July 30, 2010

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Fathers: Become more like the Father

Sean GallagherI recently celebrated my 40th birthday. Yes, the big “4-0.”

It seems to be a popular notion in our culture to dread marking this milestone. But it really doesn’t mean a whole lot to me.

That’s because the age that I am according to the calendar is only important insofar as it tells me that I am one day closer to entering eternal life.

And where I’ll live for eternity—whether it’s in heaven or hell—has a lot to do with how I, in this life, cooperate with the grace that God gives me each day to carry out the mission he has given me.

That’s the particular way in which he wants me to become holy. We typically call this our vocation.

I didn’t discern what that vocation was until I was about 30 years old. But, about 10 years ago, I learned through prayer and spiritual direction that God was calling me to be a husband and father.

This happens to be the vocation to which he calls most men. But just because so many are called to it doesn’t mean that it is the easy road to heaven. Every vocation has its challenges. Some can seem particularly grim. We might have days where we don’t know how we will reach the end of them.

But we can rest assured that God gives us all the grace necessary—and then some—for us to live out the particular vocation to which he has called us.

Part of that grace comes to us through the good examples he gives us in the holy men called to this vocation—both in the saints throughout history and in those he has placed in our lives.

But we husbands and fathers can and should look to God as our ultimate example.

There are many passages in the Bible that show how God is our Father, and how he cares for us with a great paternal love.

But for my own part, though, there are few passages that are as powerful as when the Father was revealed through the prophet Hosea.

Hosea likened the Lord to a father who tenderly cared for the people of Israel: “I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks” (Hos 11:3).

What parent cannot identify with this image and feel tenderhearted when calling it to mind? Yet Israel, like any other child—like I was when I was much younger than 40—failed to appreciate their Father’s care, was unfaithful and sinned against him.

There have been countless days in my eight years as a father where I have experienced this lack of appreciation and unfaithfulness. My reactions during a lot of those times were anger and frustration.

But what was our heavenly Father’s ultimate response to Israel’s sins? Here’s how Hosea described it: “My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred. I will not give vent to my blazing anger. … For I am God and not man, the Holy One present among you. I will not let the flames consume you” (Hos 11:8-9).

“For I am God and not man …” (Hos 11:9). The truth of this short statement washes over me whenever I read it or hear it proclaimed at Mass. It leads me to consider how often my reaction as a father to my sons’ bad behavior is so different from our heavenly Father’s reaction, not just to Israel’s sins but to my own as well.

God’s reaction is filled with mercy. Mine, too often, is not. Yes, I am man and not God. But God our Father, who has truly adopted us as his children, gives us the empowering grace to become more and more like him every single day.

That is the great goal that we should all be aiming at—not to simply get through one more year on the calendar. †

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