FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (A)
Some of us will have very good, close relationships with our fathers. Others not so much. Some may have had abusive fathers, or absent fathers, or distracted fathers. Many of us thankfully have excellent fathers. Whether you just hugged your father this morning, or you haven't spoken to him in years, the fact remains that you have a father.
Neither the failings of our earthly fathers due to sin, nor the attempt by modern society to marginalize the role of the father diminish the ideal of fatherhood. Whether we look into our father's eyes and see a man who strove nobly to meet that ideal, or if we consider our father as one who fell short of the mark, we hold the ideal of fatherhood in our hearts. That ideal has its origin somewhere. It has a fulfillment. That ideal is realized in God.
The fourth commandment teaches us to honor our fathers and mothers. Note there is no clause attached. Nowhere does it say, "if they deserve it," or "if they behave as parents ought to." Our earthly parents are human beings, struggling against sin and temptation and striving for salvation just as we their children are. They are sinners in need of forgiveness, just as we are. So we do not honor them because deserve it. We honor them because the role of parent has a dignity which our human failings cannot diminish. We honor them because in their parenthood they reflect to a degree the parenthood of God.
It is right to honor our fathers and mothers because without them we would not be here. Half your genetic material from Dad, and half from Mom, and you were made. If they did nothing else, your parents gave you life, the fundamental fact of your existence. But they did not do it alone. Human beings are more than self-replicating strands of DNA. We have a soul, as well. The soul is the spiritual component of humanity, and as an immaterial thing it is not made up of composite parts. A soul cannot be "made" from DNA or anything else. It must be created. Just as your mother and father contributed the material components of who you are, your heavenly Father gave you your soul. We call the act of human parenthood procreation but what God does is creation itself.
In truth, if we were to go back to the roots of all of this, we see that God is ultimately responsible for the physical aspect of our being, as well. Your parents may have given you their DNA, but where did the DNA come from? Where did your parents come from? Your grandparents? We all come from somewhere, and logic dictates that there has to be a first. Modern genetic science tells us of a woman from whom all human beings alive today are descended. Scientists call her "mitochondrial Eve" and suggest she lived about 150,000 years ago. Similarly, there is a male ancestor they call "Y-chromosome Adam" that also lived about 150,000 years ago (give or take a few millennia). The fact that we descend from a common ancestor comes of no surprise to those who read and believe the book of Genesis.
But we could go back even further and ask, "Where did it all come from?" Not humanity and DNA, but the basic building blocks -- the elements, the molecules and atoms. Science tells us that all the elements we know of were forged in the furnace of stars and spat out into the universe over billions of years. And if you rewind the cosmic clock far enough backward you come to the origin of it all, when the universe itself was compacted into an infinitely small singularity which exploded outward into what we see today -- the Big Bang, a theory first proposed by astronomer and Jesuit Father George Lemaitre in the 1920s. And before the Big Bang? The best that our human reason can indicate, time itself started at that moment. Which means that before that moment there was, quite literally, nothing.
Creation ex nihilo is the expression theologians and philosophers use to describe God's act of creation out of nothing. It is an act of infinite power and majesty. Human beings create only metaphorically. We can make a thing only given the proper materials. We do not truly create; we manipulate, transforming raw material into a new form. The gap between nothing and something is infinite, and so only an omnipotent God could bridge that gap. And so we have God to thank for everything that has existence. This includes the universe and all the stars and galaxies in it. It also includes you and I. Our God is a wonderful Father, indeed.
At Mass, the priest invites us, "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God," to which we reply, "It is right and just." Dignum et justum est. Just as it is right and just to honor your earthly parents for their role in your creation, even more is it right and just to honor God the Father who made not only you, but all of heaven and earth as well, and who continues to sustain you in your existence.
Jesus exclaims in today's gospel (Mt 11:25-30), "I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth." Jesus shows us that praise is the proper response to God's act of Fatherhood. Our catechism teaches, "Jesus revealed that God is Father in an unheard-of sense: He is Father not only in being Creator; He is eternally Father in relation to His only Son, who is eternally Son only in relation to His Father" (CCC 240).
In the Old Testament, Israel knew God the Father as Creator of the world, and giver of the covenant and law to His people. With the New Covenant, Jesus teaches us not only to recognize God as Father, but as Abba, which is best translated as the familiar term, "Daddy."
Again, the catechism teaches: "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... 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... [God] transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although He is their origin and standard. No one is father as God is Father" (CCC 239).
By recognizing God as Father, we also recognize ourselves as His children. It is right to praise God for His act of creation, for the gift of our existence. It is also right to praise God for His act of love, His gift of our redemption. The love of the Father is manifested chiefly in the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal Him" (Mt 11:27).
When we recognize God as Father, and ourselves as His children, the only proper response is praise and thanksgiving. This we do at Mass, by participating fully and prayerfully in our worship. But this we also must do at all times in our lives. In times of joy, in times of sorrow; in times of contemplation and times of frustration. At all times and every moment it is right and just to have an attitude of praise and gratitude for the Father who loves us into existence. Start the practice today. Dedicate this day as an offering of praise to your heavenly Father. Let us today sing with the psalmist: "I will extol you, O my God and King, and I will bless your name forever and ever. Every day will I bless you, and I will praise your name forever and ever" (Ps 145:1-2).