Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Word for the Day: Father

I often think that there is no greater tragedy than a child born with an abusive father. In addition to the physical and psychological damage done to the child, there is another effect of abuse: the difficulty that child will have trusting any other authority figure. Ever.

Which of course includes God, above us all.

Ultimately, this is why the priest abuse scandal was so deadly. If the damage had been limited to the young people directly affected, it would have been horrible enough and forever a crime. But thousands or millions more have been alienated, partly or wholly, by the scandal. It has served to separate them both from the Church and from the Christian God it represents.

In chapter 15 of his brilliant Jesus: A Pilgrimage, James Martin SJ discusses the miracle of the loaves and fishes. One of the messages of this miracle, Martin writes, is that a single act (“loaf of bread”) can multiply and feed thousands, meaning that it can have many unsuspected, untold consequences. The good deed you do today may benefit others elsewhere years from now. You just don’t know.

Likewise a misdeed. Likewise an act of abuse.

The ripple effects that began in Boston in 2002 are still being felt. Open your ears outside the comfortable confines of your parish church and you may still hear the ripples.

I choose to be a practicing Catholic despite all of the above. To begin with—in the beginning—I had a good father. That’s him in the picture, circa 1965, when I was fourteen.

I thought of my dad—and of my debt to his goodness—this morning while reading the remarkable Gospel passage from Luke in which we hear Jesus communicating directly with God. In most of the Gospel stories, Jesus talks with his disciples or with a multitude. But here (Luke 10:21–24) we find him “rejoicing in the Holy Spirit” and addressing God directly: “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth . . . ”

It is as though we were eavesdropping on Jesus in prayer. Remarkable!

In this prayer of Jesus’s we hear about the intimate relationship that exists between him and God, indeed between any good father and son, and the importance to us of this intimacy: “No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

The most important knowledge of any is given to us only through our intimate relationship with Christ and, in turn, his with God the Father.

We can only receive that knowledge in a state that Jesus calls “childlike.” The knowledge is hidden “from the wise and the learned,” and revealed to the child—one in whom the intimate relationship of trust and devotion with the father has not been compromised.

If that intimacy is compromised, by an abusive father or any other agency, the Gospel suggests that our very salvation is jeopardized.

I was put in such jeopardy when, as a thirteen-year-old, I received sexual advances from a male teacher in my secular day school. In this brief excerpt from my forthcoming memoir, The Long Walk Home, I set the scene, tell the story, then show what my “good father” did.

I believe that I owe my Christian devotion to the goodness of my father, who never violated my trust and almost always showed himself worthy of my devotion, may he rest in peace.

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