1. "You have made us for
yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you"
(Conf. 1, 1). This famous statement which introduces the Confessions
of St Augustine vividly expresses the irrepressible need that
prompts man to seek the face of God. The various religious
traditions testify to this experience. "Throughout history even to
the present day there is found among different peoples a certain
awareness of a hidden power, which lies behind the course of nature
and the events of human life. At times there is present even a
recognition of a supreme being, or still more of a Father" (Nostra
aetate, n. 2).
In fact, many prayers of the world's religious literature express
the conviction that the Supreme Being can be perceived and called
upon as a father, who is reached through experience of the
affectionate care received from one's earthly father. It is
precisely this relationship which in certain currents of
contemporary atheism has given rise to the suspicion that the very
idea of God is a projection of the father figure. This suspicion, in
fact, is groundless.
It is true however that, on the basis of his experience, man is
sometimes tempted to imagine the divinity with anthropomorphic
features that too closely reflect the human world. The search for
God thus continues "gropingly", as Paul says in his discourse to the
Athenians (cf. Acts 17:27). It is therefore necessary to bear in
mind this chiaroscuro aspect of religious experience by recognizing
that only the full revelation in which God manifests himself can
dispel these shadows and ambiguities and make the light shine
2. After the example of Paul who, precisely in his discourse to the
Athenians, cites a verse about man's divine origins by the poet
Aratus (cf. Acts 17:28), the Church looks with respect on attempts
to discern the face of God made by the different religions,
distinguishing in their beliefs what is acceptable from what is
incompatible with Christian Revelation.
In this sense, the perception of God as universal Father of the
world and of mankind must be considered a positive religious
insight. However, the idea of a divinity ruled by his own wilfulness
and caprice is unacceptable. Among the ancient Greeks, for example,
the Good as a supreme and divine being was also called father, but
the god Zeus displayed his fatherhood in anger and malice as much as
in kindness. In the Odyssey we read: "Father Zeus, you are the most
deadly of gods: you take no pity on men after begetting them and
abandoning them to misfortune and oppressive sorrows" (XX, 201-203).
However the need for a God who is above capricious wilfulness was
also found among the ancient Greeks, as evidenced for example by the
poet Cleanthes' "Hymn to Zeus". The idea of a divine father,
prepared to make the generous gift of life and providing for its
necessities, but who at the same time is severe and punishing, and
not always for an obvious reason, is linked in ancient societies to
the institution of patriarchy and transfers the way it is most
commonly conceived to the religious level.
3. In Israel the recognition of God's fatherhood is gradual and is
continually endangered by the temptation to idolatry which the
prophets vigorously denounce: "They say to a tree, "You are my
father", and to a stone, "You gave me birth"" (Jer 2:27). In fact,
for biblical religious experience the perception of God as Father is
linked less to his creative work than to his saving interventions in
history by which he establishes a special covenant relationship with
Israel. God often laments that this fatherly love has not received a
suitable response: "The Lord has spoken: "Sons have I reared and
brought up, but they have rebelled against me"" (Is 1:2).
To Israel, God's fatherhood seems more solid than human fatherhood:
"For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will
take me up" (Ps 27:10). The psalmist, who had this painful
experience of abandonment and found in God a father more caring than
his earthly parent, shows us how he reached this goal: "Of you my
heart speaks, you my glance seeks; your presence, O Lord, I seek"
(Ps 27:8). To seek the face of God is a necessary journey, to be
taken with sincerity of heart and constant commitment. Only the
hearts of the righteous can rejoice in seeking the face of the Lord
(cf. Ps 105:3f.) and so it is on them that the fatherly face of God
can shine (cf. Ps 119:135; cf. also 31:17; 67:2; 80:4, 8, 20). By
observing the divine law one also fully enjoys the protection of the
God of the covenant. The blessing with which God rewards his people
through the priestly mediation of Aaron insists precisely on this
luminous revealing of God's face: "The Lord make his face to shine
upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance
upon you, and give you peace" (Nm 6:25f.).
4. From the time Jesus came into the world, the search for the face
of God the Father has taken on an even more significant aspect.
Jesus based his teaching on his own experience as Son and confirmed
the conception of God as Father already outlined in the Old
Testament; in fact, he constantly stressed it, lived it in an
intimate and ineffable way, and offered it as a plan of life for
anyone wishing to be saved.
Above all, Jesus stands in an absolutely unique relationship to the
divine fatherhood, revealing himself as "son" and offering himself
as the one way to reach the Father. To Philip, who asked "show us
the Father, and we shall be satisfied" (Jn 14:8), he replies that
knowing him means knowing the Father, because the Father works
through him (cf. Jn 14:8- 11). Therefore those who want to meet the
Father must believe in the Son: through him God does not merely
assure us of his providential fatherly care, but communicates his
own life, making us "sons in the Son". This is what the Apostle John
emphasizes with a deep sense of gratitude: "See what love the Father
has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we
are" (1 Jn 3:1).
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
I warmly welcome to this audience the English-speaking pilgrims and
visitors, especially those from Great Britain, Denmark, the
Philippines, Japan and the United States of America. Upon you and
your families, I cordially invoke the blessings of Almighty God.
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God the Father...