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Audience: What it means to call God "Father"
(Vatican Radio) In his Wednesday audience Pope Benedict XVI continued his catechesis on the Creed, reflecting on what it means when we call God the Father Almighty. Emer McCarthy reports:
Speaking to a packed Paul VI audience hall, Pope Benedict reflected that it is not always easy today to talk about fatherhood. Especially in the West, where broken families, increasing work commitments, the concerns of trying to balance the family budget as well as the distracting invasion of the mass media in daily life can prevent a peaceful and constructive relationship between fathers and children”.
At times, he added: “communication becomes difficult, trust can be lost and relationships with the father figure can become problematic. And without adequate models of reference even imagining God as a father becomes problematic”.
Particularly for people who have experienced overly authoritarian or absentee fathers.
But Pope Benedict said Wednesday biblical revelation helps us to overcome these difficulties by telling us about a God who shows us what it truly means to be a "father", a loving, patient and forgiving father who is also Almighty
Pope Benedict concluded: “Saying, I believe in God the Father Almighty, in His power, in His way of being a father, is always an act of faith, conversion, transformation of our thoughts, our love, our whole way of life".
Following the audience the Pope tweeted : "Every human being is loved by God the Father. No one need feel forgotten, for every name is written in the Lord's loving Heart".
Below a Vatican Radio translation of the Holy Father’s catechesis [original text: Italian]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
in last Wednesday’s catechesis we reflected on the words of the Creed: "I believe in God." But the profession of faith specifies this affirmation: God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. Thus I would like to reflect with you now on the first, fundamental definition of God that the Creed presents us with: He is our Father.
It is not always easy today to talk about fatherhood. Especially in our Western world, the broken families, increasingly absorbing work commitments, concerns, and often the fatigue of trying to balance the family budget, the distracting invasion of the mass media in daily life are some of the many factors that can prevent a peaceful and constructive relationship between fathers and children.
At times communication becomes difficult, trust can be lost and relationships with the father figure can become problematic. Even imagining God as a father becomes problematic, not having had adequate models of reference. For those who have had the experience of an overly authoritarian and inflexible father, or an indifferent father lacking in affection, or even an absent father, it is not easy to think of God as Father and trustingly surrender oneself to Him.
But the biblical revelation helps us to overcome these difficulties telling us about a God who shows us what it truly means to be a "father", and it is especially the Gospel which reveals the face of God as a Father who loves even to the giving of his own Son for the salvation humanity. The reference to the father figure therefore helps us to understand something of the love of God which remains infinitely greater, more faithful, more total than that of any man. "Which of you, - says Jesus to show the disciples the Father's face - would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him"(Mt 7.9 to 11; cf. Lk 11.11 to 13 ). God is our Father because He has blessed and chosen us before the foundation of the world (cf. Eph 1:3-6); he really made us his children in Jesus (cf. 1 Jn 3:1). And, as Father, God lovingly accompanies our lives, giving us His Word, His teachings, His grace, His Spirit.
He - as revealed in Jesus - is the Father who feeds the birds of the sky even though they so not sow and reap, and vests the fields with colours of wonderful colours, with clothes more beautiful than those of King Solomon (cf. Mt 6.26 to 32 and Luke 12.24-28), and we - adds Jesus - are worth far more than the flowers of birds of the sky! And if He is good enough to make " his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust" (Matthew 5:45), we can always, without fear and with total confidence, trust in his Father’s forgiveness when go wrong. God is a good Father who welcomes and embraces the lost and repented son (cf. Luke 15.11 ff), He gives himself freely to those who ask (cf. Mt 18.19, Mk 11.24, Jn 16:23) and offers the bread of Heaven and the living water that gives life forever (cf. Jn 6,32.51.58).
Therefore, the prayer of Psalm 27, surrounded by enemies, besieged by evil and slanderers, and seeking help from the Lord, and invoking it, can give its testimony full of faith, saying: " Even if my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me in "(v. 10). God is a Father who never abandons his children, a loving Father who supports, helps, welcomes, forgives, saves, with a fidelity that immensely surpasses that of men, opening up to an eternal dimension. "For his mercy endures forever," as Psalm 136 continues to repeat in a litany, in every verse, through the history of salvation. The love of God never fails, never tires of us, it is a love that gives to the extreme, even to the sacrifice of His Son. Faith gifts us this certainty, which becomes a sure rock in the construction of our lives so that we can face those moments of difficulty and danger, experience those times of darkness, crisis and pain, supported by the faith that God never abandons us and is always near, to save us and bring us to life.
It is in the Lord Jesus that we fully see the benevolent face of the Father who is in heaven. It is in knowing Him that we can know the Father (cf. Jn 8.19, 14.7), in seeing Him we can the Father, because He is in the Father and the Father is in Him (cf. Jn 14, 9.11). He is the "image of the invisible God" as defined by the hymn of the Letter to the Colossians, "the firstborn of all creation ... the firstborn of those who rise from the dead", "through whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" and reconciliation of all things, “making peace by the blood of his cross
[through him], whether those on earth or those in heaven" (cf. Col 1.13 to 20).
Faith in God the Father asks you to believe in the Son, through the action of the Spirit, recognizing in the Cross that saves the final revelation of Divine love. God is our Father giving his Son for us, God is our Father, forgiving our sins and bringing us to the joy of the risen life, God is our Father giving us the Spirit that makes us children and allows us to call Him, in truth, "Abba, Father "(cf. Rom 8:15). This is why Jesus, teaching us to pray, invites us to say "Our Father" (Mt 6.9 to 13; cf. Lk 11:2-4).
