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  Calling God Father by George Curran

   Pope John Paul I stated in 1978 that God "is our father, even more he is our mother."  

More recently, his successor Pope John Paul II declared 1999 the "Year of God the Father." Since we proclaim each week at Mass that we "believe in one God, the Father," I will explore the richness of this belief using paragraph 239 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC).

Paragraph 239 begins by stating that calling God "Father" indicates "that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority." In other words, when we call God "Father" we declare that God is our Creator (see Ps 95:6). The way in which a child owes its existence to its human father "resembles" the way in which all creation and each of us owe our existence to God. Calling God "Father" can help us experience more deeply that each of us is a unique creation of God and grow in our respect and care for all of creation.

Calling God "Father" also indicates that God is "transcendent." This means that God exists above and beyond creation and is infinitely more than our minds can grasp. We could say that, from the perspective of a child in its mother’s womb the human father is "outside" and from our perspective God is "outside" creation. By valuing God’s transcendence we are reminding ourselves that our God "dwells in unapproachable light" (1 Tim 6:16). Our God is mysterious, elusive, full of surprises and will not be "domesticated." Transcendence highlights that there is always "more than meets the eye" to the realities of our faith and human existence. Calling God "Father" can help us grow in the knowledge that we will never have God "figured out" or under our control – even in heaven!

The concept of transcendence is a powerful and necessary foundation of our Christian faith. Yet, if we only emphasized God’s transcendence, we would end up with the Agnostic’s "Unknowable God" or the Deist’s "Watchmaker God" – a solitary God totally separate from creation, "unmoved" by the suffering in the world. This is why the Catechism states: "God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature."

In a similar manner, Pope John Paul II teaches in his Apostolic Letter on Women that "God is compared to a caring mother" in the Psalms and that "like a mother God ‘has carried’ humanity, and in particular, his Chosen People, within his own womb" (see Ps 131, Is 42:14, Is 46:34). To say that God is "immanent" is to say that there is a deep bond between God and creation: God dwells within creation and creation dwells within God. A child in its mother’s womb is a "picture" of our experience of God. Immanence reminds us that all creation, all truth, beauty and goodness and all human life resembles and reveals God to us (see CCC, n. 41).

The concept of immanence is another powerful and necessary foundation of our Christian faith. Yet, if we only emphasized God’s immanence we would be Pantheists – believing that God and creation are identical: God is creation and creation is God. This would lead to a situation in which God’s love, human free will and the reality of evil become unintelligible.

Therefore, transcendence and immanence complement each other and hold each other in tension and we believe in "God Most High and Most Near" (CCC, n. 2581). God is both transcendent and immanent: "God is infinitely greater than all his works" and yet "God is present to his creatures’ inmost being: ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’" In the words of St. Augustine, God is "higher than my highest and more inward than my innermost self" (see CCC, n. 300). So, we can sum up this point by saying that transcendence and immanence complement each other and that calling God "Father" highlights God’s transcendence.

Goodness and Loving Care

While calling God "Father" has the "theological" implications mentioned above, it also has what I call "spiritual" implications. Paragraph 239 states that calling God "Father" means "that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children." We read in Psalm 103: "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on the faithful." In other words, the love and care of a human father for his children gives us a "glimpse" of what God’s love is for us. (Those of us fortunate enough to be human fathers also get a "glimpse" of God’s "point of view.") Calling God "Father" reminds us that we are deeply loved, forgiven and cherished by God. Calling God "Father" can help us experience God’s infinite love for us, which, in turn, will heal us and enable us to love others and ourselves.

The Catechism continues: "The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man." In a similar manner, Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical on the Mercy of God, teaches that the Hebrew Scriptures use two profound words—"hesed" and "rahamim" - to describe God’s mercy and love for us. He states: "First there is the term hesed, which indicates a profound attitude of ‘goodness’… While hesed highlights the marks of fidelity to self and of ‘responsibility for one’s own love’ (which are in a certain sense masculine characteristics), rahamim, in its very root, denotes the love of a mother (rehem = mother’s womb). From the deep and original bond - indeed the unity - that links a mother to her child there springs a particular relationship to the child, a particular love." We can sum up this point by saying that both "hesed" and "rahamim" describe God’s mercy and that each time we pray "Our Father," we trust in and appeal to God’s "hesed" love for us.

Eminently Father

Finally, paragraph 239 states that "human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood" and that, actually, God is "neither man nor woman" (see Num 23:19, Hos 11:9). These statements are especially important for people who have been hurt by their human father or mother and it reminds us that no human father or mother can love us as deeply as God does. This point is brought home in the concluding words of the paragraph: "no one is father as God is Father."


Although I have only scratched the surface of this topic, I think these insights can have a profound impact on us each time we pray: " We believe in one God, the Father…"

1999, George Curran.. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.

George Curran is the director of the Spiritual Renewal Services for the Archdiocese of Boston. 1999 George Curran.

  Read other articles of spiritual enlightenment in the August 1999 edition of the San Francisco Charismatics or return to the Main Menu by clicking on the blue.