The true meaning of fatherhood


Most church feasts celebrate events and people.

Not ordinary events and people, but those events by which God changed the world, the chief of which is Easter.  And they celebrate the people who were part of God's transforming work, whom we call saints, chief among whom is the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The Feast of the Holy Trinity is different in that it celebrates neither an event nor an individual, but the deepest mystery of the inner nature of God himself.  This reality of Three Holy Persons, which no human could invent and only God could reveal, is about the essential identities of the One Divine Being who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Catechism (#234) teaches:  "The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life.  It is the mystery of God in himself.  It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them."

This year on the civil calendar, the Feast of the Holy Trinity is denoted as Father's Day.  That is a chronological coincidence, but it also may be understood as a theological providence.  The true meaning of fatherhood, far exalted above plain biological parenthood, is rightly understood only by understanding the inner nature of the Holy Trinity.  For old heretics called Gnostics, who flourish today by different names, the Fatherhood of God is a human concept, and basically a psychological projection of a patriarchal society.  Through Christ and the Holy Spirit, we know that the mystery of God the Father is the very opposite of a human self-projection.  Christianity is singular in its vital worship of God truly as father and not as a symbol or metaphor.

The Feast of the Holy Trinity follows Pentecost because it is only the Holy Spirit, promised by the Son, who enables the Church to know the Father.  No one comes to the Father but through the Son and the bond of love between them by which the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, makes him known.  The less a society is guided by this mystery, the less it understands human fathers.  We need only look around us to see the social and material chaos caused by an increasingly fatherless culture with all its consequences:  family breakdown and gender confusion.

In such a dark time, the Church has the vocation to instruct in the meaning of fatherhood, to encourage young men to embrace the role of fathers of families, and to guide those who do so.  "For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" (Ephesians 3: 14-17).      




Father George W. Rutler. "The true meaning of fatherhood."  From the Pastor (June 15, 2014).

Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.


Father Rutler received priestly ordination in 1981. Born in 1945 and reared in the Episcopal tradition, Father Rutler was an Episcopal priest for nine years. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1979 and was sent to the North American College in Rome for seminary studies. Father Rutler graduated from Dartmouth, where he was a Rufus Choate Scholar, and took advanced degrees at the Johns Hopkins University and the General Theological Seminary. He holds several degrees from the Gregorian and Angelicum Universities in Rome, including the Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology, and studied at the Institut Catholique in Paris. In England, in 1988, the University of Oxford awarded him the degree Master of Studies. From 1987 to 1989 he was regular preacher to the students, faculty, and townspeople of Oxford.  He is the pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. 

Father Rutler has published 18 books, including: Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943, Cloud of Witnesses — Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Copyright © 2014 Father George W. Rutler

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