Father, especially if our own earthly fathers have been absent, neglectful or perhaps just simply human while we expected them to be divine? If you’re like me, it’s a lot easier to relate to Jesus then to the Father. Jesus’ humanity provides me that immediate connection, since I can look at the crucifix or a statue of the Sacred Heart, or any other sacramental object that helps make him present. But the images of the Father as an old white bearded man lead my mind to Santa and Gandalf associations that don’t help me pray.
So what do we do? How can we come to know this Father that Jesus wants us to know so intimately?
In my case, God has decided to share with me some knowledge of Himself by blessing me with the chance to share in his fatherhood. It is really true that for me, starting with the “yes” of Mary (my wife’s real name), I have been able to share in the creation of new life. In my opinion, becoming a parent really is the best thing ever, especially since I spent many years struggling with the possibility of a priestly vocation. As much as I wanted to serve God as a priest, the desire for a family could not be denied and so I pursued this path. Now I am a married man and I love being a father. I have told my wife more than once that I feel more like myself as a father, that becoming a father has seemed to open up more my sense of who I am. And so this has got me thinking and wondering about how God loves as a Father.
Now fathers have a lot of different tasks. Here are some of the things I do as a father: I work a 9 to 5 job to help pay the bills and put food on the table. I change your dirty diaper. I get you apple juice. I get you more apple juice. I console you when you fall down and bump your head. I pick you up and carry you away before you tumble down the stairs. I put a band-aid over that tiny scratch on your crib that for some reason, scares the heck out of you. I make you Mac and Cheese, chicken nuggets, and dance with you to “princess music.” I read you the “Dora the Explorer” book for the 500th time. I remind you that “monkeybutt” is not a polite thing to say in public, while I try not to laugh out loud.
I’m patient when you have a meltdown when I won’t let you have another piece of candy. I take you to church even though it’s hard for you to be quiet and sit still. I teach you that Daddy is going up to receive the ”Bread of Life” and that you will also get to share it when you are bigger. I teach you that the names of the people in the “farm” are Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. I remind you that the reason that Santa brings us presents is to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Those are all examples of things fathers do to care for their children. I enjoy all those tasks even when sometimes they are unpleasant, inconvenient, or try my patience. But do you know what is the one thing that I enjoy most about being a father?
If that makes you think of Eucharistic Adoration, you’re on the right track. The most joy-filled moments in a father’s life is to simply be in the presence of his child. In those moments the father can look at his child’s face, his eyes, his hair, his little hands and feet and simply wonder in the beauty of his creation. That is what I love best about being a father. And I believe that God the Father felt the same way. He was not content to stay remote and distant from his creation. He longed to be close to his children…very, very close…
It’s no mistake that one of the most powerful means of prayer that the Church recommends is Eucharistic Adoration, since that is the way to experience the REAL PRESENCE of God. As Jesus said, “whoever sees me, sees the Father.”
Now when you look at the Christ Child, know that you are seeing the Father who longs to be present to you. He longs to be in your presence, and longs that you be in his presence. I have a written a song for my next album called “The Dream of Joseph” which includes the following lyrics:
From highest heaven, to lowest earth
God has come down to dwell,
His Real Presence is the Gift the Father gives –
He is Emmanuel.
Emmanuel – God with us. Christmas really is about God being with us. The best gift that a father can give his children is to be present to them. And often times, that presence means even more than what the father does for his children, because as earthly fathers, there are natural limits to what we can give. But our Heavenly Father really desires to give us all and everything . As my patron saint said, “He who did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not along with him give us everything else?”
God the Father loved you into being.
He longs to be in your presence.
This holy longing will make you ache to be in His presence.
His greatest joy is in adoring you, as you share in the joy of living, moving and having your being.
So, in this Christmas season, let yourself be adored… and come, let us adore Him, for He is Emmanuel!