Following the lead of the Holy Father, who is presenting a weekly catechesis on the Apostle’s Creed for the Year of Faith, I continue my reflection on this ancient symbol of faith. Last month I focused on the very first statement of the creed: I believe in God. We remembered what a profound statement that is, particularly today. We also considered that this statement, “I believe in God,” is something that ought to capture us entirely and involve us in his good and loving design.
Now we move forward to the first fundamental definition of God that the Creed gives us: He is Father. We must not too quickly move past this. Today, in many sectors of society we have lost a sense of what true fatherhood is. Many have grown up without fathers, or had fathers who didn’t live up to their duty and obligations. In some cases there is truly a betrayal of what fatherhood ought to be. In others there is the complete absence of the father. We must prayerfully remember this together and especially focus on giving loving attention to those who for whatever reason were not lovingly embraced and supported by their own father. Some would say that because of this we ought not to refer to God as Father—that this is outdated and hurtful to some.
But the Holy Father, in his recent catechesis, reminds us that the biblical revelation of God as Father actually helps us to overcome these difficulties by revealing to us the totality of the love of the Father. As the Holy Father says, “God is our Father because he has blessed us and chosen us before the foundation of the world, he has truly made us his children in Jesus. And as Father, God accompanies our lives with love, giving His Word, His teachings, His grace, His spirit.” The entirety of revelation, then, is in some way the revelation of true fatherhood, and should be the point of reference for all people of the sacred gift and obligation of fatherhood. Indeed, if there is to be a renewal of fatherhood, it is through biblical revelation where it must be understood and exercised. Some of the most fundamental components of fatherhood we see in the Old and New Covenants are fidelity, constancy, strength, loving sacrifice, patience, and mercy. Truly, “God is a good Father who welcomes and embraces the lost and repentant son. He gives himself freely to those who ask”. Further, “God is a Father who never abandons his children, a loving Father who supports, helps, welcomes, forgives, saves… For his steadfast love endures forever” (Benedict XVI). And it is in the Lord Jesus that the good and merciful face of the Father is fully revealed to us. In knowing Jesus, we know the Father. Jesus is the image of the invisible God.
In the English translation of the Creed we use the adjective “Almighty” to qualify the noun “Father.” In Latin the term used is patrem omnipotentem, which could also be translated as omnipotent or all-powerful Father. This isn’t simply a way of saying God is really strong, or very mighty. Rather, it is a way of saying that there is no power that God lacks—He is not limited in any way.
The Holy Father provides a way of understanding this; he writes, “faith in 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 than our ways, and even his omnipotence is different: it is not expressed as an automatic or arbitrary force, but is marked by loving and fatherly freedom.” Understood this way, God’s power manifests itself in an absolute freedom to love us. Again, “his omnipotence is not expressed in violence… but is expressed in love, in mercy in forgiveness… Only one who is truly powerful can endure evil and show compassion; only one who is truly powerful can exercise the power of love.” And this makes sense because we all know through experience that it is much easier to be angry when we are wronged than to forgive and show mercy. Truly love demands more power, more freedom. So, we must see God’s power not in the way we understand the power of the world but as an omnipotence of love, a love that is offered to every man and woman as a total gift. But we must accept this gift in faith.
The Apostles’ Creed is an ancient and primary symbol of faith; it communicates to us not just abstract truths but God Himself. Understanding this part of the symbol reveals to us the beautiful nature of the Fatherhood of God and also the loving nature of his power. In this Year of Faith let us pray together for the faith to more entirely surrender to God as a Father who welcomes his prodigal children with love, mercy, and fidelity. Let us pray to return in faith to his freedom and power to love, that we may communicate it to others.
Barry Schoedel currently resides in Juneau where he is serving a Pastoral Year within the Diocese and assisting as a Year of Faith associate.