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Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Night in Jail, My Dad and God's Fatherhood...

Which way?
There I was, after spending what seemed to be an eternity in a holding cell, where another “guest” tried to get me to conspire with him to call the guard over and distract him, so that he could jump on him and we could break out, I was finally transferred into a general population cell, where most of the guys were wearing orange jump suits.

It was in the early morning hours and the men were all sleeping.

I don’t know about you, but I had watched movies about what happens in jail, and, in all honesty, despite being in my early 20’s and in one of the best shape in my life (aside from my early 30’s), I was very scared.

“When am I going to get my phone call?” I kept thinking

I sat on a picnic table, as far as possible from the bunks, where the guys in the orange jump suits were sleeping, and prayed I would get out before they would wake up.

C’mon, I was fresh meat in there. It was at a time when tank tops, aka wife beaters, were popular night club wear (at least in my circle of Hialeah friends!) and that's what I was wearing. If those guys woke up, I was toast!

I kept looking at a small window with bars about 20 feet high and could see the darkness of the night getting lighter, as the sun began to rise.  I had the biggest urge to channel Mel Gibson's William Wallace (Braveheart) inside me and yell out, “Freedom!” Only, that may have woken up the guys in the orange jump suits that I was trying desperately to avoid.

“How much longer is it going to take to get my call?” I wondered.

Then it occurred to me, “What am I going to tell my dad?”

At about six o'clock in the morning, I finally got my call.  It was probably the most difficult phone call I have ever made.

Now, as a father of three myself, I know it must have been a great disappointment for my dad. I'm sure I would cringe if I had to bail one of my kids out of jail.

Nevertheless, despite my many teenage misadventures and mistakes, for the most part, I was a good kid. I did fairly well in school. I respected and got along great with my parents and I was never in serious trouble. Yet, there I was at the Broward County Jail, calling my dad to get me out (not exactly my finest moment!).

I remember, my dad actually taking it pretty well. He asked what had happened.

I explained that I had been jumped by three guys in a bar (apparently because they didn’t like the way I looked; maybe it was the wife beater!) and was used as an ultimate fighting punching and kicking bag for several minutes until a bouncer grabbed me in a choke hold, where I could barely breathe, and tossed me out of the club.

After the smoke had cleared, I ended up being the only one arrested (which, as I think about it now, it must have been Divine intervention, since I could have been seriously hurt if I had stayed).

After I finished telling my father the story, he just said, “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

My father has always been there for me.

Whether it was bailing me out of jail, coming to change a flat tire that my friends and I got on the way home from a party, while we were in high school, or rescuing me, several years later, after my car sank in the mud, when I went to make a U-turn on the shoulder of a side street in North Miami, after a heavy thunder storm (I learned that if your car starts to skid in the mud, never hit the accelerator!), my dad never let me down.

Even today, when my car didn’t start several months ago on my way to drop off my son at school, I didn’t call AAA, I called my dad!

God the Father by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni
Last Tuesday, I was asked to speak to a group of men and women in my parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program, which is for people, who are converting to Catholicism, considering converting, or are Catholics that never received one or more of their sacraments, usually of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation or First Holy Communion).

In preparing for the discussion on the first line of the Apostle’s Creed, which states, “I believe in God the Father,” I thought about a way that I could make God’s Fatherhood more tangible for the class.

Let’s face it, God is a mystery that we will never fully understand, and while my focus was on God the Father, I had to set up the Holy Trinity because we can’t separate God; where one is, all are. I knew it could get a bit lofty if I didn’t bring it down a notch.

In fact, as I told the class, the only way to even start to grasp or, even conceive to, understand God is through the eyes of faith.

St. Augustine, a fourth century theologian and one of the greatest minds in Church history once wrote, “Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.”

In other words, faith comes first and then we can begin to understand.

If you think about it, as Christians, we profess a belief in One God, yet we believe that the One God is three persons.

That’s pretty remarkable by any standard, especially in today’s skeptical and doubting world.

But, as we delve deeper into our faith and into Sacred Scripture, we begin to see how the unity in the Trinity makes perfect sense.

While I won’t get into the intricate details and specifics of my talk, I would like to share a couple of points on God's Fatherhood and how it relates to us.  

In the Gospels, Jesus reveals the fullness of God in his last command to his Apostles, when he charged them with our Christian mission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name (notice it is singular) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

God the Father by Michelangelo
God, therefore, is described by Christ, as three distinct persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) who share one name.

Probably the most beautiful and profound description I have ever read on the Holy Trinity, which brings home the message of God's Fatherhood, comes from Bl. Pope John Paul II, who wrote, “God in his deepest mystery is not solitude but a family, since he has in himself fatherhood, sonship, and the essence of the family, which is love.”

Therefore, God is not just the love within family, but family in Himself.

If we take this a bit deeper, we can see that the truest expression of God’s love for us is reflected in the human family; where two flesh become one and then become three. What greater grace than the grace of participating in God’s creation? It’s a life-giving, self-giving love shared between a husband and wife to assist in creating a family.

Furthermore, Bl. Pope John Paul II stresses that in the human family, we experience the inner-most life of the Holy Trinity.”

Therefore, God’s Fatherhood derives from this interpersonal relationship with Himself and extends from His relationship with His Son, who tells us (His adoptive family) to call God "our" Father and, not just father, but "Abba," which is a term of endearment, like saying "Daddy."

And so, Our Father is what God is, and as such, God is life-giving, self-giving, his love is unconditional, and He nurtures us to be reflections of Him.

I gained a greater understanding and appreciation for God’s Fatherhood, the moment my first daughter was born.

Although, I wasn’t very religious at the time, for the first time, I understood, in my limited way, what it meant to love someone unconditionally; a little person that came into being as a result of the love I shared with my wife and would grow up and be molded, according to the values and teachings that I instilled in her.

That realization was a step in my spiritual growth. God used her and our second daughter to draw me closer and stir within me a yearning to know Him and a burning desire to learn my faith.

In effect, my own fatherhood served as an impetus to seek God’s Fatherhood.

As I reflect on my life, that indelible night in jail, and my dad’s benevolence through the years, I can see God’s paternal imprints in the qualities my earthly father displayed; selfless love, compassion, forgiveness, and mercy.

In fact, my dad’s example helped to shape the kind of father I have grown to be. 

We live in a time, where the paternal role is being devalued and diminished by the culture. Divorce and the effort to redefine the family is corrupting the traditional father figure role of provider, protector, teacher and mentor.  Some may say it’s indicative of a larger scale attempt to lessen God’s own fatherhood, in an everyday more secularized society.

Unfortunately, we are not only removing God from the public square, but in reducing the father figure in the American home, we may, as a consequence, be deteriorating God’s role within the family.

Even so, despite this cultural tsunami that my kids will be exposed to in the coming years, I can only pray for the strength and ability to overcome the wave of mixed messages on fatherly futility and, like my dad did for me, through example, teach them, at least, to some degree about the qualities of our Eternal Father (hopefully without ever having to bail any of them from jail!)…

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