Three Small Words for Father’s Day

Father’s Day (or should it be Fathers’ Day?) didn’t exist on this side of the Atlantic when I was a child, so I was spared the agony of trying to find a present or card which would express in hideous tie or stumbling verse what both my father and I would have been far too British to put into words. (He was about 84 before he was able to sign a letter or card with anything more effusive than ‘Best wishes’ . . .) That doesn’t mean that I didn’t know my father loved me, or that I didn’t love him: we just didn’t say it in words until the day we were given the grace to do so.

‘Grace’ is a beautiful word, isn’t it, with its simultaneous echoes of delight and gratitude? I love the way Julian of Norwich refers constantly to ‘Our gracious Lord’ and his ‘gracious love’ for us. She reminds us that if we want to know what the Father’s love for us looks like, we should spend a moment or two before a crucifix. There we see the Word made flesh, pinned to the Cross by love rather than nails, arms held open everlastingly to embrace us. All he asks is an answering, ‘I love you.’

I love you: three small words for Father’s Day. Say them to your earthly father if you have one, and to your heavenly Father also.

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Solemnity of the Holy Trinity 2011

The Holy Trinity from Yates Thompson 13, a Book of Hours from the second quarter of the 14th century
The Holy Trinity: illustration from a Sarum Book of Hours, second quarter of the fourteenth century, now in the British Library.

It would be presumptuous to try to add anything new to the thousands of words, good and bad, written about the Most Holy Trinity. For me, Augustine’s De Trinitate is one of the most satisfying treatments of a profoundly difficult subject, but that is a conclusion I came to only after a nodding acquaintance with modern physics made sense of some of his more mystifying passages.

For some, it is more important that today is Father’s Day. Somehow the two celebrations come together; and if I cannot speak about the Trinity, perhaps I may say something about human beings.

If you think about it, the primary relationship of all of us is that of child — son or daughter, as the case may be. We may not have siblings, we may never be parents ourselves, but we are all the child of someone, or rather, of two persons. The human family reflects the divine, being at least a trinity of persons; but there the analogy ends, for in relation to God, we are, all of us, eternally filial. If we have had inadequate or bad parents or have never known our own parents, this filial relationship with God does not usually come easily. We have to learn an unfamiliar language and it can be painful.

Father’s Day may be another example of soulless commercialisation, but make the connection with today’s feast, and it becomes more than a sentimental commemoration of dear old Dad: it is a reminder of the importance of fatherhood, both human and divine.

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