By Charles Johnston:
I originally intended to write a short post to wish all the fathers out there a happy Father’s Day, but it ended up becoming something completely different. This doesn’t doesn’t surprise me, my thoughts tend to wander from one subject to another, evidence of this being over 40 half written drafts of posts on this very site.
Father’s Day brings a mix of emotions for me. On one hand I spend the day with my family and see my kids going out of their way to make the day special, and on the other hand I think of my father and how much I wish I could spend another Father’s Day with him. I end up spending most of the day trying to put on a stoic face, but I think it comes off as more aloof than strong. So this Father’s Day I’m going to try something new, and do a little catharsis here.
I’d like to take a moment and thank all the fathers in my life that have brought me to where I am today. If not for each of these fathers, I wouldn’t be who I am, and I wouldn’t be on the path that I’m now walking. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s the ones that had the most effect on me.
My Dad and God the Father
I recently had a conversation with a young man in Africa that I have sponsored through E3 Africa, and he told me about how he had recently lost his father. This made me confront something that I’ve been putting out of my mind as much as possible.
Anyone that knows me, knows that I lost my father a few years ago after a long fight with cancer. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him, and these memories are a treasure that I keep with me always.
But the feeling that this letter made me confront, the emotion that I’ve been running from for three years, something I’d push down whenever it crept into my mind, was a profound sense of loss.
When replying to his letter, I found myself breaking down in tears. Like I said, my father is always on my mind, but as soon as the memories went from good times to thinking that he is really gone, I’d banish them from my mind. I didn’t want to confront this emptiness that I feel every day. But writing this letter made me confront it in ways I hadn’t before.
I’m not a very emotional person, at least I try not to show it, maybe it’s due to some misplaced sense of American bravado, or an attempt to remain stoic and unflappable. I even used to tease my dad about him being too soft because he’d tear up at even a somewhat sad movie, but as I’ve gotten older I find myself teary eyed at every commercial for St Jude’s Hospital.
I shared that I too, missed my father dearly, but I also shared the only thing that got me through when these thoughts of grief and anguish creeped up on me. We all share a father in heaven, and He is with us always, no matter what life throws at us, or who we loose in this life.
CCC 239: By calling God “Father”, the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father.
All the good attributes that earthly fathers exhibit, are just a shadow of the goodness of God. Our Father in heaven loves us so much that He gave His only Son for us, so that we can have eternal life (John 3:16) to live with Him in heaven, and be reunited with all the faithful departed that have gone on before us.
I know we can’t have absolute certainty of who is in heaven and who isn’t, but we can have a well founded hope in the promises of Christ. And when Jesus told Martha that her brother would rise, He also made a promise to all future believers,
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
This question of Christ was answered with a resounding “yes” by my father throughout his life, and even right to the end.
He didn’t loose hope, because he knew that this life is just a vapor, and he had lived it well. He ran the race well, as Saint Paul said (2 Timothy 4:7) He provided for his family, and raised us to know and follow God, our Heavenly Father.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer man is wasting away, our inner man is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Setting a good example for his children to follow, showing them that God has to be a central feature of their lives, and showing them love, these are the most important things a father can do, and my dad done them exceedingly well. I pray I can live up to his example. And I’m thankful to God that Tommy Johnston was my father for 30 years of my life.
Unlike our biological fathers, we can, and should, have more than one spiritual father. Usually when someone, especially a Catholic, refers to spiritual fathers, they are referring to a priest. This is because as heads of our parish, our spiritual family, these men that dedicate their lives to the church, become our fathers in a spiritual sense.
They exercise the authority of the bishop, the chief shepherd of his diocese, on his behalf in each parish that they’re assigned to. And this authority, is one of the hallmarks of fatherhood.
They also shepherd us, and guide us, with loving advice and examples, just as a good father does.
I’ve been blessed to have had a few wonderful priests in my short time as a Catholic.
Fr Scott Harris was only at my parish for a short time, but his homilies were filled with fatherly advice, and his sense of humor made hard lessons less painful. He helped make the faith not just an intellectual pursuit, but a love affair with God.
Fr Robert became the pastor of my parish a few months before I was received into the Church. He immediately began making changes to the way things worked, firstly by initiating a remodel of the sanctuary that would place the tabernacle in its proper place behind the altar, and also by making the Eucharist the focus of our parish. By remodeling the sanctuary, he was putting into practice the ancient maxim of “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi” the law of prayer is the law of belief. Or more commonly translated as “the way we worship, shows what we believe.” (More Here)
If the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our faith, then it should be at the center of our church and our lives. Fr Robert also increased the amount of adoration we did as a parish, and encouraged all parishioners to take part in this focused worship of Christ. This focus on the Eucharist has changed my way of praying, and has brought me much peace and spiritual growth.
Fr Teilo is the parochial vicar of my parish. He is a young priest from Kenya, and about the same age as me, so it’s a little strange to consider him as a spiritual father, but that’s exactly what he is in our parish. He is the director of religious education, and spends lots of his time teaching the next generation of Catholics the faith. He has a passion for sharing the faith that is inspiring, and I never miss an opportunity to hear him give a talk at our parish, and I’m always happy to see him at Mass, because I know I’m in for a funny and informative homily.
It’s also possible that we can have spiritual fathers that are not priests. This last recognition is reserved for one of these non-priest spiritual fathers.
I had been going over in my mind for months who I wanted to pick as my patron saint for confirmation. For as long as I could remember, I had been a fan of Judah Maccabee and always assumed if I ever became Catholic I’d pick him. But as I got further along in the Rcia process I started to consider other saints as well.
Top of my list was; St Anthony of Padua, St Dominic, St Maximilian kolbe, and Judah Maccabee. As I was trying to narrow the list down a new name popped into my head over and over again; St. Peter. He is my favorite of the apostles, but for some reason he never made my short list.
I kept putting it out of my head because I really wanted to pick Judah because I’m a big Jew at heart but Peter just kept coming back. And especially his words when Christ asked if the disciples would leave him too, after the bread of life discourse, and Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68)
Also the authority given to the apostles by Jesus, in a special and distinct way, the authority given to Peter, was very influential for me when considering Catholicism. (See A matter of authority )
I wrestled this for about a week, and then all of a sudden the Rcia team told us they needed our picks, so that the choir could practice the litany of Saint with our patrons included. Every time I thought of the saints I would imagine their faces as we always see in prayer cards and statues but when I thought of St. Peter my mind kept going back to my uncle Peter.
He has been an extremely big influence on me during my discerning whether to convert and then my sticking to it once I decided, but the funny thing is this; he influenced me without saying a word. Uncle Peter embodies the words often attributed to St Francis, “preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary is words.”
Seeing him calm in situations where it’s impossible to be calm, or at peace when every thing around is in chaos, or just the genuine, Christ like, love that he shows to complete strangers. He may not know it but he is a model for Christian living and all without saying a word.
So I really had no choice but to choose St. Peter. For Simon Peter, son of Jonah, but also for uncle Peter, son of Ned. Both are models of the type of Catholic that I’d like to be. (Faithful, Christ centered and enduring, not Pope or martyr lol)
So happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there, to all the biological fathers, and to all the spiritual fathers.
Say thank you to your father today, say thank you to your priest, and never forget to say thank you to our Father in heaven.