"Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied." (John 14:8)
I've heard it said that, at some level, each of us has a "father wound." The meaning of that phrase applied individually likely varies from person to person, but the truth of it goes to the unique impact a father--or lack thereof--has on each of our lives. What we today call "the West" (and for over 1500 years knew as Christendom), undeniably is suffering from a father wound--earthly and heavenly, both coerced and self-inflicted.
Fatherlessness in America has reached epidemic proportions. The statistics are equal parts shocking and sobering. A staggering 33% (24.7 million) of children in the U.S. live in a home absent their biological father. Of children between the ages of 1st and 12th grade, the percentage increases to 39%. Jesus once told his disciples "what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?" (Matthew 7:9-10) Sadly, for 1 in every 3 children in this country, the father isn't even around for a child to ask him for such things.
The negative effects the lack of a father has on a child are well documented and equally horrific. These include vast increases in the risk of poverty, teen pregnancy, behavioral problems, alcohol and drug abuse, high school dropout and incarceration. Two statistics in particular illustrate the father wound: (1) 63% of youth suicides come from fatherless homes; and (2) 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes. Of course, none of these statistics take into account those fathers that are physically present in the home, yet who are physically or mentally abusive, indifferent, or simply emotionally absent. To be sure though, there are some fathers who qualify as “physically absent” from the home but who nevertheless are able to find the time and means to still be present in the lives of their children. But, in reality, these “absent but present” fathers are likely a rarity. Being a devoted father, after all, is a full time job, and physical and emotional presence in the home on a daily basis is almost always a necessity.
I share these statistics not to paint a hopeless picture or demean most fathers. Far from it. Many of us were and are blessed with wonderful, loving fathers who played active roles in our lives. I'm also fully aware that numerous individuals overcome the absence of a father to reach lofty heights. I personally know many such examples. But neither is my intent to issue a get out of jail free card to those who have suffered from a physically or emotionally absent father. At some point, we all have to take personal responsibility for our lives, our decisions, and our sins.
But what these statistics above show--and what our own experience tells us--is that we each have a deep desire for the love of a father; a love without which things inevitably go wrong. There is a hole in our hearts that only a father can fill. Why? How is it that nothing else can seem to fill the void a lack of the father creates?
The answer, I believe, lies in the apostle Philip's plea to Jesus: "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied." (John 14:8) We do not know what Philip's relationship was like with his earthly father, but we can hear the longing in his voice for the Father's love. That love we all seek. It is that same yearning that caused St. Augustine to cry out "our heart [O Lord] is restless until it rests in You." Because a father's love here on earth is but a dim reflection of the love of our Heavenly Father--the Creator of every star in the universe who decided to create you and me too. We want to know Him, to see Him, to feel His love in the same way every child craves his or her father's love and attention.
So when Jesus responds to Philip's question, his answer echoes throughout the ages to each one of us: "He who has seen me has seen the Father." For that, in a nutshell, was Jesus's mission--to show us the Father's love through his life, death and resurrection. And only by becoming man, taking on our human flesh, could God fully reveal himself as the loving Father he has been for all eternity. As Scott Hahn explains in his recent book The Creed:
"Father. There, in a word, is the Christian revolution. There is the word that set Christianity apart from any religion that has appeared on earth, before or since the birth of Jesus. [A] Father whose love, it seems, is so great as to be unimaginable apart from his self-revelation in the Son."
Life is hard when our earthly father has been absent from our lives, but it is even harder when our Heavenly Father is absent. But whereas it is almost unheard of for a child actively to seek separation from his or her earthly father, more and more adults in the United States have either completely or partially banished God the Father from their lives. As of 2012, 20% of all adults in the United States described themselves as either atheist, agnostic, or having "no religious affiliation." The very latest statistics from the Pew Research Center continue to paint a bleak picture, showing that half of Americans who have left Christianity no longer believe in God at all.
Even among those who still self-identify as Christian, over 60% infrequently or rarely attend worship services. Sadly, among Catholics, it is even worse, with less than 25% attending Mass at least once a week. So, although there still is a large segment of the population who retain some cultural identity as Christian, in reality, they practically are indistinguishable from non-Christians. In both groups, God plays as little role in their day to day lives as those absent fathers cited in the statistics above. If you've read any of my first few posts from this blog, you know I speak from experience.
This heavenly fatherlessness comes with a price. One need not look long at the state of affairs in the West to see the effects of moral decay: the systematic slaughter of the unborn, the tossing aside of the sick and elderly through the faux compassion of increasingly accepted assisted suicide laws; the denial of reality through the redefinition of marriage and radical gender ideology; a steep decline in the protection of religious liberty; unprecedented moral relativism; the elevation of "science" as the only means by which truth (if there even be such a thing) can be known; and a general apathy, if not hostility, toward anything that makes moral demands on one's life or interferes with the ultimate god of pleasure. The list could go on and on. Next time you are sitting in traffic, or in line at the grocery store, or walking through the mall, look around at people's faces. Overall, you're unlikely to see the joy and hope that comes from knowing God the Father as revealed by his Son, Jesus Christ.
It is long past time for us, as Christians, to take personal responsibility for this; for not showing others that the hole in their heart, which nothing else can fill, is the absence of God the Father. In short, It is time to restore Christendom; not physically or collectively, but spiritually and personally. As the late Christian historian Warren Carroll once wrote:
"Christendom . . . grows with that courage and profession, and above all by the silent impetus of prayer and example. It fades with timidity, indifference, apostasy, and lack of holiness."
And for that, there is no better model than Mary, the Mother of God, whose "soul magnifies the Lord" and whose "spirit rejoices in God my savior." (Luke 1:46-47) Like so many earthly mothers who make up in love for the absent earthly father, so Mary points us to her Son so the Father will no longer be absent from our lives. For unlike her, too often we turn the lens around, magnifying ourselves and not God, while rejoicing in the temporal but not the eternal. We would do well to listen to the advice of St. Francis of Assisi, who said that "the deeds you do may be the only sermon some people will hear today." That frame of mind, combined with radical conversion to holiness, is what it will take to show the world the Father. As always, Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen sums it up better than I ever could:
"The Heavenly Father has a Son Who is the fullness of all the perfections of the Father, and yet from all eternity He has decreed that other children should be born to Him and be admitted to the glorious privilege of adoptive sonship in which they can say 'Our Father.'"
May we bring God the Father back into all of our lives.
God love you.