GSC – Trinity Sunday (Fathers’ Day) 2019
Fathers’ Day and Mothers’ Day can be emotionally difficult times because perhaps we remember with sadness those of our families who have died; or indeed we’re made bitterly aware that we don’t really know what the love of an earthly father or earthly mother looks like. These sadnesses are then brought to the forefront of our minds in the midst of much rejoicing about these very particular bites of rejoicing. It brings out how difficult it can be to heed the words of St Paul that sound so easy, when he writes “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Sounds easy but not when we’re dealing with other stuff.
In these awkward situations where people can be responding to different things, the temptation can be to try to gloss over the difficulties or to simply remove them or to distance ourselves from the places of contact and potential collision. We must resist these temptations for we end up removing quite important moments of encounter from our lives and the devil loves nothing more than when we cut ourselves off from one another.
When we celebrate Fathers Day, we celebrate an ideal and it’s a reminder that the Church is about ideals. Just because marriages fail, doesn’t mean the church has to redefine what marriage is. Just because people work on Sunday, doesn’t mean Christians no longer have to go to Mass every Sunday. Just because some dads are absent or aren’t very good at it, doesn’t mean we ought not to celebrate the ideal of fatherhood, an ideal lived out faithfully by so many and not just those we are biologically related to.
Individuals falling short of the ideal ought not to surprise us when we read the Bible, the account of how God chooses to save individuals who are part of a holy people. I just want to look through now a few examples of Dads we see in the Scriptures. This isn’t aways easy because, especially in large chunks of the Old Testament the point of some dads was simply that they continued the line of the family, passing on the inheritance. So, if you were to look up Matthew 1 in your bibles at home, you would see a whole list of names (“Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers” etc. etc.)) and the only point of them for those purposes is that they had children who had children who had children and thereby linked Jesus with Abraham, the father of many nations. The Christian family is not, however, to be thought of as the means by which wealth and land is passed on. We have no idea how much money St Joseph left our Lord because it doesn’t matter. What does matter is how much of the Christian faith is passed on. Hence the Gospels tell us of the children of Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus carry His Cross as we pray at the fifth station during Lent. St Mark records that Simon of Cyrene was father of “Alexander and Rufus” (Mark 15:21). We know nothing else about them other than that their dad passed on the Christian faith to them and they became members of the Church. And that’s all that matters.
Other biblical examples, well let’s think of Isaac. Isaac was the son of Abraham, Ishmael’s twin. Isaac is portrayed in Genesis 27 as a rather daft old man, blind and on his death bed. He calls his sons, Esau, the eldest, and Jacob to his bed. Esau is given a task to do, while Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, and Jacob conspire to take the inheritance that is Esau’s right and ensure Jacob gets it instead. They do this by dressing the cleanly shaven Jacob with the skin of a dead donkey so he feels hairy to the touch of a blind old man who can be deceived. It’s an awful reflection of how materialistic people can be, concerned only about money. Anyway, Isaac blesses Jacob, believing him to be Esau: “Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you.” Esau then comes forward ad enables Isaac to realise he has made the mistake and Isaac is livid. He is initially reluctant because the blessing has already been given but in response to Esau’s tears, he does bless him, acknowledging the future difficulties but promising liberation. Isaac’s generosity, even in his foolishness, is a sign surely of a good dad?
Another example: the Book of Tobit can be found in the Old Testament, providing you have a Bible with all the books in, and Tobit is held up as a dad with a concern for moral probity. Hence he is concerned when his wife brings a goat into the home, which he thinks might be stolen, and urges her not to bring stolen goods into the home (2:11-14). Also, in finding a wife for his son, Tobias, Tobit won’t listen to the gossip and the condemnations of Sara, who people say is possessed because her husbands have died. Tobit rather believes the Archangel Raphael who comes to him as assures him that the marriage is right and it brings great blessings to the family. Tobit is seen primarily as a holy man in the Bible because he ensures the dead are buried in a culture that has gone mad with ignoring the dead. Our own society has similar peril where funerals become orgies of alcohol and paganism and excuses for immoral behaviour and to not be at Mass. Tobit shows us a different way and shows us that not listening to the condemnation of others and not wanting things in our home that have been stolen or have disreputable origins, these are good standards of behaviour, especially for a dad.
Our Lord Jesus Christ assumes dads will be loving in His teaching. He had two loving fathers, of course: God our Father, who is compassionate and gracious; and St Joseph who lovingly took Mary and the child Jesus away to Egypt, a place of safety following Herod’s wicked intentions on them (Matthew 2:13-23). This assumption, that dads will love, is seen in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). One son prefers to party lots with the wealth he has been generously given by the dad and then, of course, it runs out and he needs to swallow his pride and seek reconciliation. The older son won’t have any of it, focusing rather on his own grievances. The dad is different. Jesus tells us that the dad sees the repentant son, “while he was still far off” and that dad “ran” to hug him. The dad is looking out for his son or he would not have seen him afar off. And Dad doesn’t wait to hear what he’s got to say for himself - ‘Well, if he says sorry, I’ll forgive him but not till then’ - no, dad just wants to hug him. There’s no room for pride in love. St Paul reminds elsewhere, “It keeps no record of wrong” (I Corinthians 13:5). Dads will be forgiving.
Families are never simple. I commend to you a book called Confessions, which is the account by St Augustine of Hippo, of his own complicated life in his own words. It’s easily obtainable. In it he records his wayward youth when he didn’t follow Christianity but some trendy and hip version of it with dualist tendencies. During this rebellion he had a son with his girlfriend, Adeodatus he was known. St Augustine later became a Christian and then a bishop of a place in Africa called Hippo. It would have been tempting for St Augustine to be embarrassed of his wayward life and not to speak of his son. It could indeed be all too tempting for the Christian community to reject someone who had a past and hadn’t always lived up to the moral standards expected of a bishop. But the church of St Augustine was nearly different. And the great thing about this love that was evident in the life of the Church was that Adeodatus, the son born during a wayward encounter, Adeodatus was baptised too. A compelling account of the practise of the Christian faith was clearly given by his dad.
As we celebrate Trinity Sunday, my friends, we are glad that the unique and essential element of the Christian faith is that we know God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This community of three person who is one God in a slightly hard to believe way, invites us to join them. Our community here at the Good Shepherd is similarly to be one which compellingly proposes a way of life that is different to what we see in our day-to-day lives, but it’s also a life that isn’t just inward-looking but that wants to see that love poured out onto the streets. Let’s pray for dads, lets help dads to be better dads that they might see in all the messy circumstances of life the examples of Tobit, Isaac, the dad in the parable of the Prodigal Son, and St Augustine. They teach us and them to instruments of forgiveness, teachers of the Christian faith, a people who practise the redemption won for us by Jesus and who will bless even when there doesn’t seem to be any blessings left. Amen.