Thoughts on Christmas, Fatherhood, and the Nature of God

January 4, 2013
P + A

Paul and Alexander

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?

Adoration. 

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!

The Patience of God

November 6, 2010

Recently at work I was annoyed, repeatedly.  I drove across town on two separate occasions for an important meeting, and each time, one of the people who was supposed to appear failed to show, meaning we would have to reschedule the meeting.  I wasted valuable time driving as well as waiting in the lobby for this person.  A third meeting then needed to be scheduled, and of course I was annoyed and irritated.  Inside I felt inclined to write this person off, and say “I’m done” dealing with him.

It is in these common daily moments that the Lord may be trying to teach us something.  So, while waiting in the lobby I took some time to reflect on this unique kind of suffering.  You may recall that the Latin word for suffering is “patiens”, from which we get the word “patient.”  It is fitting because to be patient is a type of suffering.  While I waited angrily in the lobby, I stopped to consider how often I have turned away from God despite knowing full well what He has asked me to do. The Lord is actively waiting for me to turn away from sin and choose to follow Him.    Does the Lord say about me, “this man that I have created and redeemed by My own Blood, continues to sin repeatedly, deny me and place other things above Me. That’s it! I’m done with him!”

No!  “The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger and rich in compassion.” There are so many scriptures to remind us of this.  Some I have mentioned in past posts.  “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.”

“You shall call him Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins.”

“I have come to call sinners, not the righteous.”

How patient God is with us.  While I was ready to dismiss someone after two failings, God is ready to forgive me again and again, and again, and again and again and again.   It’s interesting – when I left the office that day I left with a feeling of joy.  This was odd, as I had just been reflecting on my own sinfulness.  But in fact, recalling our sins can actually be a way to bring us closer to the Lord.  You remember of course, that a man who is not sick has no need of a doctor.  And a person without sin has no need of a Savior.  If I am not calling to mind my sins, I am then tempted to believe that I am “better than” those people who appear to have more flaws than I do.  I will be tempted to believe that I am acting righteously, when in fact, “my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51).

Reflecting on our sinfulness can be a way to experience God’s love.  And the only reason this can be is because Christ is our hope.  He is the one who brought reconciliation with the Father.  He is always ready to forgive.  If we are enslaved to sin with no hope of forgiveness, then yes, we would be the most hopeless, dejected people of all.  But in truth, we are the most joyful, hopeful people of all, because God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Rejoice, repent, rejoice!

 

A recent insight in prayer

August 16, 2010

Last Thursday after a stressful day at work I stopped in at a local convent to spend some time with the Lord.  I prayed the Luminous Mysteries along with the sisters (who were behind the altar as they are cloistered) and it was difficult to meditate due to the stresses of the day. 

But later I was back home, folding laundry and thinking about an area of my life that I wish were more holy.  Then a thought came into my mind in a sudden manner, as if it were being planted there by God. 

The most beautiful thing in all that is, is Christ made present, where before He was not.

You might be discouraged and depressed that something in your life does not seem to be blessed.  But remember that there was a period of time on earth before Christ came in the flesh.  With the incarnation of the Son of God, true love, hope, reconciliation and eternal life were brought into the world.  This is why the Lord rejoices more over one repentant sinner than over good people who never do wrong.  Christ and his saving love are made present in the sinner’s life.  There is a B.C. and an A.D.  There is a time where the bread and wine are only bread and wine, and then Christ is made present on the altar. 

May Christ be made present in all the areas of your life, and mine too!

A Matter of Life and Death

July 23, 2010

Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

The important thing to consider here is the seriousness of what the Lord is proclaiming.  We have corporal needs, but we also have spiritual ones.  Today while reflecting on this passage, I heard them more as a warning, a caution about grave danger at hand.

If I stop eating and drinking, I will surely die.  That is a basic fact of life.  But if I take care of only my physical needs, I also risk spiritual death.  Only the Word of God can bring me life, a life that will persist into eternity.

I understand more deeply now how critical it is that I meditate on the Gospels and internalize the words of Christ.  It is a matter of life and death.

One thing

July 20, 2010

The most important thing in life is listening to the Word of God.

