I once heard a story of a priest home on holidays in the west of Ireland. At the end of a long summer’s day he was out walking when he was suddenly caught in a cloudburst. Taking shelter under a large tree, it was a few moments before he noticed a very old man also sheltering there. It being Ireland, the visitor engaged in conversation with him on the usual topics—the weather, the local sports scene, etc. After a while the old man fell silent and the priest noticed that he had taken out his Rosary beads and was quietly saying his prayers. Impressed, the priest remarked, ‘You’re great at praying!’ ‘Ah, yes!’, the old man replied, ‘the Father is very fond of me!’
Notice how the priest put the emphasis on the man and what the man did—that is, the human response. The old man, for his part, put the emphasis on God and on God’s relationship with him—that is, on God’s initiative, and on his invitation to intimacy. The priest was so impressed that he afterwards wrote a book. In memory of the incident he called it The Father is very fond of me.
Yes, as we begin another year, let’s never forget that this is one of the most basic truths of our Catholic faith. God the Father loves each of us tenderly.
St Augustine knew this truth well. Near the end of his life around 428 AD, he was moved to reflect that ‘God loves each of us as if there were only one of us’.
I therefore invite each member of the archdiocese to pray especially this year for the grace to deeply accept God’s deep abiding love for each of us. Please hold fast to this ‘rock’ and consolation in the ups and downs of 2018.
Perhaps some might argue that talk of ‘fatherhood’ in our culture sometimes falls on deaf ears. Some even question if modern people can actually address God as ‘Father’?
For ‘fatherhood’ seems to mean little to lots of people. Some—especially children—have a negative experience of it or cannot internalise what the word means. There is even a category in social science these days called ‘father absence’.
Yet the presence or absence of a father is known to researchers to be a significant factor in the success or failure of children. The fact is, fathers make a huge and irreplaceable difference in the lives of their children in terms of education, income, abuse, mental and physical health, drug use—indeed, in almost every other social indicator.
No wonder our Jewish brothers and sisters have a beautiful tradition that we too might imitate in our Catholic families. Each Friday evening at the Sabbath eve meal in every house, fathers place hands upon the bowed heads of their children, and pray aloud in Hebrew, ‘The Lord bless you and guard you. The Lord shine his face upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace’—a prayer and a gesture of benediction overflowing from the pages of the Torah.
This simple truth of God’s love for us is something we should meditate upon every day of our lives. For it is impossible to stress too much the infinite love of the Father for each of us his children and how it is demonstrated in very simple ways—if only we could see with the eyes of faith.
No one of us can predict the future. No doubt 2018 will have its share of joys and sorrows.
But one thing we can be certain of is this: the Father will continue to be very fond of each of us!
St Augustine was right: ‘God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.’
† Denis J Hart
Archbishop of Melbourne