Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Trinity Sunday, Year B (Fathers’ Day)
June 15, 2003
Deut 4:32-34, 39-40; Rom 8:14-17; Mt 28:16-20
1) Today we celebrate the feast of God, who God is. Over the course of human history, most people have believed in some form of God, some form of Creator, some form of supernatural agency in the world. God graced the Jews with the revelation that there was truly only one God, the Lord, and there was no other God but the Lord. The Lord Jesus came down from heaven to reveal to us even further that true nature of God. Yes, God was one, there is no other God but him, but that one God is a mystery of the communion of three persons in love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is love, as St. John tells us, and therefore for God to be love, he couldn’t be solitary, because no one can love in a vacuum. For God to be love, there had to be someone else to love, and that introduces us into the mystery of the Trinity. Our God is love because from eternity the Father has loved the Son and the Son the Father and their love generated the Holy Spirit, in a similar way to the manner in which God made the love of husband and wife capable of “making love,” generating a third person.
2) When we truly understand that God IS love, we can understand much better so many of the truths of the faith. We can first begin to grasp the mystery of creation. God created us in his image and likeness, and therefore, we were created in his love and given the vocation to live in that love and reflect that love. We can understand better the mystery of our redemption, because after we had said no to God, no to love, God the Father so loved us that he sent His Son, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, to save us from that lack of love and to make it possible to live in that love again. We can understand better the mystery of the sacraments, in which we receive God’s own life inside and are called to abide in God and God in us. In other words, in this life, we are called by God and helped by him, to insert ourselves into this mystery of the communion of persons in love who is God. And this leads us as well to the reality of heaven, which is an eternal communion of persons in love, when all the saints, all those who have tried to abide in God’s love here on earth by loving and obeying the Lord truly exist in a communion of love with all the other saints within the communion of persons of love who is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Heaven will be the unity of the kingdom of love for which our hearts deep-down-within yearn.
3) We could spend years meditating together on the mystery of our God of Love, the Holy Trinity. And we should every day reflect upon this mystery, by praying to each of the persons of the one God, by praying to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. We do this, of course, at every Mass, when we make our prayers to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. But today I would like to focus on just one application of what we learn from this mystery of the God of Love, which is relevant to the other celebration our nation marks this Sunday, Father’s Day. What does the mystery of who God is reveal to those men in our parish, created in his image and likeness, about what type of father they’re called to be? What does the mystery of the Trinity say about fatherhood? This discussion, I hope, will not only help fathers, but all the young men who hope to be good fathers themselves one day, as well as help all those women who will love them live up to their vocation as fathers.
4) The mystery of the Trinity begins, in a certain sense, with God the Father. Within the Trinity, there is an order, an order that is eternal. God the Father begot his Son in love, and there mutual love spirated or generated the Holy Spirit, who is the personified love between them. The Father gave over everything he is to the Son except his being the Father, and the Son has given everything back to the Father in love, except what it means to be the Son. From the beginning, therefore, Fatherhood is about this type of self-giving love, holding nothing back. Human fathers are called to love in the same way.
5) I remember so well in this regard my own father, who has never stopped giving. When I was a child, I used to be awakened at 3:45 am by my mother to practice the piano. My father would wake up a half-hour later, at 4:15, in order to do an hour’s commute to New Hampshire, working in a job he really didn’t like, with people he didn’t like, in order to support us. I remember seeing him sick and coughing some mornings, physically exhausted, but every day up he got and out he went in order to provide for us. I cannot recall his ever calling in sick and missing a day of work. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for us. He showed me and my brothers the real meaning of love. It wasn’t about success, but it was about the effort that real love inspires, the effort that gets you strive above laziness, or comfort-seeking, for those you love. My dad was never really a good student. He actually dropped out of high school and entered the army. Among my uncles and aunts, I always got the sense that they thought they were smarter than my dad. When my twin brother and I were graduating from Lowell high school — I as the valedictorian or top student and Scot as the third in our class of 555 graduates — my uncles and aunts were teasing my dad, about how he, of all people, could have raised kids who not only finished high school, but did so well. He laughed, but I got the sense that he really didn’t know either. Four years later, when Scot and I were graduating from Harvard College, the same uncles and aunts were teasing my dad in the same way, but with a little edge to it. And so I asked some people to ring some glasses and I got up to speak. “People often kid my dad about how he could have raised two kids who graduated from Harvard.” People started to laugh. “I want to tell you why,” I continued. “The first time I brought home a report card from kindergarten, there were two columns, one for aptitude or merit, the other for effort. I gave it to my dad with pride, because, as a five-year-old, I was proud I had done well. He looked it over. Then he held out the report card so that we could look at it together. Joey — as he called me — I’m proud of you, and am happy that you got good grades in this column for merit. But I want to tell you now that the only column I really care about is this second column, the one for effort. Whether you get good grades or bad grades, all I care about is that you try your best.” I looked over the crowd of a couple hundred relatives and guests who were there at the graduation party. “Well, dad, I’m not proud today so much about this Harvard degree, but what I do care about is the fact that I did try my best, I tried as hard in school as you taught us to by your working. Scot and I knew that as long as we tried as hard at school as you tried at work to support us, we’d do just fine. Thanks, Dad. The example, that lesson which was more important than anything we learned in the classroom, was how you raised two kids to graduate from Harvard.”
