Mercy and spiritual fatherhood
By Dave McClow
“Merciful like the Father” is the motto of the Year of Mercy. What a great reminder for our fatherless culture. What a great challenge and reminder for men on how to live as spiritual fathers.
Fatherlessness is a disease that is at pandemic proportions (43 percent in the U.S.) throughout our world and carries with it devastating effects on the culture, the family, children and men in particular. The Year of Mercy points us to the Father’s tender mercy. Fatherlessness makes it harder to speak of God or for people to experience Him as love. With the sustained Marxist and feminists’ attacks on the family, marriage and gender, it does not look like things are going to get better any time soon. But the world’s greatest need right now is to experience the Father’s mercy to undo the effects of fatherlessness.
The greatest antidote to fatherlessness already exists in our Catholic faith. Jesus reveals God as Abba (Papa, Daddy) and since God is our spiritual father all Catholic men (young or old, single or married) are called to live out their identity as heroic spiritual fathers. If Catholic men would live this out, the effects of fatherlessness — which produces the culture of death — would be stopped cold in its tracks.
So what do we need to make this journey of mercy? If we are to “be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful,” then we have to experience this mercy.
Pope Francis says: “The mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality with which He reveals His love as that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that this is a ‘visceral’ love. It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy.”
If we are going to be led into this “concrete reality,” we need prayer, Confession and relationships to help us encounter the Father of mercies.
Steve was fatherless by the age of six due to his parents’ divorce. Even when he was with either parent, he spent a lot of time by himself. His father was into pornography and by default Steve was exposed by eight. Steve’s father was a bully and verbally abusive. Steve was always working to be loved and lived in fear because his father was so moody and unpredictable. Steve’s faith caught fire in his late teens, but he carried the burden of working for his father’s love into his relationship with God. He is now married and a father of four. He is struggling to love them the way he wants to, but feels stuck. Pornography is still an occasional problem. He feels like he is never good enough and unlovable — perfect lies from the Accuser. Steve is my typical client who knows God’s love and mercy as an abstract truth in his head, but hasn’t experienced the “concrete reality” of God’s tender, indulgent, mercy in his heart.
In counseling, it is the relationship that heals. In pastoral counseling, that relationship also brings the love and mercy of God into the deepest, darkest places in our hearts where “everything is bound and loosed” (CCC 2843). Listening and empathy let Steve know I was in his world — it is incarnational — not to judge but to bring God’s mercy and love to bind up his broken heart. We would pray and imagine Jesus telling him the truth that “You are my beloved son, a gift, a delight to me and this is not based on your behavior. You are forgiven.” I encouraged Steve to go to Confession regularly, but especially when anger rears its ugly head or when lustful temptations overcome him. As Steve experiences his true identity as a son in his heart, he lives out this love in his hands as a physical and spiritual husband and father. His wife is more grateful and his kids listen to him more. He is getting them involved in the St. Vincent de Paul Society by collecting toys and clothes for others. The kids are excited about being able to do something for someone else. Yet there are still times of stress that push him back to old decisions and feelings.
Mercy is the essence of God’s fatherhood and for men it is the essence of spiritual and physical fatherhood. It is the nature of God’s mercy and love that once it is received, it must be given to others; it is a law in the economy of salvation. God’s mercy must be fruitful. Spiritual fathers must be fruitful — you are called to have spiritual children — go and make disciples. We do this every time we see a good movie — we become evangelists and we go tell it on the mountain — or at least on the Internet.
The Call to Action: Be Loved and Challenged!
Pray daily and mediate on the mercy of our Abba and your identity as a son. You must knock over the obstacles to experiencing this in your heart.
Go to Confession regularly to receive His mercy deeply and meditate on the rejoicing and delight that occurs when you return to the Father’s house.
If you are caught in an addiction of any kind, get help.
The Ultimate Challenge: Stop the culture of death, be the spiritual fathers that you are — start with your own friends and family, but don’t stop there. Go beyond your “comfort zones” to the people on the fringes.