Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily June 17.
Most of us grew up thinking of God with imagery that closely resembled what our own fathers were like. Most people who have a positive image of God had a positive relationship with their own fathers.
If you have a problematic or conflicted, ambivalent image of God you may have had a problematic relationship with your own father. My father was — and is — the best father in my hometown; I know it for a fact. Some of you may think of your own father in just the same way. My father didn’t just teach us right from wrong; he modeled for us the behavior and values in which he believed and which out of love he wanted for us. He is a man of prayer: he never misses Mass and spends time in private prayer every day. He always treated my now-deceased mother with the love and tenderness and respect she deserved — and always expected us to do the same — and there were consequences if we didn’t.
He is a man of personal integrity, wisdom, patience and self-sacrifice, just like the God he introduced me to so many years ago and in whom I too have come to believe. Always present; even when he had to travel on business there was a daily phone call and the certainty that he would come right home if we needed him.
My father trusted in God’s providence, even as he was for us the instrument of God’s providence. He took this responsibility very seriously. He had high standards for us, but achievable and age-appropriate expectations. His job was to oversee our growth; he didn’t simply sire us and leave the rest to Mom.
He guided us where we needed to go — steered us away from dangers, bad influences — and he was wise enough to see the dangers to which we were naive. He made it unmistakably clear that bad behavior was not an acceptable option. So if a reasoned appeal to our intellect didn’t seem to register, there were other disincentives that would come into play: spankings when we were little and suspension of privileges when we were older. Never imposed in a moment of anger, but rather only after a cooling off period, for which I am also grateful.
All seven of us kids have grown up to be adults that any parent would be proud of. One reason is that we have a father and a mother that any child would be proud of. Another reason is that from an early age they fostered in us a living relationship with the Heavenly Father of all, from whom all parenthood derives and to whom they knew they would have to give account.
Our Gospel today contains the story of the mustard seed: what was once very small grows into something large. Jesus applies this image to the Reign of God. And indeed his small circle of 12 apostles has grown into a billion-member Church.
God the Father, the first person of the Trinity, is the Father of all humanity, the one who brought the physical world into existence. In an analogous way, Jesus is the Father of the Church, the one who brought the Church into existence.
Like my father, Jesus didn’t just teach us right from wrong, he also modeled for us the behaviors and values for which he stands and which out of love he wants for us: holiness, love, integrity, wisdom, patience and above all, self-sacrifice. He is always present: Even after his ascension into heaven he sent us the Holy Spirit to be with us always.
And so Jesus continues to oversee the growth of that tiny mustard seed he planted 2,000 years ago in Israel and more recently in each of us personally on the day of our Baptism. He didn’t just launch the Church and then leave the rest to us. He continues to steer us where we need to go — away from dangers, even those to which we are naive.
His voice in our private consciences and in the public teaching of his Church makes it unmistakably clear that remaining in sin is not an acceptable option, and if an appeal to our conscience doesn’t register, there are other disincentives that come into play: both temporary natural consequences and, God forbid, permanent eternal consequences.
He wants us to be the kind of people he can present with pride to his — and our — Heavenly Father on that Day of Judgment when all will have to give account.
On this Father’s Day we remember especially our own fathers. We pray for them and we thank God for them. Like that mustard seed, we who once were very small have now grown large, and in most cases we already have the next generation taking shelter in our branches. We also thank God for 20 centuries of fore-fathers and fore-mothers in the faith who have planted that mustard seed of faith in each subsequent generation and looked after its growth.
Jesus says this is how it is with the Kingdom of God. We pray daily for our Heavenly Father to bring his Kingdom into existence: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy Kingdom come ...” Then in the very next line we describe the life’s work of a faithful father or mother: “... thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven ...”
My parents have faithfully done their part to help bring God’s Kingdom into fuller existence and many of yours have done the same. And now it is our turn to raise up another generation. God grant that in our care they too will grow to become adults that God will be proud of.
If we want to be the kind of parents that any child would be proud of, the first step is to foster in ourselves and then in them a living relationship with our Heavenly Father, from whom our parenthood derives. Happy Father’s Day!
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