6) Human fatherhood is about modeling God the Father’s total self-giving out of love. It’s about not just giving the shirt off your back to your children, but the pants and the underpants as well. This type of love is possible. Most fathers here this morning would without any hesitation just in front of a bullet headed toward their wife or kids. They’d die out of love for them. Real wisdom in a Christian father comes when he realizes that those bullets often come under various disguises, like dying to themselves by working to support them, even when the work isn’t pleasant; by forgiving them, when they might hurt you; by sacrificing your own interests to spend more time with your children; by working hard to become a man of prayer, a man of integrity, a man of God, so that you can live up to the sacrament of marriage and get your spouse into heaven, and fulfill the father’s first duty, which is to raise, by word and example, your children in the faith: to make them love God, and not just fear him; to teach them how to pray and how to worship.
7) The second lesson we learn about the vocation of human fatherhood from the mystery of God concerns respecting the treasure of God which is children and doing everything possible to help them discover their vocation and live up to it. What was God the Son’s vocation? It was to come into a world that did not know him, that did not really appreciate him, that eventually mocked him, spat on him, beat him, scourged him, stripped him, and killed him. God the Father knew all of this from all eternity. He could have stopped it. It must have pained him so much more than it even pained the Blessed Mother to see all of this happen. But he didn’t. This was his Son’s vocation, which the Son fully recognize himself and freely embraced, and God the Father, who probably wanted to die in his son’s place like any human father would want to die instead of a child, let his Son fulfill his vocation of love, his heroic mission to jump on the grenade of sin to save all the rest of us.
8 ) Human fathers must too support their children’s vocations fully, must help their children discern their part in God’s plan, must encourage them to say yes to God, to fulfill them all the way. Every child that every father ever has has the vocation to be a saint, to be holy, to become not a mediocre follower of Jesus but a heroic follower of the Lord. This is what father and mother proclaim publicly on the day of baptism, when they consecrate their child to God, but this consecration must be renewed each day. But within that vocation to be holy, the Father has the duty to help the child discern and follow the particular way of holiness, the particular vocation, God has given to a child. Most children will get married, and hence a Father has to show what Christian marriage really means, how to be a good and holy spouse and a good and holy parent. Priests who counsel those preparing for marriage know very well that their children often bring their parents virtues and vices into their own marriage, and so parents have a real duty to teach children the true virtues which will help them enter into the sacrament of marriage and become holier and be able to sanctify another through them. But parents as well need to help their children discern whether they have the vocation to be totally dedicated to God as a priest or as a religious. They need to live the type of home that would be a seminary for their child’s vocation. I remember four years ago as I was preparing to be ordained a priest, Bishop Edward Braxton, who was going to preach at my first Mass, asked me several questions. One was about the lessons I learned in seminary. I started, to his surprise, describing growing up at 48 Dana Street in Lowell. He thought I had misunderstood his question. I smiled, and said, “My home was the greatest seminary I ever attended, where I learned how to pray, to love God, to give him everything I had, and I learned more about the self-sacrificing aspect of the priesthood from my mother and father than from any priest.” You may have in your home right now, maybe even on the pew next to you, a future priest or nun. You may in fact have next to you — even though it might seem hard to believe — a future Pope or Mother Teresa. Regardless, God calls you child to be a saint. Help them grow to hunger for holiness, to hunger for God’s will, to hunger to please God in everything, by setting that example. Then support them in that vocation as God the Father supported his Son all the way to his heroic death upon the Cross.
9) God calls human fathers to a sublime and most-challenging task: to model God the Father to their children! He does promise his grace, but he also gives a powerful intercessor and model. I can’t finish this father’s day without invoking the powerful example and prayers of St. Joseph. He shows what real fatherhood is and a real man is.
1) Fatherhood — This involves three elements:
a) He was a Protector
i) of Mary and her reputation
ii) of Jesus, giving up livelihood to take him into Egypt to save his life.
b) He was a Provider — as carpenter, provided for the Holy Family.
c) His life shows us that the full gift of self does not necessarily include genital sexuality.
a) Three times obeyed God through his angel, to take Mary as his wife, to flee with them to Egypt, and to return. Even though he could have deconstructed the dreams and doubted God’s command, he didn’t. He obeyed them immediately, even though something like the virginal conception of the Lord would have exceeded anyone’s ability to comprehend naturally and could have been accepted only on the basis of obedient faith.
b) He doesn’t see obeying God as incompatible with his manliness, but obviously a great part of it. He does not see God’s omnipotence as a threat and doesn’t have to be in control.
3) Speaks more by action than by words
a) Never says a word in Sacred Scripture, yet his actions are remembered to this day.
b) The vast majority of communication is non-verbal, the experts tell us, and he communicated his great love and integrity.
c) He was not only an “idle listener” but a “doer” of the Word of God (cf. James 1:22).
4) He showed a deep love and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who helped him grow as a man of God. She helped him give of himself to God.
10) Human fathers are called to reflect these virtues to their wives and children. To see what St. Joseph looks like, children should not have to come to Church to look at a statue, but should be able to look at their own father’s face. You’re called to show that face of love to your children. You’re called to image God the Father’s love for Jesus and for all of us in Jesus to your own children. Through the intercession of St. Joseph, may you live up to this call. Through the help and grace of the God of Love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, whom you receive in this Mass, help you to fulfill this, your vocation, and one day give you the joy, with your wives and children, of sharing in the eternal communion of love in God which is heaven.