The wounds are almost palpable sometimes. When we have the eyes and sensitivities to see, we begin to discover them everywhere. In people we know, in families broken, in entire cultures crumbling, we see the effects of the crisis of fatherhood.
God designed the human family to be father and mother, their love becoming flesh and blood in children (CCC 2202). We know that this is the blueprint of humanity and it is (ideally) the healthiest way to raise children from a socio-economic, emotional and mental health standpoint. But it is also the healthiest way for our souls as well.
Our experience of and relationship with our human father is intimately connected to our relationship with our Heavenly Father.
Our human father is our first example of what fatherhood IS. The human father is intended to participate in and be a reflection of the Heavenly Father. In Familiaris Consortio 25 Saint John Paul writes, “In revealing and in reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God (cf. Eph 3:15), a man is called upon to ensure the harmonious and united development of all the members of the family.” Much of a child’s understanding of God as Father is profoundly and directly a result of the experience given them by their human father imprinted upon them from the very beginning.
When a father is present and the child experiences his unconditional love and forgiveness and mercy, when the father delights in the child, the child can much more easily accept a Father in heaven who feels infinitely more so. The effect of an absent, abusive, or detached father can be soul deep, disfiguring the idea of father so much in a person that they have a hard time understanding and accepting even the idea of a God Who is Father let alone a Father Who loves them infinitely, unconditionally, and mercifully. And therein lies the root of many a sin, emotional block, and cycle of dysfunction.
Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) said in 2001, “Human fatherhood gives us an anticipation of what He is. But when this fatherhood does not exist, when it is experienced only as a biological phenomenon, without its human and spiritual dimension, all statements about God the Father are empty. The crisis of fatherhood we are living today is an element, perhaps the most important, threatening man in his humanity. The dissolution of fatherhood and motherhood is linked to the dissolution of our being sons and daughters.” We were MADE for that love and when we cannot find it or receive it, dysfunction and disorder ensues.
It is only through Christ that we can be healed of these wounds. But how wonderful it is that He truly longs to heal and repair and make new the ways that our understanding of the Father has been harmed! After all, His entire purpose for coming was to bring us back to the Father. Do we see that?
His blood was spilled, His back shredded, His hands pierced with nails so that we could find the love of our first Father again.
Returning to the Father’s love is the whole point of our existence and the whole reason Christ came. Perhaps for those of us who struggle with understanding the love of a father, we can consider the following for helping us allow the Lord to heal these wounds so that we can find our fulfillment and thrive in that love:
Pray for Healing
It seems obvious but how often to we hesitate (or simply forget!) to just ask the Lord for a specific need. How He longs for us to share our needs and just ask! “Lord, help me know my Father.” “Lord, heal the wounds that are so deep and have existed so long that I’m just used to them.” “Lord, heal my relationship with my earthly father.” “Lord, help me to truly believe I am loved by You.” Say it to Him (out loud if you have to). Ask Him for the grace of healing these wounds.
Pray to Find a Good Spiritual Director or Counselor
If a situation merits it, consider praying for a good and holy spiritual director and/or counselor to help you work through wounds that need healing to find freedom and peace. The Lord works through the gifts and skills of others and His kingdom is strengthened through us recognizing and availing ourselves of the people He’s given us.
Steep Yourself in the Father Scriptures
Meditating on the Scriptures that specifically speak to the Father’s love and mercy can help us recreate and heal our image of father. The parable of the Prodigal Son, John 3:16, Psalm 103:13, Deuteronomy 1:29-31, Galatians 4:6, the Passion narratives, and hundreds of others are the very Word of God spoken to us with the power in them to heal and transform our hearts and souls.
When we pray for those who have hurt us (especially our fathers) and actively work to find forgiveness for the ways that they and others have hurt or failed us, we begin to understand within ourselves the mercy and love of the Father. This doesn’t always mean everything will be perfect, forgotten, or that the relationship will necessarily even be continued. And it can be excruciatingly hard. But allowing ourselves to let go of the hurts and forgive is not only required of us but it allows us the freedom we need to recreate our understanding of the Father’s love.
Receive the Eucharist
If the entire point of Jesus’ coming is to lead us to the Father, then the more we unite ourselves with Him as intimately as we can, then the more Christ can work in us and heal us. Not only that but where Christ is, there the Father is. He and the Father are one. If we are receiving Christ regularly in the best state of soul possible, we are also inviting and in making an act of the will to receive the love of the Father into our hearts.
Reach Out to Saint Joseph
Just as this man of God “stood in” for the Heavenly Father for Jesus, perhaps he can “stand in” and intercede for us to know the Father as well. For many, he may be more approachable on a human level than the idea of God as Father. Allowing him to love, guide, protect, and lead us may be a step in better opening our hearts’ eyes to the love of God the Father.
Find Human Examples
On a similar note, it can be very helpful and healing to find human examples around us that are glimmers of what we think fatherhood should be, possibly parents of friends or a parish priest. Perhaps God will allow that to become an actual relationship of spiritual fatherhood but even if not, their example and fatherhood can still lead us and teach us what true fatherhood is. How many people felt that way about Saint John Paul when he was pope! For so many he became an example of fatherhood, creating an idea in heads and wounded hearts what a father is meant to be. Looking to examples of fatherhood around us can better form in the soul a truer image of the Father in heaven.
May the Father in Heaven overwhelm us with His love and Fatherhood, healing us of all of those soul-deep wounds that need to be healed.