Everything else will pass and will be taken away from us, but the Word of God is eternal and gives meaning to our daily activity.

So said Pope Benedict XVI this past Sunday, in his reflections on the gospel account of Martha and Mary.

Do you recall how many times in the Bible God says, “This is my Beloved Son, Listen to Him!”….?

What will you have to cut out of your day to make room to listen to Him?  Feel free to make a commitment in the comments section.

New Life

July 13, 2010

Yes, this site has been largely abandoned.  But I’m still alive.  And even more joyous is the fact that my wife and I have welcomed a new person into the world, a precious baby girl.  I find myself fully immersed in the responsibilities of adulthood and parenthood now, in a way that is irrevocable.  And because it can be overwhelming, even now I feel the need to get organized.  More specifically, to ensure that I stay connected to God, despite all the tasks to attend to.

I found myself re-reading some of my previous posts and it is like preaching to my self.  I am still seeking Jesus, and I’m frustrated that my communication with God is not the first priority in my life.  I want to change that.

I know I need to cut out all the constant stream of useless information and make way for the Gospel.  So that is what we will do.  I plan to return to the original aim of this blog and spend some time in reflection on the Good News.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Lord, please transform my intentions into actions!

“This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of heaven has come near. Repent and believe in the Gospel!

You are Holy!

November 9, 2009

Do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
If anyone destroys God’s temple,
God will destroy that person;
for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.

How much time do you spend focusing on your flaws and your failures?  How often are you “shoulding” on yourself?  (“I should be this, I should be doing that, I should have done this,”  etc.)  Have you ever stopped to determine whether or not your “shoulds” end up motivating you to improve your life?  Actually, too often these “shoulds” leave us feeling worse about ourselves.  The other day I found myself thinking, “I should be a better Christian.”  When I’m thinking this way, I’m thinking about what I am not, not what I am.   And today’s Word assures us, we ARE holy. 

I am Holy!  I am Holy!  When I consider the price that Christ paid in order to draw me into the love of God, it helps me understand that I am holy, worthy, and even more, worth dying for.  Do you believe this?  

Today you might try using this Word, “I am Holy” as an affirmation to yourself.  I will try it as well and report back on my experiences.  I believe we will have life more abundantly the more that we come to realize our identity as holy people.

Still Seeking…

November 5, 2009

Well, if you haven’t checked this blog in some time, I understand, since my weekly posts have turned into quarterly ones. That’s a shame; one of my own pet peeves is web sites/blogs that become so inactive that they start to seem like speed bumps on the information superhighway…

Recently in Europe they declared it to be unlawful for crucifixes to hang on the walls of public buildings, such as schools, court houses, etc. In Italy there is a big outcry because Catholicism is so deeply woven in the fabric of the Italian culture. But I suppose the decision is based on the idea that these Christian symbols are an affront to non-Christians.

Here in the United States, while we have Christian origins, we have become more and more a secular society. And in fact, I can empathise with non-Christians who get assaulted by the ever-increasing Christmas creep. The Christmas decorations start being placed in store displays in October, and soon Christmas music is being piped into the sound systems of retail outlets everywhere. All these external things are somehow supposed to get into the season, but more often than not they end up obscuring the real meaning of Christmas.

As a Catholic Christian, I value the presence of sacramentals in my life because they help lift my mind to God. Things like rosaries, crucifixes, and statues are visible reminders of invisible truths. Nevertheless, if it became illegal for me to possess these items, I would not be distressed…you may recall:

“The Word is near you, deep within your heart”

…my greatest concern as a Christian is not whether or not there is a cross hanging on my wall. My greatest concern is, is the Cross planted firmly in my heart? Am I living with a constant awareness of how God demonstrated his great love for me, made visible by the death and resurrection of Christ?

Let’s continue to pray that we are recognized as Christians because of our great love.

Yet That is What We Are…

August 8, 2009

Anyone who has spent time reading the Gospels will notice how frequently Jesus refers to God as Father.  It can be hard to imagine God as father when our own experience of fathers has been of flawed men who make decisions out of their own self-interests rather than meeting our needs.  Yet we should remember that we were made in God’s image, not the other way around.  So we should look to God as the prototype of fatherhood, not look to the earthly fathers we know to form our truth about God’s fatherhood.  

