God the Father

Fr Carl Schafer OFM
11 December 1999


The Great Jubilee in the year 2000 is centred on the person of Jesus Christ. However, Jesus reveals God the Father to us and leads us to adore, thank and praise the Father. During this year 1999, the universal Church is preparing for the Great Jubilee by concentrating on God the Father.

Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente (TMA), and the Conference of the Franciscan Family, in their Third Letter on the Occasion of the Jubilee 2000 (Third Letter), offer us five points for prayerful reflection during this year.

In this first talk, I intend to present three of these points and in the second talk this afternoon I will present the other two points. I invite you, as individual Secular Franciscans and as the Canberra Local Fraternity, to ask yourselves: what are you doing about each of these points in your relationships with one another, also with the clergy and with other laity, in your prayer, work and shared daily life?

Both Jesus and St Francis taught us to call God "Our Father". As Franciscans, we draw from the experience and the witness of both Jesus and Francis (Third Letter n.2).

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he taught them the "Our Father" (Matt 6:9-13; Lk 11:2-4). When Francis disinherited himself before his father and the bishop, he declared, "From now on I can say without reserve, 'Our Father who art in heaven'" (Leg. Major, 4).

St Francis learnt from Jesus who the Father is, and what it means to be Son (Third Letter, n.4). He saw Jesus Christ and everyone and everything in the perspective of the "Father who is in heaven" (TMA, 49). In the friars' unconfirmed Rule of 1221 (RnB XXII, 34), he quoted Jesus who said, "You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven" (Matt 23:9).

1. St Francis, after his initial conversion, directed himself and the rest of his life to God the Father. He resumed his life as a pilgrimage to the house of the Father (cf. Third Letter, nn.6,9). He undertook a spiritual journey of conversion, trying to be reconciled with God and with everyone, sacramentally and in daily contact (TMA, 49).

His own spiritual journey inspired his prayer for the entire Order and the spiritual family that he formed around him. He concluded his letter to a General Chapter of the friars with this prayer: "Almighty, eternal, just and merciful God, give us miserable ones the grace to do for you alone what we know you want us to do and always to desire what pleases you. Inwardly cleansed, interiorly enlightened and inflamed by the fire of the Holy Spirit, may we be able to follow in the footprints of your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and, by your grace alone, may we make our way to you Most High, who live and rule in perfect Trinity and simple Unity, and are glorified God almighty, forever and ever" (Letter to the Entire Order, 50-52).

He confronted the challenge of secularism, rampant at the time, when many tended to neglect or to forget God, or to keep God out or even to reject God (TMA, 52).

History viewed through the eyes of Christian faith shows us that God the Father does not permit us to remove him permanently from the world. We do this when we come between the Father and those whom he loves and when we refuse to love others.

In the newspapers in January this year, some great intellectual proclaimed, "The fact that Auschwitz happened proves that God does not exist." But Auschwitz was the creation of a man-made godless system. We can't take it out on God for Auschwitz, or for the smaller hells that we create in society or even in our religious communities or in your fraternities.

We would do better to set about converting ourselves to God the Father after the example of St Francis, and to make more room for God in our human institutions, including your local and regional Fraternity. Whatever you do also has its effect on the national and international Fraternity as well.

What are you doing about directing yourselves to God the Father, as St Francis did?

God, at the core of his oneness, is difference, otherness, interrelationship of three Persons in loving communion (cf. Third Letter, n.13). We are all created in God's image. We embody differences and we need to complement one another.

2. St Francis, with the model of the Trinity before him, harmonized the need for unity with acceptance of individual differences. So he spared his brotherhood many pains and assured its survival while he was still living in it.

We remember the incident when one of the friars cried out during the night, "I'm dying of hunger!" Francis got up, set the table, and invited all the wakened friars to accompany the starving friar in a meal, "because fraternal charity commanded it" (2 Cel 22).

Individual differences have distinguished Franciscans ever since. Unity in our communities and fraternities is always at risk and can be maintained only at great cost to each of us, by giving of ourselves, showing mercy, and serving one another and others humbly.

What are you doing in your local Fraternity about harmonizing your need for unity with acceptance of your individual differences? And in your regional Fraternity?

3. St Francis exercised spiritual fatherhood by giving of himself and serving others. In this, he followed Jesus who revealed God the Father in this way.

Francis lived and taught various aspects of the exercise of authority which brought out the true meaning of fatherhood, such as being simple servants, lowly, washing one another's feet, not dominating, but serving. "Let them not quarrel among themselves or with others but strive to respond humbly" (RnB 11,3). "Let everyone in general be called a lesser brother. Let one wash the feet of the other" (6,3). "Let whoever wishes to be the greater among them be their minister and servant" (5,11 ).

To know and love God the Father is beyond our human powers. It becomes possible only when we and our communities are identified with Jesus Christ. We can do with and in Jesus what we cannot do by ourselves.

