My Father’s Father: Looking Into the Depth of God’s Love For You

COMMENTARY: Everyone has an earthly father, and that relationship, especially in light of Jesus revealing God as Father, is worth exploring

Screenshot from ‘My Father’s Father’
Screenshot from ‘My Father’s Father’ (photo: Wild Goose TV)

It should pain all of us to say that the present crisis of fathers and fatherhood has become a truism. The fact that everyone knows there’s a problem, that this problem has far-reaching effects, and that so few have any solutions, is troubling indeed. It shouldn’t surprise us to see, then, that as the crisis of fathers increases, so, too, does a crisis of faith in God as Father.

I am one of the lucky ones. My dad was as good a dad as anyone could ask for. Although he had a busy occupation as a doctor, he was present when he could be and longed to be present when he couldn’t, and we knew that. He was my first spiritual leader as well; I remember walking into the hospital chapel as a young boy and seeing him in the front pew on his knees, which to this day shapes my own fatherhood as a priest in profound ways.

But that doesn’t mean he was perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect earthly father — a fact that some know and experience more deeply than others. These imperfections, however, are not a reason to abandon fatherhood or lose hope in this most fundamental and irreplaceable relationship. Our identity, what we are and who we are, needs a point of reference, and in this, fathers play the biggest role.

This isn’t just true of fathers, but the Father as well. St. Paul writes to the Romans that we are “children of God,” having received a “spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’” This, too, has become a truism, but it is incumbent upon all Christians to remember that this idea is a radically unique Christian claim. 

God is not merely a good idea, nor is he a far-off deity seated on a throne shooting lightning from his fingertips. He is Father. He is close. He sees “in secret” (Matthew 6:4), not to catch his children in wrongdoing, but rather with the gaze of love. He is tender and stable, and before him, our identity is solidified. As St. Francis said, “I am who I am in the eyes of God, nothing more and nothing less.”

For better or worse, who God is as Father is learned first and foremost in the home from an earthly father. Tragically, many take to heart that God the Father is as absent as their own father, and the road to true faith is unpaved and overgrown and, in many ways, heart-wrenching. However, even the greatest of fathers can unintentionally leave wounds that, in the Providence of God, give the Father an opportunity to heal and reveal his love through the Holy Spirit.

All of this isn’t to the exclusion of the significance of a mother in the life of a child, an importance that cannot possibly be overstated. However, the crisis of fathers today often means that women feel alone not merely in the physical raising of a child, but in the moral and spiritual guidance that is necessary as well. It is a special role of fathers to provide these boundaries, which young people (yes, even teenagers) both need and want, and to model an enduring spiritual life.

As a priest, it is a great joy to be a true father, a spiritual father, to so many. My task, however, isn’t to supplant the role of an earthly father or to fill in the gaps, but ideally to build upon a foundation already laid. 

As Jesus reveals the Father, I too, in persona Christi, am called to lead individuals to the heart of the Father. Have there been priests who have done awful things to betray this role? Certainly. Is that true of earthly fathers as well? No doubt. But these failures only serve to reinforce the fundamental need echoing in the heart of each person to be fathered. 

This is why I, as the president of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, have teamed up with 10th Hour Productions and Wild Goose TV to create a new documentary series on these themes titled My Father’s Father. The first episode airs Jan. 9.

In many ways, this is the most raw and vulnerable series I have been a part of. Not everyone has a son or a daughter, and not everyone has brothers or sisters, but everyone has a father, and that relationship, especially in light of Jesus revealing God as Father, is worth intimately exploring and fleshing out for the sake of the hearts of viewers.

In my father’s final days, he asked me, “And Jesus is going to present me to the Father, right?” In this, he was not questioning but solidifying the hope that motivated his life as a disciple. This, in many ways, is the purpose of the series. Through our interviews, discussions and prayer, we want to imitate Christ and present hearts, all of which are broken to some extent, to God the Father. From there, we leave it to the Holy Spirit to work, lead, convert and heal.

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