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A Lesson From Dad: Weekly Message For 06/12/2018
Dear Digital Pilgrim, pax Christi:
Father’s Day (which is coming right up) means more to me now that my dad has passed away than it ever did when he was still alive. It’s strange to say that, I know. But that’s been my experience over the three years since my dad’s death. It’s as if knowing how the story of his life ended has given much more meaning to all the chapters that went before, some of which I lived together with him. And, of course, when he was alive, I didn’t miss him as much as I do now. I could always call or visit then; now I can’t.
Human Fathers and Our Heavenly Father
My dad wasn’t a perfect father, and he would have been the first one to admit it. And yet, somehow, experiencing his fatherhood in my life, and reflecting on that fatherhood, has helped me get to know our heavenly Father better. God the Father revealed his limitless love to me many times through my earthly father’s limited expressions of love. This reminds me of a comforting paragraph from the beginning of the Catechism, #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.
So our parents image God for us in our early years. I remember one instance when my dad did this memorably, though I am sure he had no intention of doing it. I was playing in a little league baseball game. In my first at-bat, I had hit a towering (as I remember it) home run. So when I stepped up for my second at-bat, I was eager to do it again. I was so eager, in fact, that I was a bit cocky. My dad was standing behind the backstop (he always watched my games from there). As I moved towards the plate, he said to me: “Okay, get ready for the curveball. The pitcher won’t give you another fastball; he’s going to throw the curve.” I nodded, a little piqued that my dad thought I needed such mundane advice.
Drama on the Baseball Diamond
The first pitch was indeed a curveball, and I gave it my biggest home-run swing, which only resulted in a gargantuan strike. I was so angry at myself that I huffed, puffed, and actually stomped on home plate. Then I gripped the bat tighter and got ready for the next pitch. Another curveball. Another major league strike. That was followed by another huffy tantrum, a third curveball, and a humiliating strikeout.
I trudged back to the bench, not wanting to look at my dad. I was sure he would be disappointed. But he kind of shadowed me from behind the backstop, so I did end up looking at him. And he had a huge grin on his face! He was smiling like the proverbial Cheshire cat! He must have seen my confusion because he explained: “I knew you were going to strike out as soon as you threw your first tantrum. You were gripping the bat way too tight and you were way too tense. Just relax, son, everybody strikes out now and again.” And his warm smile expanded into an even warmer chuckle. It was contagious. I smiled too, and we chuckled together.
Besides learning that you can’t hit your best when you’re too tense, that exchange also gave me an experience of being loved by my father even when I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to. It has often come back to me in prayer. God the Father loves me – loves each of us – like that. Unconditionally. Just because of who we are, not because of our performance. He smiles and reaches out to us after home runs, but also after strikeouts.
We here at RCSpirituality.org wish all of you a happy Father’s Day, and we will be praying that each of our digital pilgrims and missionaries receives the grace to experience the Father’s love afresh when it rolls around on Sunday.
God bless you!
In Him, Fr John Bartunek, LC