Part 2 in our series on the Our Father. Click here for the entire series.
“Father”: the first word of the Our Father (in Greek, the language of Matthew’s Gospel, as in Latin, word order is flexible enough that you can say “Father Our”: Pater humon, or Pater noster) describes the entire inner life of the Trinity. To truly understand this first word would be to understand everything in all of Christianity. The rest of the prayer, in fact, merely spells out, in increasing particularity, the real meaning of this first word.
The Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not merely God One, God Two, and God Three. Father and Son are defined by their relationship: the proper name for the Father says nothing except that he is Father of the Son. The name of the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is the opposite: his name signals what is common to Father and Son: they are both Holy, they are both Spirit. The inner life of God, then, is not just “threeness,” but Father and Son and what they share. The life of the Trinity is Father-Son.
To be Son is simply to receive the nature of the Father. On the one hand, it means similarity. When the Father is God, it means the Son must be God too: purely God, “true God from true God” – and thus, somehow, way beyond our understanding, he must share in the Oneness of God. What it means to be God includes, among other things, that there can only be One. What it means to be “God from God,” then, is to be “consubstantial with the Father”: to be the One God. Else he would not be true Son.
On the other hand, to be Son is to receive your nature from your Father. In the Trinity, Father and Son are totally equal and identical in all respects – except that the Son receives everything from the Father, and the Father gives everything to the Son.
“Father”: the first word of the Our Father is the inner life of God.
And it is the life we are called to, the sublime call and offering of Christianity: the Gospel. Jesus does nothing but allow us to enter into the inner life of God, to enter into his very nature, which is to call God Father. When we say, “Father,” we mean, (a) sharing in his nature, and (b) receiving everything from him. Entering into that internal life of the Trinity. The Son eternally says nothing but “Father.” That is our eternal destiny, as well. That is the Gospel.
“As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs: heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17). What the Holy Spirit gives us is nothing else but Sonship: to share in that interior sharing of Father and Son. He lets us share in the inheritance of the Son: and the Son of God inherits nothing from his Father except God himself.
To say “Father” is to speak eternity.
But Jesus teaches us not to say “My Father” but “Our Father”: the first person plural. “Our,” because shared with Jesus: his father and mine. But also “our” because I am joined to everyone else for whom God is Father.
Christianity offers us a vastly deeper reason for loving our neighbor than merely because he is a creature of God, or human rights. I don’t mean to put those things down – but Christianity goes vastly deeper, because Christianity takes us into divine Sonship. The Christian loves others because they are, or might be, eternal coheirs, co-sons and -daughters, brothers and sisters in the life of the Trinity.
There are many Scripture passages we could consider to think about this. Certainly in St. John’s writings, especially his magnificent First Letter, it is all about loving, not just “other human beings,” but “the brothers.”
But consider the fantastic passage from Matthew 25: “Lord, when did we see you hungry, and fed you? or athirst, and gave you drink? when did we see you a stranger, and took you in? or naked, and clothed you? and when did we see you sick, or in prison, and came to you? And the King shall answer and say to them, Truly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of these my brothers, even these least, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:37-40).
The Christian loves others as brothers and sisters of the Son of God, and so our brothers and sisters: either because they have already begun to share his divine life in fact, or because they might.
To say “Our Father” is to bespeak a totally transformed vision of our own destiny, and our call to love God and neighbor.
What does it mean for you to call God “Father”? How do you experience the sharing of that Fatherhood with others?