s we progress through the month of June, I have encountered numerous articles in which someone is trying to make sense of what it means to be a man or a woman, and how to define gender. I am struck by the narrowness of the perception of manhood and womanhood in our modern culture. What does our faith tell us about this?
What makes a woman a woman is ultimately her capacity for motherhood. Although the physicality of women points to that capacity (i.e. a woman literally has a place in her body that is intended to nurture and bring forth life), her ability to mother goes beyond her physical motherhood – all women are called to spiritual maternity, that is, creating a space where the lives and vocations of others may be safely nurtured and allowed to grow.
What then, can be said of men? Does he possess capacity for spiritual paternity?
The Fatherhood of God
My spiritual director – who is very much a spiritual father to me – often reminds me that all fatherhood comes from God and is meant to point back to him. Unfortunately, in an era of sperm donors, surrogacy, one-night stands, etc., the role of a father is often downplayed. But a father (or a spiritual father/father figure) is essential to the thriving of sons and daughters.
To have a healthy, loving father is to have a glimpse at the goodness of God the Father.
So, who is God the Father? What kind of father is he?
The first reading for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart describes the fatherhood of God well. The prophet Hosea writes,
“When Israel was a child I loved him,
out of Egypt I called my son.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
who took them in my arms;
I drew them with human cords,
with bands of love;
I fostered them like one
who raises an infant to his cheeks;
Yet, though I stooped to feed my child,
they did not know that I was their healer.
My heart is overwhelmed,
my pity is stirred.”
In this passage from Scripture, we see that God is loving – he treats his children with the kind of affectionate tenderness that one sees when a father holds a baby to his cheek. One of my favorite things is seeing a dad (or a spiritual dad) holding a baby. To see strength tempered by gentleness towards a child is a powerful thing to behold. God the Father possesses a strength far great than the average dad, and so his gentleness is even more astounding.
But also, in this passage, we see a Father who actively cares for his child. One heretical line of thought that has periodically popped up is that God is the Creator of all, but that once he created the world, he took a “hands-off” approach. Nothing could be farther from the truth! The world continues to exist only because God continues to will it to. God is still active and at work in the world, every second of every day.
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