The fatherhood of God, then, is infinite love, a tenderness that leans over us, weak children, in need of everything. Psalm 103, the great hymn of divine mercy, proclaims: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him For he knows how we are formed, remembers that we are dust, for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust" ( vs. 13-14). It is our smallness, our weak human nature, our frailty that becomes an appeal to the mercy of the Lord so that He manifest the greatness and tenderness of a Father helping us, forgives us and saving us.
And God responds to our call, sending His Son, who died and rose again for us; He enters into our fragility and does that which man alone could never do: he takes upon himself the sins of the world, like an innocent lamb, and he re-opens for us the path to communion with God, he makes us true children of God. There, in the Paschal Mystery, the definitive role of the Father is revealed in all its brightness. And it is there, on the glorious Cross, that the full manifestation of the greatness of God as "the Father Almighty" is manifest.
But we might ask: how is it possible to imagine a God almighty looking at the Cross of Christ? At this evil power that arrives at killing the Son of God? We would prefer a divine omnipotence according to our thought patterns and our desires: an "Almighty" God who solves problems, who intervenes to save us from every difficulty, who defeats all adversaries, who changes the course of events and removes all pain. Thus, today many theologians say that God can not be omnipotent otherwise there would not be so much suffering, so much evil in the world. Indeed in the face of evil and suffering, it becomes difficult for many to believe in God the Father and believe Him to be Almighty; some seek refuge in idols, yielding to the temptation to find an answer in an alleged "magic" omnipotence and its illusory promises.
But faith in the Almighty God pushes us to follow very different paths, to understand that God’s thoughts are different to ours and his that God's ways are different from ours , and even his omnipotence is different: it is not expressed as an automatic or arbitrary force, but is marked by a loving and fatherly freedom. In fact, God, in creating free creatures, in gifting freedom, waived a portion of His power, leaving the power of our freedom. In so doing, He loves and respects the free response of his call to love. As a Father, He wants us to become His children and we live as such in his Son, in communion, in full intimacy with Him. His omnipotence is not expressed in violence, in an adverse power, but in mercy, forgiveness, in accepting our freedom, in an untiring call to conversion of heart, in a seemingly weak attitude, God seems weak if we see Jesus Christ who prays, who allows himself to be killed, but the attitude that is apparently weak, made of patience, gentleness and love, shows that this is the true way of power and strength. This is the power of God and this is victorious. The Wiseman in the Book of Wisdom turns to God: “But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook sins for the sake of repentance. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for you would not fashion what you hate But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Ruler and Lover of souls"(11:23-24a .26).
Only the truly powerful can endure pain and show compassion, and only the truly powerful can fully exercise the power of love. And God, to whom all things belong because all things were made by Him, reveals His power loving everyone and everything, in a patient waiting for the conversion of us men, whom He wants to have as children. God is waiting for our conversion. The all-powerful love of God knows no bounds, so much so that "He did not spare his own Son, but delivered Him up for us all" (Romans 8:32). The omnipotence of love is not that of the power of the world, but that of total gift, and Jesus, the Son of God, reveals to the world the omnipotence of the Father giving his life for us sinners. This is the real, authentic and perfect divine power to respond to evil mot with evil, but with good, to insults with forgiveness, murderous hatred with love that gives life. So evil is really defeated, because washed by the love of God, death is finally defeated because it is turned into the gift of life. God the Father raises His Son: death, the great enemy (cf. 1 Cor 15:26), is swallowed up and deprived of its poison (cf. 1 Cor 15.54 to 55), and we made free from sin, we can access our reality of being God's children
When we say "I believe in God the Father Almighty," we express our faith in the power of the love of God which in his Son who died and rose again, defeats hatred, evil, sin and gifts us eternal life, that of the children who want to always be in the "Father's House". Saying, I believe in God the Father Almighty, in His power, in His way of being a father, is always an act of faith, conversion, transformation of our thoughts, our love, our whole way of life.
Dear brothers and sisters, we ask the Lord to sustain our faith and give us the strength to proclaim Christ crucified and risen to help us to truly find the faith and to bear witness to love of God and neighbour. May God grant that we receive the gift of our sonship, to fully live the reality of the Creed, in trusting love of the Father and His merciful omnipotence, the true omnipotence that saves.
Summary in English
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our continuing catechesis during this Year of Faith, we now reflect on the Creed’s description of God as “the Father Almighty”. Despite the crisis of fatherhood in many societies, the Scriptures show us clearly what it means to call God “Father”. God is infinitely generous, faithful, and forgiving; he so loves the world that he has given us his only Son for our salvation. As “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), Jesus reveals God as a merciful Father who never abandons his children and whose loving concern for us embraces even the Cross. In Christ, God has made us his adopted sons and daughters. The Cross shows also us how God our Father is “almighty”. His omnipotence transcends our limited human concepts of power; his might is that of a patient love expressed in the ultimate victory of goodness over evil, life over death, and freedom over the bondage of sin. As we contemplate the Cross of Christ, let us turn to God the almighty Father and implore the grace to abandon ourselves with confidence and trust to his merciful love and his saving power.
Greetings to English speaking pilgrims
I offer a warm welcome to the priests taking part in the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the Pontifical North American College. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from the Republic of Korea, Canada and the United States of America, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.