“God’s Fatherhood is the deepest mystery of his identity” (Ignatius Catholic Bible)
“For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened by his Spirit with might unto the inward man” (Ephesians 3: 14-19)
“No one is father as God is Father” (CCC 239)
Here is some advice from Father Faber regarding the critical importance of developing a filial, loving tenderness toward God the Father. We know from the Scriptures that Jesus is the exact representation of the Father’s being, and so it follows that if Jesus is kind and meek and humble of heart – as we surely know Him to be – then so too is the Father in Heaven. And yet Father Faber states that our spiritual growth is often stifled by a view of God that sees Him predominantly as a cold and harsh law-giver whom we can never satisfy in the carrying out of our duties. Francis Cardinal George once said that “All of us live in the shadow of a Puritan God” (ref. Call Him Father: How to Experience the Fatherhood of God, Scepter Press). “Fear of this God and His punishment easily becomes the driving force of the fulfillment of one’s duties.”
Faber goes to great lengths to warn us that such a view of God as an uncompromising law-giver – if it is our predominant view of God – will hold us back from growing closer to God. Faber states that it is essential that we develop a filial tenderness toward God the Father. He goes out of his way to emphasize how important this filial love of the Father is to our spiritual health (Growth in Holiness, beginning at page 46). He states that this view of God as our loving, tender Father must be our predominant view of Him.
Here is part of what Faber states (with some adaptations by me for context):
“The third deficiency [which holds us back], and I am inclined to suppose it by far the most common, may be want of a filial feeling toward God. I wish I could be very clear, as well as very strong about this, because so very much depends upon it. If our view of God is not uniformly and habitually that of a Father, the very fountains of piety will be corrupted within us.
We are tempted to look at God in almost any light than that of a Father….Yet our spiritual life depends entirely on the view we take of God. If we look at Him as our Master, then His service is our task, and the ideas of reward and punishment will pervade all we do….If we look at Him as our Judge, the thunders of His vengeances deafen us….If we consider Him exclusively, in any one of these lights, …it is plain our service of Him will take its characteristics from our views. Hardness, dryness, untempted fear and a consciousness of our being unable to stand upon our rights will necessarily make us cowardly and mean….
…there is no truth more certain than that God is our Father; and that all that is most tender and most gentle in all paternity on earth is but the merest shadow of the boundless sweetness and affectionateness of His paternity in Heaven. The beauty and consolation of this idea surpasses words. It enables us to trust in God for the problems we cannot solve and binds us by a sense of dear relationship to all our fellowmen. The idea – [of God the Father’s paternal tenderness] – enters into and becomes the master thought of even all our spiritual actions.
Out of this filial feeling toward our Heavenly Father comes ease of conscience as to past sin. We can trust Him, in sweet confidence … because He is our dear Father. Happy sunshine of this thought. It falls upon our souls with triple beam, more trust in God, more freedom with God, more generosity with God!
I have asked you to examine yourselves and see whether you are wanting in devotion to the ever-blessed Paternity [tender Fatherhood of God].”
You will not be right until you see God as your loving, tender Father. This must be your primary image of Him. Many of you reading this post are wonderful, loving dads, but God the Father is the very perfection of such qualities and infinitely so. Faber states in All for Jesus:
“[So much stunted growth in the spiritual life] may be traced to an unaffectionate view of God. You must get clear of this. You must cultivate a filial feeling toward Him. You must pray to the Holy Spirit for His gift of piety, whose special office is to produce this feeling…. You will never be right until your view of God as your Father swallows up all your other views of Him….A man could do no better than to devote his whole life to be the apostle of this one idea: the compassionate paternity of God” (195-196).
As a lawyer, I think I have been tempted to see God too often as an impersonal and harsh judge, even though I know quite well He is my Father. Faber says we need to work on developing a filial relationship with God the Father – not just to talk about it. We need ongoing devotion to the paternal tenderness of God the Father. This is the remedy for a deficient view of God’s Fatherhood.
One way to do this is to find a loving and affectionate picture of God the Father and to paste it into your own devotional, and just to look at that picture and sense God’s loving tenderness. Another method may be to say the words “Our Father” with particular attention and love when we say that prayer which Jesus taught us. Whatever method you may choose, Faber contends that doing so is of considerable importance, calling it the master thought of all our spiritual actions. And Faber was an expert on how the saints loved God.
Pray for the Holy Spirit’s gift of piety, which produces a filial tenderness in our hearts for our Heavenly Father.
Tom Mulcahy, M.A.
Image: God the Father by Cima da Conegliano, 1510-17, (Public Domain, U.S.A.)
Note: See also CCC 239: “By calling God “Father”, the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father.”
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