“Learning How to become a Father” are reflections on Spiritual Fatherhood that I make after reading Dominican Sister, Gabriella Yi’s book on Spiritual Motherhood in St. Catherine of Siena. They are not mature reflections on the theme and may be considered more “experiences” through which we come to Spiritual Fatherhood in the Priesthood. As a seminarian I know that this will be the identity and challenge I am called to take on especially in these last years of priestly formation.
Almost 10 years have passed since my father’s passing. I received the call on a First Friday, a day dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord. It was my brother, Andrew. We hadn’t talked in a year. The conversation was simple; we became timid as I began to intuit that something was wrong. He got to the point. For me that moment continues to stop time dead in its tracks.
“I think Dad died.”
I can’t remember another moment in my life where I felt my heart skip a beat — just one beat — but it skipped. Next, I got what details I could from Andrew and I promised I would be back in Atlanta as soon as I could. The pragmatic mover and shaker side of me took over and I forgot to wonder what had just happened – just, how can I make it home as soon as possible?. In prayer I searched out a meaningful passage that I had just recently read.
“…he went up on the mountain by himself to pray…During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them…[Jesus] spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Mt 14:22-27)
I didn’t sleep. I froze. I felt an immense loneliness. Morning came and I was dizzy after having had a fitful night. Opening the Bible to the passage I began my morning prayer. I read it but I didn’t recognize the text. I wondered what was going on. I read it a second time and it read:
“He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.” (Mt 4:21-22)
I had been so tired I had mistaken Matthew 14 with Matthew 4. The fact dawned on me during mental prayer:
“They left their boat and their father and followed Him”
I wept. The bells rang. I woke up. Your Father is no longer. Then a certainty came over me as a wave over the waters. You have a Father [God] in Heaven. I wept of hurt and lost love. There could be no better summing up of losing a father than what a kind Irish lady by my side had to say on the return trip:
“Losing a parent is as losing half your heart”.
The next days went by in a flurry. Flights…Funeral home…Prayer…Greetings…I don’t remember too much from these days but I can say that I went away different. Despite the hurt and the pain I was able to carry a smile all the while. I carried a secret in my heart: I have a Father in Heaven…and He loves me.
I was purchasing a bottle of water at the airport when the cashier handed me my change. She looked up and stared. I didn’t realize what I had been doing. It was then she paid me one of the most beautiful complements I had ever received: “You have a beautiful Smile”. I reeled. I thought, “right here, right now? After everything I’m going through?” But the fact remains,
“Those who believe are never alone – neither in life nor in death.” — Joseph Card. Ratzinger – Funeral Homily JPII
Lesson 1: First step of Spiritual Fatherhood is to discover that you have a Father in Heaven above and beyond the Father here on Earth. Only then can we begin understand the role we are called to as Spiritual Fathers for souls.