“Ask a Priest: Is It OK That an RCIA Instructor Propose God as Female?”

Q: At a retreat for the RCIA program we studied the Our Father phrase by phrase. The presentation went well until the end. The instructor caused great confusion in my heart. She told us if we cannot connect with the Father as a male figure, we should try to think of God being a female. Is this a new teaching of the Church? I know God is a spirit and Jesus Christ came into the world as a man, but why would Jesus teach us to pray to our Father if it does not matter the image we have of him? – D.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your instinct is right: Jesus talked about his Father and gave us the Our Father because there is something profound in that notion of the First Person of the Trinity as a male image. And Jesus, being the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, the fullness of Revelation, teaches us something profound by his coming into the world as a man, not a woman.

Perhaps the RCIA instructor was simply trying to anticipate the problems that some people have in relating to God as a Father, because their own experience of a human father has been deeply unhappy. This is a not uncommon occurrence nowadays, given the number of broken marriages and dysfunctional families.

In that sense the instructor was probably trying to be pastoral, to help people who have had bad experiences with their dads and who thus have a hard time relating to God as Father.

Perhaps her intention wasn’t to rewrite Scripture or Church doctrine as much as to help the people in front of her to embrace some kind of image of God as a loving Being with whom they can have a warm relationship.

A relevant number from the Catechism worth citing here is No. 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.”

An example where Scripture presents God in maternal terms is found in Isaiah 66:13 — “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort.”

With time and the grace of God, all the people in that RCIA program can come to appreciate the Our Father for the beautiful prayer it is and the profound truths it transmits.

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