Sunday, October 30, 2011

God is our Father and Mother

It's interesting that the readings today fall on Priesthood Sunday.  You would think by the psalms that it might be a call for women priests as St. Paul says “We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children.” And the psalmist so beautifully sings:  "I have stilled and quieted my soul like a weaned child.  Like a weaned child on its mother's lap, so is my soul within me."  We might also be tempted to think that maybe we shouldn't even have priests because of the Gospel saying "Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven." 

Understood in our tradition, though, these readings help us to see two things very clearly.  God desires to comfort us with human mothers and fathers, but no one is to take the place of God Himself.  And they were never meant to. 

Let me reflect on this in terms of Priesthood Sunday.  God wants to make Himself known to us in a very personal and familial way as Father and even as Mother. 
He chooses over and over again to do this through the Incarnation.  He chooses to Father and Mother us first through our parents and then in the Sacraments. 

The psalmist uses the image of a child weaned on its mother's lap as a way of describing what it is like to dwell in God.  So hopefully you've had this experience of being held and fed by your mother.  It's an image of God, but not God Himself. 

Your parent’s love, no matter how good they were, was imperfect.  It was never meant to take the place of God's love.  It was meant to foster a way to God's love. 

At some point we do have to let go of our parents.  The psalmist speaks so very eloquently of this:

"Nay rather, I have stilled and quieted
My soul like a weaned child.
Like a weaned child on its mother's lap,
So is my soul within me."

At some point God weans us from our mothers and fathers.  It may come earlier in life or it may come later, but at some point we will be separated. 

I celebrated the funeral mass for my brother-in-laws father on Friday and I watched as he placed his flower on the casket said his final goodbye and wept.  It does happen sooner or later. 

God doesn't leave us unfed though.  He comforts us in other ways.  That's the whole idea of weaning.  We let go of the milk but begin to eat real food. 

This is where the church comes in.  The church is often referred to as Mother Church.  The idea is that when we were baptized we were born into this family and ultimately into eternal life.  We are fed by the very Body and Blood of Christ every Sunday in the Eucharist. 

Now comes the difficult line in the gospel which relates to something central in our church.   "Call no one on earthy your father, because you have but one Father in Heaven."  Does this mean that we aren't supposed to call priests father?  No, but it is a warning that priests are only a way to the Father. 

Not only do we have priests that we call Fathers, but we also have a Holy Father.  The word Pope comes from the Latin "Pontiff" meaning bridge.  The Holy Father, the Bishops, the Priests are all meant to be bridges. 
A seminary professor once told me "you have to realize that as a priest people will sometimes put you on a pedestal, and you have to be true to who you are so you don't fear falling from that pedestal." 

What he was trying to tell me was that as a priest people will see something very special through me in the sacraments.  They will have glimpses of God at work, they will see miracles, they will experience through you God's unconditional love... but a priest always remains the bridge.  And so sometimes people will get disappointed that we are not God, we are not everything they hoped we could be, we were never meant to be... we are just the bridge to our Heavenly Father.  And we hear this in the first reading from the Prophet Malachi: "Oh priests this is my commandment to you: To give glory to my name."

Though we play a very special role in it, the Glory is always given to God. 

So I just offer you this question.  Is there anything in your life right now that God is weaning you from? 

It may be scary, it may even be painful, but trust that as a mother weans her child and holds her in her lap, so will our Heavenly Father with you. 

Have you ever been let down or disappointed by a parent, teacher, or priest? 

They were never meant to be God, but simply a bridge to God. 

This priesthood Sunday we call our priests father, not with the false notion that they take the place of God, but that they can father us to the Father.  The Glory is given to God and thank God that he has given us the gifts of married life and of priesthood that we may have a glimpse, that we may have a way, that we may have a bridge to our Father in Heaven. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this homily. This is exactly what I need at this time in my life. It is not a Priest, but a religious mentor who let me down and started manipulating, talking about the funder and her power all the time instead of Christ. But she was just the bridge and it is God who must be the center, goal, and foundation of my ministry. Your reflections and questions are helping me grieve...and grow.


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