By Kevin Whelan
What attracts me most to the study of Theology of the Body is the sense that I am involved in something larger than myself. It catapults me far beyond “being good,” and makes me a key agent in Christ’s work of redeeming the world.
I start to see this everywhere in my life. The other day I was reading John 15: 9 “As the Father loves me, so I have loved you,” and I started wondering, “What if this were said about me?”
I’m not trying to redefine the meaning of this verse. The Church is the sole teacher of scripture and, so far, they’ve done a good job without my help. Nevertheless, there is within this passage a meditation on my fatherhood. From the Church, we know that this verse teaches us the Fatherhood of God, but the Catechism teaches that “The divine fatherhood is the source of human fatherhood.” (CCC 2214) Since my fatherhood comes from God, what happens when I apply this verse to me?
Just think about it. What happens (sometime in the future) when my sons and daughters say to their friends, colleagues, wives, parishes or children, “As my father loves me, so I love you?” Am I satisfied with that standard? Have I set the bar high enough? Do I approve of myself as a role model to teach them ‘how to love’ ?
Right here is where my body comes face-to-face with its Divine Significance. The combination of my physical presence and my divinely sourced fatherhood make me a physical presence of God to my children. I am His “incarnation” (e.g. making into flesh) to them. I make that which is invisible (e.g. God’s love) visible to them.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, I acknowledge that Jesus does these things perfectly and I don’t. That is a huge understatement. Nevertheless, through His redemption, I am able to reflect some aspects of His perfection. My vocation as father is one key way that I follow Jesus’ command to be Christ to others and to take up my cross. I can do this only because I have been redeemed in Christ.
A Father in the Flesh
My vocation is to make into flesh the Divine authority my fatherly office gives me. This is a God given responsibility. We still hear too often of fathers who want to be their children’s best friends. My children can get other people to be their friends; I am uniquely placed in their lives to be father. I am called to correct, teach, discipline, coach, encourage, motivate and praise. The proper exercise of my authority makes visible His invisible love.
I am not placed in my house as a divine-right despot. Mine is the authority of a servant. The Church teaches that authority is granted for service. We need only observe Jesus, our greatest Authority; He washed the feet of His Apostles. Just as our priests repeat this act in Church every Holy Thursday, I repeat it in my house (my domestic church). I wash the feet of every person in my house and no one washes mine, because there is no lower servant than me.
As I Love Them, So Will My Wife and Children Love
This whole concept shouts to us of the Divine Significance of our bodies. My body is made for action. Fatherhood is less about what I say and more about what I do. I have heard that the word love has only been considered an emotion in the last 100 years. Prior to that love was considered a verb, that is, an action. I’m not sufficiently literary to verify the truth of this concept, but it sure makes my decisions easier. I don’t have to ponder the depth of my emotions if I don’t “feel like” loving my children. All I need do is love them…that is to say, take action.
The Bible does not say, “Hear how these Christians love one another.” It doesn’t say, “Think about how these Christians love one another.” I can’t find where it says, “Feel how these Christians love one another.” Although the body is capable of these things, scripture only says, “See, how these Christians love one another.” I have to take an action for someone to see it. Of course, we need look no further than the cross when we look for an example of love as an action.
Because of the enormity of this Divine Significance, I take no more important action every day than to pray. Misuse of my fatherly office, because it comes from God, will have dramatic consequences both for me and those I serve. The key for me is to return to the source of the authority. I go to God daily, many times a day, asking that He grant me the grace to properly exercise this awesome authority. By relying on God to help me to love well I might someday enjoy hearing my children say, “As my father loves me, so I love you.”