Strength of a Mountain

This past Thursday and Friday, I had the blessing of traveling with my youngest daughter on a whirlwind day-and-a-half college tour from Michigan to Cincinnati to Cleveland and back to Michigan. At some point, because fathers just know, I turned to my daughter and gave her my advice where she should attend and then had some fun and predicted a future event when a boy named Tommy Gunn would call and let me know he was in love with her.

And with a smile on her face, she told me that she would likely never date someone named Tommy Gunn, even though he was a character from one of your favorite Rocky movies. But playing along, she eventually asked: “And just what did you say to him?” To which I responded: “I don’t know, but I’ll know when the time comes.”

Fathers just know.

During the 1950s, there was a radio and television show entitled Father Knows Best. The show followed the lives of the Andersons, a middle class family living in a Midwestern town. One history of the show characterized the Andersons as “truly an idealized family, the sort that viewers could relate to and emulate.”

The parents’ names were Margaret and Jim. Margaret was portrayed as a dear wife and mother possessing a “voice of reason.” Jim, the thoughtful husband, and father was always willing to offer sage advice whenever one (or more) of his children had a problem.

Their three children were Betty, James, and Kathy. Betty was a teenage girl that when “every little thing happened—it was the worst thing that could ever happen.” James was the all-American boy always seeming to need “just a bit more” money. And Kathy constantly whined, cried, and complained about her status in the family and made it known to anyone that would listen that she was “overlooked.”

These many years later, my guess is that the show was popular because parents could relate and say: “Ah, yes, that Betty is my Susie. And that James is my Scott. And that Kathy, she is my Grace.”

Years ago, when I was about to become a father for the first time, I confided to a Franciscan priest friend that I was worried over whether I would be a good father. During our conversations, he assured me that I would and told me that I had plenty of “wisdom” to impart. To this day, I can still remember his words: “And if she’s smart, hopefully she’ll listen to a fraction of it.” And then there were these golden words: “When she does— rejoice! And when she doesn’t, remember that you’re in the company of Jesus.”

A wise man once said: “I think when you become a parent you go from being a star in the movie of your own life to the supporting player in the movie of someone else’s.” As supporting players, we moms and dads want the best for our children and seek to pour out our love and wisdom upon them. But we also worry. We want them to take our advice. We want them to learn from our mistakes. And in the blur of it all, we remember the grief we put our own dear parents through.

On this 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, the scriptures speak to this. The prophet Ezekiel (17:22-24) describes God the Father as the Divine planter—taking a tender shoot and planting it on a high mountain so that it might grow tall and wide, with branches so massive that “birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it.” While you and I are not birds, those wide branches are meant to cover us, as well!

Jesus, in the 4th chapter (26:34) of Mark’s Gospel, provides us with a similar analogy using a mustard seed. “…the kingdom of God…is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” I’ve always understood this to mean that if we place our trust in the Lord, He will never let us down and will strengthen us and provide us the ability to grow in ways we could have never imagined.

St. Paul, in our second reading (2 Corinthians 5:6-10), cuts to the chase, and reminds us that “We walk by faith, and not by sight.” Isn’t that what we mothers and fathers do? We prepare a future that we will only partially see. For when we are gone, the branches of the tree will continue to spread and grow and grow and grow some more.

In the 8th century, St. John of Damascus (in describing the Trinity) provided us with rich imagery regarding this:

The Father as a spring of life begetting the Son like a river and the Holy Spirit like a sea, for the spring and the river and the sea are all one nature.”

The Father as a root, of the Son as a branch, and of the Spirit as a fruit, for the substance in these three is one.”

The Father as the sun, (Jesus, the Son) as rays, and the Holy Spirit as heat.”

What can we make of all this? Do we see parallels between human parents and the Creator? We should.

First, parenting is tough. We wonder whether our witness and love make a difference. For parenting may be likened to constructing a building (akin to the many magnificent cathedrals that adorn Europe—that took hundreds of years to build) that in our earthly life, we’ll never see completed. And so, we trust and pray and pray and pray.

Second, God feels the same way about each of us. For we’ve been told that: “…God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16)

Each day, God’s Spirit surrounds and invites us to find a deeper relationship with Him. And each day, through the ministry of our beloved priests (our spiritual fathers), on altars throughout the world, He presents Himself to us so that we might consume Him, grow, and have eternal life. When we receive Him, He must experience the greatest joy! But when we stay away, God is like the good Father in the Story of the Prodigal Son. With a knot in his stomach, He waits patiently for our return and rejoices!

Given that this is Father’s Day, I leave you with a poem entitled “Strength of a Mountain” written by an unknown author. It describes God’s love for us, and especially for the role fathers have in our lives.

God took the strength of a mountain,
The majesty of a tree,
The warmth of a summer sun,
The calm of a quiet sea,
The generous soul of nature,
The comforting arm of night,
The wisdom of the ages,
The power of the eagle’s flight,
The joy of a morning in spring,
The faith of a mustard seed,
The patience of eternity,
The depth of a family need,
Then God combined these qualities,
When there was nothing more to add,
He knew His masterpiece was complete,
And so, He called it … Dad

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