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? 

Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin.

But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.

 If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’

All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness,  and all these things will be given you besides.

This morning I signed a document committing me to a mortgage that I will pay off over 30 years.  That is a little less time than I have spent living my life thus far.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars will be spent over the course of my lifetime to maintain our family home.   By making this commitment, I hope to provide my wife and future children with a safe, comfortable and loving environment, in which we can grow in faith, hope, love and the knowledge of God.  This is surely a serious and momentous decision.   In light of the global economic crisis, and the fall of companies that we thought we could always rely on, we are forced to ask ourselves, “In whom can we trust?  How can I be assured that my family and I will have everything they need, despite the many obstacles?”  

Surely we cannot depend anymore on our employers, in our bank accounts, or even in the basic necessities we need to function, such as physical and mental health.  God may place these things at risk in order to get us on our knees again, because that is the posture of prayer.  And prayer connects us to God.  Our relationship with God is what makes life worth living.  I would rather spend my life living in a dilapidated shack, in the joy of God’s presence, than to live in a mansion in Beverly Hills, where my gods are money, fame, power and self-inflation.  For example, we all know how many successful entertainers struggle with alcohol, drug and other addictions.  All their material needs are met, yet they are plagued with an emptiness that begs to be filled.  They rise to the top of society’s ranks, then they fall as quickly out of fame, fortune, and public opinion.  Once that happens, their sense of self has been lost, and horrible fears of being unlovable and unwanted overwhelm them.  But ask yourself,  if you are broke, does that mean you are worthless?  If you have no home, are you not worth being sheltered? If no one knows your name outside of your family and friends, are you not special?

See what love the Father has bestowed on us, that we may be called the children of God.  Yet that is what we are.

Yet that is what we are. 

 

Remember the Love of Jesus Christ!

July 20, 2009

You may have heard of the latest internet craze – Twitter.  This is how the Twitter website describes its purpose:  “Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?” For those that use facebook, it is basically like a status update. For example,  I might write, “Seeking Jesus is blogging” or “I’m at the DMV standing in line” or some other super-current piece of information, and then all my associates could know what I was doing immediately.  In the news, there are numerous celebrities announcing “follow me on twitter!”  Consequently, thousands of people can follow that celebrity’s day-to-day activity. 

In this media age, we are being seduced by the idea of being constantly “in the know”.  It’s almost like a 21st Century Gnosticism – only certain people are privy to some exclusive knowledge or enlightenment.  A person not connected to the internet through his computer, Iphone or Blackberry, or a non-member of myspace, facebook or twitter might as well be in a Trappist monastery, since he will be so “out of the loop” in terms of worldly happenings. We should be so blessed! 

The other day I had a powerful dream.  I found myself in the back of a church, upstairs in the choir loft.  I was sobbing.  The image of Christ Crucified seemed to be the reason for my grief.  I was mourning for Christ’s sufferings and for the “distance” between myself and Christ.  When I woke up that morning, the words “Remember the Love of Jesus Christ” were pressed upon my heart.

We are in serious danger.  We are at risk of losing our memory of God’s love.  Jesus said on the night he was betrayed, “Do this in memory of me.”  We need to make a choice.  Do I want to preserve the memory of Christ’s passion in my heart, or do I want to fill my mind with trivial, useless scraps of information?  If I am not careful, my mind will be overrun with “TMI” and I will find myself straying farther and farther away from communciation with God. 

A lack of meaningful contact with God will eventually kill our spiritual life. I notice that my prayer life is suffering, because my mind does not turn towards God until I lie down to bed at night.  That seems to be the only time of stillness for the mind.  Of course I start to pray but sleep eventually overcomes prayer.  And that is as it should be; there is a time to sleep, and there is a time to pray. 

God is calling us to give up this aimless pursuit of trivial updates, and in doing so, make time to spend in silent communion with Him.  To remember what He did for us then, and what He is doing for us now. 

Jesus, help me remember the love you showed for me, when you offered your life upon the Cross.  You are Mercy and Love.  I never, ever want to forget You.

Remember the Love of Jesus Christ!


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