Laudato Si' and “our common Father”

Day 4: On Father’s Day, finding peace in the common fatherhood of humanity

“The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world.” Laudato Si', 75

As Father’s Day was approaching the other day a colleague confided that his father had “moved on” after the death of my colleague’s mother. His father had met a women who was not interested in the pre-existing family and they moved away.

My colleague and his father chat occasionally, he said. But the bond is strained and that has wounded my colleague.

Dads mean a lot. They mean much to sons and—if the relationship between my brother and niece are true to form—they mean a lot to daughters. But fathers seem to be slowly losing their place in the Western world. Advanced reproductive technologies, fewer children, and changes to accepted social constructs (like "rampant individualism," as the pope warns) are minimizing the place of dads.

The tragedy in all this is that the traditional understanding of fathers across all cultures is a means to perceiving something of reality—of the natural order of things. Then there is also one the principle ways that God has revealed himself to us—as Father—that tells us something about our relationship with divinity.

As Pope Francis said in Laudato Si': “God’s infinite power does not lead us to flee his fatherly tenderness, because in him affection and strength are joined.” (73)

Helping us explore all this is Dr. Celia E Deane-Drummond, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame.

"Creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all, and as a reality illuminated by the love which calls us together into universal communion.” Laudato Si', 75

“The theology of fatherhood of God is assumed in [Laudato Si'], but it is not a tyrannical form of fatherhood,” she told Catholic Ecology. “[It is] one where God is given this imagery in order to stress God's providential care for creation.”

Dr. Deane-Drummond reminds us that God is not gendered, but that “Christians have for centuries used language that connects with the human sphere in order to give an insight about how God acts in the world, and in relation to how to understand the meaning of the Trinity, as Father, Son and Spirit.”

She said that knowing God as Father is “a healing source for those families that may be broken by absent fathers. God as Father is also intended to imply authority, but it is in mutual covenant relationship with human beings.”

Pope Francis stressed the importance of relationships throughout his encyclical—as he has throughout his pontificate and as had his predecessors. When these relationships are shattered by sin, they poison our lives, our communities, and our ecosystems, the Holy Father tells us.

He also reminds us that the plan for the cosmos calls for something better.

“Every creature is … the object of the Father’s tenderness, who gives it its place in the world. Even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and in its few seconds of existence, God enfolds it with his affection.” Laudato Si' (77)

Dr. Deane-Drummond helped unpack these words by nothing that “humanity in the image of God is not male, but male and female, so God as Father makes no sense without a parallel imagery of God acting like Mother, even though the motherhood of God is not as emphasized, it is still part of the tradition”.

These are at best metaphors to give something of the character of who God is, she said. And indeed, Christ himself, the Son of God, uses the metaphor of a mother hen to describe his feelings for his disciples (cf. Matthew 23:37).

Dr. Deane-Drummond said that “on that basis, the task of humanity in the image of God is one that includes the kind of providential care that is characteristic of the way fathers are commonly portrayed, as well as the nurturing role of both mothers and fathers.”

I suspect these observations would be comforting to my colleague as he wonders if his now-distant father loves him. We Christians know that God is incapable of not doing so because he is beyond our observed categories of human parenting—of human nature. Indeed it is God who, in offering us his very life, seeks from all eternity to elevate that which is fallen in all of us. And in all human nature.

This is what dads do, or should. They care for and elevate us according to their own unique, self-giving gifts.

“Nature is usually seen as a system which can be studied, understood and controlled,” Pope Francis said. But, with his own fatherly authority and affection he added that “creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all, and as a reality illuminated by the love which calls us together into universal communion.” (75)

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, and prayers for those who (like mine) have died. To those here with us, remember that your witness as fathers teaches the world not just about our relationship with our Father in heaven, but about our relationships with everyone and everything.

[Ed. Note: Catholic Ecology will be blogging daily on particular elements within Laudato Si' until the Feast of SS Peter and Paul.]

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Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.