On God the Almighty Father

«Despite the Crisis of Fatherhood in Many Societies, the Scriptures Show us Clearly what it Means to Call God ‘Father'»

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Here is a translation of the General Audience Pope Benedict XVI gave today in Paul VI Hall.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In last Wednesday’s catechesis we focused on the words of the Creed: «I believe in God.» But the profession of faith specifies this statement: God is the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I should like to reflect with you now on the first, fundamental definition of God that the Creed gives us: He is Father.

It is not always easy today to talk about fatherhood. Especially in the West, the broken families, the increasingly absorbing work commitments, the worries and often the effort to balance the family budget, the distracting invasion of the media into daily life are some of the many factors that can prevent a peaceful and constructive relationship between fathers and their children. Communication becomes difficult at times, trust is weakened and the relationship with the father figure can become problematic; and thus it also becomes difficult to imagine God as a father, not having adequate models of reference. For those who have had the experience of a father who was too authoritarian and inflexible, or indifferent and lacking in affection, or even absent, it is not easy to think calmly of God as Father and surrender to Him with confidence.

But the biblical revelation helps to overcome these difficulties, telling us about a God who shows us what it means to truly be «father», and it is especially the Gospel which reveals the face of God as a Father who loves even to the giving of his own Son for the salvation humanity. The reference to the father figure therefore helps to understand something of the love of God which however remains infinitely greater, more faithful, more total than that of any man. «Is there anyone among you», says Jesus, to show the disciples the Father’s face, «who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!»(Mt 7:9-11; cf. Lk 11:11-13). God is our Father because He has blessed and chosen us before the foundation of the world (cf. Eph 1:3-6), he has truly made us his children in Jesus (cf. 1 Jn 3:1). And, as Father, God accompanies our lives with love, giving us His Word, His teachings, His grace, His Spirit.

He – as revealed in Jesus – is the Father who feeds the birds of the sky without them having to sow and reap, and bedecks the flowers of the field in wonderful colors, with clothes more beautiful than those of King Solomon (cf. Mt 6.26-32 and Lk 12:24-28); and we – adds Jesus – are worth far more than flowers and the birds of the sky! And if He is good enough to make «his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and … send the rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous» (Mt 5:45), we can always, without fear and with total confidence, trust in the forgiveness of Father when we lose our way. God is a good Father who welcomes and embraces the lost and repentant son (cf. Lk 15:11ff), He gives himself freely to those who ask (cf. Mt 18:19, Mk 11:24, Jn 16:23) and offers the bread from heaven and the living water that gives life forever (cf. Jn 6:32.51.58).

Therefore, the one praying in Psalm 27, surrounded by enemies, besieged by evil and slanderers, while he seeks help from the Lord and calls upon Him, can give his testimony full of faith, saying: «My father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up»(v. 10). God is a Father who never abandons his children, a loving Father who supports, helps, welcomes, forgives, saves, with a fidelity that immensely surpasses that of men, opening onto the dimensions of eternity. «For his steadfast love endures forever,» as Psalm 136 continually repeats in every verse, as a litany, retracing the history of salvation. The love of God the Father never fails, He never tires of us; He is love that gives to the extreme, even to the sacrifice of His Son. Faith gives us this certainty, which becomes a secure rock in constructing our lives: we can face all the moments of difficulty and danger, the experience of the darkness of crisis and of times of pain, supported by our faith that God does not leave us alone and is always near, to save us and bring us to eternal life.

It is in the Lord Jesus that the benevolent face of the Father who is in heaven shows itself fully. It is in knowing Him that we can know the Father (cf. Jn 8:19; 14:7); it is by seeing Him that we can see the Father, because He is in the Father and the Father is in Him (cf. Jn 14:9.11). He is the «image of the invisible God» as the hymn of the Letter to the Colossians defines Him, «the firstborn of all creation … the firstborn from the dead», «through whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins» and reconciliation of all things, «whether in heaven or on earth, having made peace through the blood of his cross» (cf. Col 1:13-20).

Faith in God the Father asks us to believe in the Son, under the action of the Spirit, recognizing in the Cross that saves the final revelation of divine love. God is our Father by giving us his Son; God is our Father by forgiving our sins and bringing us to the joy of the risen life; God is our Father giving us the Spirit that makes us sons and allows us to call Him, in truth, «Abbà, Father «(cf. Rom 8:15). Therefore Jesus, teaching us to pray, invites us to say «our Father» (Mt 6:9-13; cf. Lk 11:2-4).

The fatherhood of God, then, is infinite love, tenderness that stoops over us, weak children, in need of everything. Psalm 103, the great hymn of divine mercy, proclaims: «As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him, for he knows how we were made, he remembers that we are dust» (vv. 13-14). It is precisely our littleness, our weak human nature, our fragility that becomes an appeal to the Lord’s mercy for Him to manifest His greatness and tenderness as a Father by helping us, forgiving us and saving us.

And God responds to our appeal, sending His Son, who died and rose again for us; He enters our fragility and does that which man alone could never do: He takes upon Himself the sin of the world, as an innocent lamb, and re-opens the way for us to communion with God, He makes us true children of God. It is there, in the Paschal Mystery, where the definitive face of the Father is revealed in all its luminosity. And it is there, on the glorious Cross, where the full manifestation occurs of the greatness of God as «Father Almighty.»

