Why Call God “Father?”

Photography © by Andy Coan

A hundred years ago this month, Father’s Day was first observed in Spokane, Washington.  This June not only the USA but 55 other countries around the world will honor the roles fathers play in the family and the community.  This modern secular holiday invites us to ask a very important question – what does it mean to call God “Father?”

Most of the great religions of the world believe in one God and teach the gist of the Ten Commandments.

But that the supreme Being is not just “King of the Universe” or  “Master” but “Father,” that he desires us to have a close, familiar relationship with Him – these ideas you don’t find anywhere outside the teaching of Jesus.

To call God “Father” does not mean to say, of course, that he is an old man with a white beard.  Only the second person of the Blessed Trinity wedded himself to a male human nature in the womb of Mary.  The Father and the Holy Spirit are pure Spirit and transcend male and female, masculine and feminine (CCC 239).  This is no new insight brought to Christianity by the feminist movement.  It has always been taught that the word “Father,” applied to God, is used by way of analogy.  Analogies tell us something very true despite being imperfect.  Until recently, the father was recognized by Western society as origin, head and provider of the family.  To call the first person of the Trinity “Father” means that he is the origin and transcendent authority of all and cares for the needs of all.

But we all instinctively know that a father who does no more than bark orders and pay the bills is leaving something out.  We expect a dad to have an intimate, affectionate relationship with his children, to spend “quality time” with them.  To call God “Father” means, then, that he is near to us, intimately concerned with us, fond of us, even crazy about us.  He is not the distant, clockmaker God of Thomas Jefferson and his Deist friends.   This aloof God of the philosophers created the world to run by virtue of its own natural laws so that he could withdraw and occupy himself with more interesting pursuits.

No, the God whom Jesus calls Father cares about us and knows us intimately.  “Every hair on your head is numbered (Matthew 10:30).”  He loves us more than we love ourselves and knows us better than we know ourselves.

Now, this does not mean that He makes all things go smoothly for us.  He loves us so much that He made us in His image and likeness, which means He made us free.  And through the free choice of the first man, evil and death were invited into our world.  God does not shield us from all the troublesome consequences of this “original sin” which each of us, sadly, has ratified with our own personal sin.  But He sent us prophets, like Jeremiah, to wake us up and warn us of the horrible consequences of disobedience.  And finally He sent his firstborn Son to be a new Adam, to pay the price of that disobedience and give the human race an undeserved new start.

The most horrible consequence of sin, eternal death (Gehenna), has been graciously removed for all who accept the free gift of salvation that comes by way of the cross of Christ.  But evil is still at large in the world, and evil brings trials and tribulations.  Our Father will not shelter us from these anymore than He sheltered Jeremiah (Jer 20:10-13) or Jesus.  A good father doesn’t protect his children forever from the harsh realities of life, but helps them as they progress through various stages of development to face the challenges and grow through the difficulties.  Scripture says that even Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8-9).  How much more do we need to learn and mature, and some learning can only take place through suffering.

So as a true Father, he loves us too much to take us out of the fray.  But there’s one thing we can be sure of – He’ll never leave us to fight our battles alone.

Editors Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) –  Second Samuel 12:7-10, 13; Psalms 32:1-2, 5, 7, 11; Galatians 2:16, 19-21; Luke 7:36–8:3 or 7:36-50. This series for reflections on the coming Sunday Readings usually appears each Wednesday.


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118. This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor and is reproduced here by permission of the author.


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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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