Sep 01, 2020 1411 Deacon Jim McFadden,

Dare to Call Daddy

Did you know you have an ever-present father? Read on if you are longing for his love.

When you turn back

Sixteen years ago I was facilitating a catechist class at Folsom Prison, a maximum security prison in California, preparing some of the inmates for Confirmation. An inmate named Juan, was telling his story. He shared that his biological father had abandoned his family when he was an infant and that his stepfather was aloof and abusive. In so many words, he said that his connectedness to a father of any kind was “messed up”. That might be the reason, he said, why he is drawn to his childhood faith–he is still seeking his father.

I said, “Juan, God IS your Father and Jesus invites you to call him ‘Abba’.”

“What does ‘Abba’ mean?” he asked.

“It means ‘Dad’, ‘Papa.’ Jesus gives you permission to call God ‘Papa’,” I said.

With tears welling in his eyes, Juan slowly and reverently recited the Our Father. He said it with such power and conviction that it seemed like he was saying it for the first time.

The simplicity of the Lord’s Prayer and our own familiarity with it can mask what a phenomenal breakthrough it was in the history of religion. Jesus doesn’t address God as ‘Judge,’ or ‘Omniscient One,’ or ‘Great Power in the Sky’, or some other title that that would point to God’s transcendence. Instead, Jesus calls God ‘Father’ which evokes a sense of familiarity, reminding us how a child turns towards his or her father, trusting that they are loved by him.

Filling the void

If some experience their fathers as absent, judgmental, or harsh, it is possible they may project these qualities onto God. If they have grown to expect little of their fathers, they may also expect little or nothing of God. If their father was generally non-communicative, they may project that onto God. But Jesus taught us to call God “Abba” which means “my father” and evokes a sense of intimacy, of warmth, safety, and love.

Such an understanding of God as loving parent can be found in the prophet Hosea, who captures this intimate Father-child relationship that Jesus invites us to:

When Israel was a child, I loved him,

out of Egypt I called my son.

The more I called them,

the farther they went from me,

sacrificing to the Baals

and burning incense to idols.

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,

who took them in my arms;

I drew them with human cords,

With bands of love;

I fostered them like one

who raises an infant to his cheeks.

(Hosea 11:1-4).

What a tender image of our loving God as one “who raises an infant to his cheeks.”

That’s the image that melted the heart of a prisoner named Juan and filled his eyes with tears. Many people go through life seeking their father. But Jesus tells us we have a father who loves us more than any earthly parent ever could. We simply have to come before him and with the simplicity of childhood say, “Abba!”

Heavenly Father I surrender myself completely into Your hands just like a child, and I trust in Your Divine providence. Each day let me feel those invisible bands of love which draw me close to You. Amen.


Deacon Jim McFadden

Deacon Jim McFadden ministers at the Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Folsom, California. He is a teacher of theology and serves in the Adult Faith Formation, baptismal preparation, spiritual direction, and prison ministry.

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