But we might ask: how is it possible to imagine an omnipotent God looking at the Cross of Christ? At this power of evil, that goes so far as to kill the Son of God? We would like an omnipotence of God according to our mental schemes and our desires: an «omnipotent» God who solves the problems, who intervenes to save us from every difficulty, who defeats all the harmful powers, changes the course of events and cancels out pain. Thus, today various theologians say that God cannot be omnipotent, otherwise there would not be so much suffering, so much evil in the world. In reality, in the face of evil and suffering, for many, for us, it becomes difficult to believe in God the Father and to believe Him to be almighty; some seek refuge in idols, yielding to the temptation to find an answer in an alleged «magical» omnipotence and its illusory promises.

But faith in the Almighty God takes us through very different paths: to learn to recognize that God’s thoughts are different from our thoughts, that God’s ways are different from our ways (cf. Is 55:8), and even his omnipotence is different: it is not expressed as an automatic or arbitrary force, but is marked by a loving and fatherly
freedom. In reality, God, by creating free creatures, giving them freedom, has renounced a part of his power, empowering our freedom. In this way He loves and respects our free response of love to his call.  Like a Father, God want us to be his children and to live as such in his Son, in communion, in full intimacy with Him. His omnipotence is not expressed in violence, it is not expressed in the destruction of every adverse power as we would like, but is expressed in love, in mercy, in forgiveness, in accepting our freedom and in the untiring call to conversion of heart, in an attitude that is only apparently weak – God seems weak, if we think of Jesus Christ who prays, who lets himself be killed. An apparently weak attitude, consisting of patience, gentleness and love, shows that this is the true way of being powerful! This is the power of God! And this power will win! The wise man of the Book of Wisdom addresses God in this way: «You are merciful to all, for you can do all things; you overlook people’s sins, so that they may repent. For you love all things that exist … You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord, you who love the living»(11:23-24a.26).

Only one who is truly powerful can endure evil and show compassion; only one who is truly powerful can fully exercise the power of love. And God, to whom all things belong because all things were made by Him, reveals his strength by loving everyone and everything, in a patient waiting for the conversion of us men, whom he wants to have as children. God awaits our conversion.  God’s all-powerful love knows no bounds, so much so that «he did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us» (Rom 8:32). The omnipotence of love is not that of the power of the world, but that of total gift, and Jesus, the Son of God, reveals to the world the true omnipotence of the Father, giving his life for us sinners. This is the real, authentic and perfect divine power: to respond to evil with good, to insults with forgiveness, to murderous hatred with the love that gives life. Then evil is really defeated, because washed by the love of God; then death is finally defeated, because transformed into the gift of life. God the Father raises the Son: death, the great enemy (cf. 1  Cor 15:26), is swallowed up and deprived of its poison (cf. 1 Cor 15.54-55), and we, freed from sin, can access our reality of being God’s children.

So when we say «I believe in God the Father Almighty,» we express our faith in the power of the love of God who in his Son dead and risen defeats hatred, evil, sin and opens us to eternal life, that of children who want to be always in the «Father’s House». To say “I believe in God the Father Almighty”, in his power, in his way of being Father, is always an act of faith, of conversion, of transformation of our mind, of all our affection, of our entire way of life.

Dear brothers and sisters, we ask the Lord to sustain our faith, to help us truly discover faith and to give us the strength to proclaim Christ crucified and risen and to bear witness to him in the love of God and neighbor. And God grant that we may receive the gift of our «sonship», to live fully the reality of the Creed, in trusting abandonment to the love of the Father and His merciful omnipotence that saves. Thank you.

[Translation by Peter Waymel]

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our continuing catechesis during this Year of Faith, we now reflect on the Creed’s description of God as “the Father Almighty”.  Despite the crisis of fatherhood in many societies, the Scriptures show us clearly what it means to call God “Father”.  God is infinitely generous, faithful, and forgiving; he so loves the world that he has given us his only Son for our salvation. 

As “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), Jesus reveals God as a merciful Father who never abandons his children and whose loving concern for us embraces even the Cross.  In Christ, God has made us his adopted sons and daughters.  The Cross shows also us how God our Father is “almighty”.  His omnipotence transcends our limited human concepts of power; his might is that of a patient love expressed in the ultimate victory of goodness over evil, life over death, and freedom over the bondage of sin.  As we contemplate the Cross of Christ, let us turn to God the almighty Father and implore the grace to abandon ourselves with confidence and trust to his merciful love and his saving power.  

I offer a warm welcome to the priests taking part in the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the Pontifical North American College.  Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from the Republic of Korea, Canada and the United States of America, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.

[Original text: English]

© Copyright 2012 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana 

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I extend a cordial greeting to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet the Bishops, friends of the Focolare Movement. Dear Brothers, along with you, I also greet all those who will participate in the meetings organized in different regions of the world. Assuring you of my prayers, I hope that the charism of unity which is particularly dear to you, may support you and encourage you in your apostolic ministry. And I greet the faithful of the Archdiocese of Potenza-Lucano-Marsiconuovo, accompanied by their Shepherd Mons. Agostino Superbo. Dear friends, continue to devote every effort so that, in equal manner in the cities and small towns, a solid religious education may be built up, so that all may be prepared to receive the Sacraments fruitfully, the essential nourishment for growth in the faith. The presence at this meeting of the civil authorities of Basilicata, to whom I extend a respectful greeting, gives me the opportunity to express my deep gratitude to all those who have labored for the preparation of the charming nativity scene, located in this Square, which has been admired by many pilgrims, and also by me with great joy, as an expression of Lucan art.

Finally, I address an affectionate thought to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Tomorrow marks the liturgical memorial of St. John Bosco, priest and educator. Look at him, dear young people, as a true master of life. You, dear sick people, learn from his spiritual experience to confide in every circumstance in Christ crucified. And you, dear newlyweds, have recourse to his intercession to live with generous commitment your mission as spouses. Thank you. 

[Translation by Peter Waymel]
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