Part 2 – God the Father – Week 9

Part 2 – God the Father – Week 9

I want to end this ‘novena’ on Ratzinger’s commentary on God the Father in the Creed with a text not taken from Introduction to Christianity but from his Jesus of Nazareth. It contains a beautiful summary of many of the themes we have been discussing these last weeks but places them in a new context: the prayer that Jesus Himself taught us, the Our Father. This prayer, which actually originates in Jesus’ own prayer, in His own dialogue with the Father, is comprised of an initial salutation and then seven petitions which structure our entire life, Ratzinger tells us, but it is in turn summarized by its title – ‘Our Father’ – which tell us the most fundamental of Christian truths: that “He is with us to hold us in His hand and save us”.


“We begin with the salutation “Father.” Reinhold Schneider writes apropos of this in his exposition of the Our Father: “The Our Father begins with a great consolation: we are allowed to say ‘Father: This one word contains the whole history of redemption. We are allowed to say ‘Father: because the Son was our brother and has revealed the Father to us; because, thanks to what Christ has done, we have once more become children of God” (Das Vaterunser, p. 10). It is true, of course, that contemporary men and women have difficulty experiencing the great consolation of the word father immediately, since the experience of the father is in many cases either completely absent or is obscured by inadequate examples of fatherhood.

We must therefore let Jesus teach us what father really means. In Jesus’ discourses, the Father appears as the source of all good, as the measure of the rectitude (perfection) of man. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Mt 5:44-45). The love that endures “to the end” (Jn 13:1), which the Lord fulfilled on the Cross in praying for his enemies, shows us the essence of the Father. He is this love. Because Jesus brings it to completion, he is entirely “Son,” and he invites us to become “sons” according to this criterion.

Let us consider the further text as well. The Lord reminds us that fathers do not give their children stones when they ask for bread. He then goes on to say, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Mt 7:9ff.). Luke specifies the “good gifts” that the father gives; he says “how much more will the heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:13). This means that the gift of God is God himself. The “good things” that he gives us are himself. This reveals in a surprising way what prayer is really all about: it is not about this or that but about God’s desire to offer us the gift of himself – that is the gift of all gifts, the “one thing necessary.” Prayer is a way of gradually purifying and correcting our wishes and of slowly coming to realize what we truly need: God and his Spirit.

When the Lord teaches us to recognise the essence of God the father through love of enemies, and to find “perfection” in that love so as to become “sons” ourselves, the connexion between Father and Son becomes fully evident. It then becomes plain that the figure of Jesus is the mirror in which we come to know who God is and what he is like: through the Son we find the Father. At the Last Supper, when Philip asks Jesus to “show us the Father,” Jesus says, “He who sees me sees the Father” (Jn 14:8f.). “Lord show us the Father,” we say again and again to Jesus, and the answer again and again is the Son himself. Through him, and only through him, do we come to know the Father. And in this way the criterion of true fatherliness is made clear. The Our Father does not project a human image onto heaven, but shows us from heaven – from Jesus – what we as human beings can and should be like.

Now, however, we must look even more closely, because we need to realise that, according to Jesus’ message, there are two sides of God’s Fatherhood for us to see. First of all, God is our Father in the sense that he is our Creator. We belong to him because he has created us. “Being” as such comes from him and is consequently good; it derives from God. This is especially true of human beings. Psalm 33:15 says in the Latin translation, “He who has fashioned the hearts of all, considers all their works.” The idea that God has created each individual human being is essential to the Bible’s image of man. Every human being is unique, and willed as such by God. Every individual is known to him. In this sense, by virtue of creation itself man is the “child” of God in a special way, and God is his true Father. To describe man as God’s image is another way of expressing this idea.

This brings us to the second dimension of God’s Fatherhood. There is a unique sense in which Christ is the “image of God” (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). The Fathers of the Church therefore say that when God created man in his image, he looked toward the Christ was to come, and created man according to the image of the “new Adam,” the man who is the criterion of the human. Above all, though, Jesus is “the Son” in the strict sense – he is of one substance with the Father. He wants to draw all of us into his humanity and so into his Sonship, into his total belonging to God.

This gives the concept of being God’s children a dynamic quality: We are not ready-made children of God from the start but we are meant to become so increasingly by growing more and more deeply in communion with Jesus. Our sonship turns out to be identical with following Christ. To name God as Father thus becomes a summons to us: to live as a “child,” as a son or daughter. “All that is mine is thine,” Jesus says in his high-priestly prayer to the Father (Jn 17:10), and the Father says the same thing to the elder brother of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:31). The word father is an invitation to live from our awareness of this reality. Hence, too, the delusion of false emancipation, which marked the beginning of mankind’s history of sin, is overcome. Adam, heeding the words of the serpent, wants to become God himself and to shed his need for God. We see that to be God’s child is not a matter of dependency, but rather of standing in the relation of love that sustains man’s existence and gives it meaning and grandeur.”


Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, Doubleday, New York 2007, 135-139.



  1. Go over the readings from this second novena on God. What have you learnt from Ratzinger? What has God been trying to reveal to you about Himself, about His inner life, about His Fatherhood and love for you during this time?
  2. Pray the Our Father – either alone or in family – but as if for the first time, thinking about who God is, and entrusting your life to Him.

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