Through union with Jesus in prayer and in the sacraments, living his gospel and doing his will, we are united to the eternal Word of God and so we have access to the transcendent Trinity.

We share in Jesus's knowing God the Father, the origin of life, and his love of the Father, the source of love (TMA, 50). We share in his adoration and praise of the Father, and in their loving communion. Even so, we can scarcely begin to understand their relationship.

Through union with Jesus, we are united also to the immanent Word of God, the Word made flesh, crucified and risen. With him, we adore, love and serve God our father and mother, God our brother and sister, God our most intimate friend and the spouse of our person. We recognize our earthly parents as the instruments of God our father and mother. We recognize our blood brothers and sisters and all other persons as instruments of God the Son. And we recognize our fellow Franciscans and close friends as instruments of God the Holy Spirit. Married persons recognize their spouse above all others as the instrument of the Holy Spirit.

In our relationships with these and all persons, through our union with Jesus Christ, we are in loving communion with the immanent Trinity. Here is the trinitarian vision that St Francis shared with us in faith (cf Third Letter, n.7). Here we live in the contemplative dimension of our Franciscan life (cf. Third Letter, n.12).

What are you doing about exercising spiritual parenthood by giving yourselves generously, showing mercy to those who need it, and humbly serving others: the clergy, and other laity?


4. St Francis, consonant with his trinitarian vision, recognized all people as sons and daughters of God the Father of Jesus Christ and as his own brothers and sisters in Christ (cf Third Letter, n.18).

Francis wrote in the friars' unconfirmed Rule, "Whoever comes to them, friend or foe, thief or robber, let him be received with kindness" (RnB 7,14). He himself received a band of robbers with extraordinary generosity. You should read the whole story in Chapter 26 of the Little Flowers of St Francis. They turned away from their banditry and joined the Order. Some witty friar commented that they weren't the last bandits to join the Franciscans. However, Francis wrote in the Rule that we profess, "Let them be meek, peaceful, modest, gentle, and humble, speaking courteously to everyone" (Rb 3,11). No doubt, we Franciscans should all speak courteously about one another.

Just as Francis's faith urged him to go out to the Muslims (TMA, 53), so our faith should open us to dialogue with followers of all the great religions and with the non-religious. Francis gave excellent advice about how to live among non-believers. "One way is not to engage in arguments or disputes but to be subject to everyone, and to acknowledge that we are Christians. The other way is to announce the Word of God, in order that unbelievers may believe in almighty God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" (RnB 16: 5-7).

"Father" and "Lord" are ideas accepted by both Jews and Gentiles, also by Muslims, although understood in their own particular way. The father of the non-Christian family was, and still often is, absolute lord and owner of his wife and children. Wrath and sternness were to be expected and were liberally exercised.

Jesus revealed a special kind of fatherhood in God, tender and affectionate, but not entirely excluding wrath and sternness. He spoke of God his Father with an intimacy that appears nowhere else. This awareness flowed from his own unique relationship with God the Father. He communicates his own intimacy to us who are united to him.

The concept of God as Father can lead us moderns to sentimentality, but this is not the gospel picture of God the Father. Jesus expresses the Father's sternness without detracting from the Father's love. God the Father is stern when his love is refused. For example, sternness is aroused by the unforgiving servant's lack of mercy: "So will my heavenly Father do to you..."

What are you doing about recognizing everyone as sons and daughters of the one God, the Father of Jesus Christ, and as your brothers and sisters in Christ?

5. The reign of God the Father affects not only human beings but it involves all created things. Consequently, St Francis respected all creatures, animate and inanimate, as his brothers and sisters under God our common Father and Creator (cf. Third Letter, n.18).

The Mirror of Perfection, written probably in 1318, describes how St Francis came to write the Canticle of Brother Sun. Francis, blind and lying ill, was plagued by mice, but the Lord comforted him and assured him that he would enter the Kingdom of God. Francis said, "I should therefore rejoice in my infirmities and troubles and always give thanks to God. So, to his praise, I want to compose a new Praise of the Lord in his creatures. For we daily make use of them, and cannot live without them, and through them the human race greatly offends its Creator. For we are always ungrateful for his many graces and blessings, and do not praise the Lord, the Creator and Giver of all good gifts, as we should" (n.100).

Although animals can be savage and fire and water devastating, the wolf of Gubbio and Brother Fire responded kindly to Brother Francis.

Likewise, nature is not permanently terrifying for those who live in close relationship with Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Son of God, and through Jesus, with God the Father and Creator. There is hope of recovery even for the traumatized survivors of Aitape's tidal wave, especially for those who have directed themselves to God the Father of Jesus Christ, following the example of St Francis and his brothers and sisters.

What are you doing about respecting all creatures, animate and inanimate, as your brothers and sisters under God, your Father and Creator?

What more could you do about each of the five points that we have reflected on today, through "concrete acts of commitment in the service of the Church and the world"? (Third Letter, n.19; TMA, 51. )

Contact: Fr Carl Schafer OFM cschafer@excite.com