Sunday, August 22, 2010
Lord, Show Us the Father
This is what Philip said to Jesus at the Last Supper: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us” (John 14:8b). That sounds to me like a great insight. It is, I think, perhaps the heart of the redeemed human experience, on a par with Peter’s confession in Mark 8:29: “[Jesus] asked [his disciples], “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”
So it’s always been a bit of a forehead-wrinkler to me that Jesus’ response to Philip was a criticism: “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). I guess that, good as Philip’s words were, after the length of his discipleship Jesus expected him to know something about the Incarnation.
But to come back to Philip’s original insight, “seeing the Father” is indeed the fullness of redemption. The joy of heaven is sometimes called the “Beatific Vision”.
Today I had an experience that drove that intense reality home more deeply than anything I had known before. I was walking by the church play yard about half an hour before the second Mass was scheduled to begin. A four-year-old girl was sitting on the grass alone, crying. I opened the gate and stepped up to her, knelt down, and asked her why she was crying. She looked up and said, “I want to see my Daddy.” (Turns out another child had made fun of her, which was why she was crying. Apparently she thought that seeing her Daddy was what she needed to feel better.)
“Your Daddy’s in choir practice,” I said.
“I know,” she said, “but I still want to see him.”
“Can you wait until choir practice is over?”
“No, I want to see him now.” (Patience is not numbered among this child’s many virtues.)
“How about if I take you over to the door, open it a few inches, and let you see him for a few seconds.”
So that’s what I did. I walked her over to the closed door, through which the sounds of the choir anthem were sounding. I slipped the door open about six inches, located the child’s father, and then lifted her up a little so she could see him. “There he is,” I said. No one in the choir room even noticed that we were there. “Is that enough?” I asked after about five seconds.
”Yes,” she said. I put her down and eased the door shut, then took her back to the play yard. She went through the gate ready to play again. The crisis was over.
When I told her father about the incident a little later, I said, somewhat jokingly, “It was like a little Beatific Vision.” Then we both realized that that was just what it was. It was suddenly impressed upon us what immense responsibility parents have for their children. God gives us a little bit of himself when we become parents. What immeasurable influence we have over them. How humbling it is to know that it is through us fallible human beings that children learn things about God that they can’t get in any other way.