TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR A
“Do not be afraid.” Jesus uses that admonition over and over again in the Gospels both before his crucifixion and after his Resurrection. But I would be hard-pressed to think of any other passage in the four Gospels in which he repeats it as frequently as in the eight verses of the Gospel for this Sunday. “Fear no one…” “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…” “So, do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
But we are afraid, more so than any time since September 9, 2001. We of falling victim to a second wave of the Covid-19 virus, if not becoming while it is still in its first wave as we cautiously re-open our places of business and assembly. We are afraid that peaceful protests will be hijacked by criminals or explode into violence and acts of destruction. We are afraid that the racism that has marred the history of this great nation will not be eradicated once and for all at this pivotal moment. We are afraid about the safety of the honorable and dedicated members of our police departments. We are afraid, as Jeremiah was afraid of his opponents who did not want to hear the truth he was sent to proclaim. And Jeremiah was not afraid to confess his fear to the only one on whom he knew that he could rely: his God.
The same Jesus who tells us not to be afraid is the man who taught us to call the God on whom Jeremiah relied, our Father. We need to think about that on this Fathers’ Day because in our present confusion, anxiety and divisions we are calling out for a father to give us the comfort, the guidance, the strength and courage that fathers give their children. And the liturgy for this Sunday prompts us to think about the qualities and responsibilities of fathers, human and divine.
A father listens intently; and he hears the concerns, the fears, the hopes, the dreams and aspirations of all his children. Jeremiah, the Psalmist and Jesus are all emphatic about that. A father is one whose special calling is the care of everyone who is threatened, weak or vulnerable; and he is perceived by them as their champion. Jeremiah knew to whom he could turn when he felt most powerfully threatened. “But the Lord is with me like a mighty champion…” “Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked.”
The Psalmist does sing of that divine care of the vulnerable; but he adds to it the qualities of kindness and reliability. “in your great kindness answer me with your constant help. Answer me, O Lord, for bounteous is your kindness; in your great mercy turn toward me.” An effective father knows how to blend strength with tenderness. And, while the Psalmist never heard of the terminology, he knew that a father must be emotionally available to his children as our Heavenly Father is available and overflowing with compassion.
A father can exercise untold influence that will be passed along from generation to generation. How well St. Paul knew that truth when he penned his magnificent Letter to the Romans. “Through one man, sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned.” An abusive, neglectful or emotionally distant father can do untold damage to his children which they, in their turn will pass along to their children. That is what happened with Adam, the one man whom St. Paul accuses of letting sin and death get written, so to speak, into the DNA of his descendants. The obverse of that, thank God, is so much more powerful. “For if by the transgression of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man, Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” A loving, caring father who is the role model for his children passes along a gift that will endure through generations.
As we salute and pray for our earthly fathers this Fathers’ Day, and as we acknowledge our deep need for fathering, especially in times of crisis, it is important for us to remember that no one man can do it all. The Canadian novelist, Robertson Davies, once remarked, “We all have many fathers in our lifetime.” We need worthy, effective fathers in our Church, our world, our nation, our local communities, our schools and social organizations, in our families. This Fathers’ Day we pray with special fervor that God from whom all fatherhood takes its name will grant them to us. Then, freed from our fears, we can sing out with the Psalmist, “See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
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