By Joseph Fernandez
I have never understood God the Father. When people tell me to picture the Father, the first thing I think of is God the Unmoved Mover, a First Cause from which all Creation sprang from, but not a person I can have a relationship with. Funnily enough, I did not have this problem with the other two Persons of the Trinity. The Spirit I knew through my exposure to the charismatic renewal and through many years of ministering to people. The Son I knew through the mercy which I found when I came back to my faith after NS days, and in the (rightfully) Christocentric theology that I love to dive into. But the Father? Who the fella?
Usually, for sessions on the Father’s Love, the speaker will make us reflect on how our earthly fathers affect our perception of God the Father. This usually leads me to regurgitate a long list of grievances I have in my own relationship with my father. However, this SOCL, something about the Father’s Love session on Day 2 felt different. Instead of reflecting on my earthly father, I ended up reflecting on my relationship with the Father. Revealed to me was the reality of my relationship with the Godhead – in going out to minister to the many lost sheep out in the fields of Yale-NUS, my own perception of God, especially the Father, had become alienated with all the setbacks and failures. In all that, it was easy for me to fall into the lie that I was just a hired hand, a glorified manservant; that I was nothing but a forgotten child, an abandoned child, the bastard of the House of God.
When it came time for the paraliturgy, where several older male figures, playing the role of God the Father, welcomed home the participants and washed their feet, the service team were given the chance to participate. Last year, when I did this paraliturgy, it was with someone I knew. This year, it was a complete stranger, perhaps reflecting my own alien relationship with the Father. When the father figure welcomed me, he said, “My son, welcome home. You have been my joy, I hope I have been yours.” That greeting stung, because I knew in my own heart that I held so much bitterness towards a God whom I felt had abandoned me and favoured others over me. Yet in the voice of that stranger, I encountered a familiarity in the gentleness, a recognition in the way that voice lovingly called out the lie that I was just a servant or a bastard, and an immense love in the words that reclaimed my identity as His Son.
When I sat back down, I was a mess of emotions. I remember asking God if He could please let me experience more of this Father’s Love which I had so completely been devoid of for so long. In my journal, I just wrote “He is Father. Being your Father means that He welcomes you with open arms. He welcomes you WITH OPEN ARMS”. I think at that point my prayer was that my arms would be just as open to receive that love. Little did I know the deeply radical way God would show this love to me again.
On Day 6, there was a paraliturgy about forgiveness based on the Hemorrhaging Woman. Fr. Brian brought the Blessed Sacrament to each participant and each participant would read out the people they wished to forgive, touching his humeral veil just as the woman touched Jesus’ cloak. The service team were just told to relax and to support them in prayer. However, one of my participants, who was one of the first to be ministered to, got deeply emotional after Father passed him by. Knowing from our conversations that he struggled with forgiveness, I felt so much for his pain. At that moment my one intention was to go over and to comfort him in his brokenness, but at that point, I was helping out the other participants.
A few minutes later, however, he asked me to come to him, asking if I could get him a lozenge as his throat was a bit dry. This began a long night of running back and forth from the hall to the office, first getting him some medication before eventually escorting him back to his bunk to rest (he was feverish that night) and taking his temperature. He told me I could go back, that he’d try to sleep it off. I told him I would check on him later. When he settled down I returned to the hall and sat down. In my mind, however, all I could think of was this one participant, whether he would be okay, whether there was anything else I could give him to make his rest more comfortable, whether I should shift him to another room and, of course, whether he would be missing out on the rest of the night. Above all, I felt an intense desire to leave the room and stay beside him. It should be noted that I’m usually not like this, that usually showing hospitality in that way is not my kind of forte. If someone was sick, they were sick. Too bad. As I once joked with a brother, I’m more a professor than a pastor. I’m more comfortable with theology and the intellectual pursuit of the Faith. That night, however, my mind was solely focused on the welfare of one.
As I was wrestling with these thoughts, wondering what to do about them, the monstrance passed me again and in that one moment I felt the Lord speak to me so clearly, “Joseph, everything you’ve experienced tonight, the pain and the compassion you felt for this one soul, the acts you did to make sure he could rest, the desire to run after one sheep at the expense of ministering to the other 99, THAT is what the Father’s Love looks like”.
That one truth left me, for lack of a better term, shook. All this time, I had been looking for the Father’s Love in other people, trying but failing to obtain the love I needed. Yet that night Jesus showed me that the way to experience the Father’s Love, to get to know the Father’s Heart, was to give that same love, imperfect as it may be, to another, to pour out my heart in loving someone. To not only receive with open hands, but to give freely of myself with open hands.
About me: Hello, I’m Joseph, a member of Ubi Caritas, the Catholic Community of Yale-NUS. Though I like to participate in long-distance runs, the only race that matters for me is the one “… to receive an imperishable crown” (1 Corinthians 9:25).
Office for Young People seeks to raise up a generation of young people passionately in love with Jesus and His Church.