RCIA SUMMARY - GOD THE FATHER
[Jesus speaking] "The Father and I are One" (John 10:30)
Philip said to him, "Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:8-9)
[Jesus speaking]"This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. " (Matthew 6:9)
... giving thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He [the Son] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. ... He is the head of the body, the church. (Colossians 1:12-15, 18)
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!". The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:14-17)
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" (Galatians 4:6)
... and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)
In the first two RCIA sessions we learned that some things can be known about God from our human reason, but that the most essential things that we can know about God were revealed to us by Jesus Christ, the 2nd person of the Trinity who became man "for us men and for our salvation." Christ revealed to us the innermost secret of God, that there is one God expressed in three divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who exist in an eternal living communion of love: "God is Love" (1 John 4:16). Christ came to reveal the Father to us [see quote above John 14:8-9], and to show us the Father's love, which He did preeminently on the cross, where out of love for us He died so that we might have eternal life. Our destiny is to be part of God's Family, the Blessed Trinity, forever; to be adopted sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit [see quote above Romans 8:14-17]. This is the love the Father has for us, revealed to us by his Son Jeus Christ, and poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit [see quote above Romans 5:5]. Below we will look more closely at the love the Father has shown for us his children throughout salvation history, including the awesome revelation that He is indeed truly Our Father.
USAGE NOTE: The name "God" can be used either for the Father, the first Person, or for the divine being or substance which is fully expressed in all three Persons of the Trinity. Thus, Jesus is both the "Son of God" and "God". He both addressed his Father as "God" and accepted Thomas's worship of himself as "my Lord and my God" (John 20:28-29).
What God the Father does not mean
When Christ revealed the Father to us, He did not mean that God is male. It is essential in speaking and thinking about the infinite God to never remake God in our image. After all, God made man in his image, not the reverse. God is not a man or a woman. As a completely spiritual being, God transcends our earthly gender distinctions. Genesis 1:27 makes quite clear that we image God as male AND female: "God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.". Thus as male and female, capable of entering into physical and spiritual union with each other in married and family life, man images the eternal God who lives as a communion (i.e. common union) of Persons. Christ revealed to us that the 1st Person of the Trinity is his Father and our Father, and that God's fatherhood is totally unique. God is the origin of all that exists and all that ever will exist. God is not a Father because He is like human fathers, on the contrary human fathers only participate in the fatherhood of God. God is the first and perfect Father, and all other fatherhood finds its ultimate origin in him. So when speaking and thinking about God the Father, we must remember that God's fatherhood transcends any human category or description including gender. However, Christ revealed that God truly is a Father, and therefore we can think in human terms what a perfect loving father would be like and know that Our Father in Heaven infinitely surpasses even that ideal notion in his real and loving care for us, his children.
The Revelation of God as Father
All of salvation history (recorded in the Bible in the Old and New Testaments) is a story of God's love for us. The essence of that story is that God is Love (see 1 John 4:16), and that out of love He created us to share his life forever. This plan is rightly called "Our Father's Plan", because it is our Father in Heaven whose will is expressed in salvation history. As you recall from Session 2, God the Father is the 1st person of the Blessed Trinity and the origin of the other two persons. God the Father eternally generates or "begets" the 2nd person God the Son, and the bond of love between Father and Son is so real that it IS the 3rd person, the Holy Spirit. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit equally possess the same divine nature or substance, so that there is one God and not three. But the persons are really distinct, in that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. So the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, the central mystery [see Session 2 summary for more on "Trinity" and "mystery"] of the Catholic faith, expresses our belief in one God in three divine persons.
The primary reason that the first person of the Trinity is called God the Father is because He is a Father: from all eternity He begets God the Son. Jesus Christ, the 2nd person of the Trinity who assumed our human nature, always used the name "Father" in referring to the first person of the Trinity and we cannot improve on what Christ has revealed. Christians believe that God himself has taught us how to speak of him. The Father eternally begets the Son, and so is an eternal Father. Since God exists outside of time and space (i.e. time is part of the created universe, see Session 1 summary), there was never a time when the Father existed without the Son, or the first two Persons without the Holy Spirit (see Session 2 summary). God the Father eternally loves his Son, and the Holy Spirit is the eternal love between Father and Son, and this communion of loving Persons forms an eternal Family.
We know then through Christ's revelation the essential doctrine of the Trinity, and the Fatherhood of the 1st Person who originates the 2nd Person. But no less important for us is that Christ revealed to us that God the Father is our Father too. This awesome revelation should shake and humble us to our very marrow, that the infinite, perfect, almighty God created us to be his children; that He loves us with a Father's love, and seeks to adopt us and make us part of his Family forever (see quote above Romans 8:14-17) by giving us his very life (see 2nd Peter 1:4). Salvation history reveals nothing less than God's constant loving plan to bring man into intimate family union with Himself.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 239 sums it up this way: By calling God "Father", the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God's parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God's immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father.
A key theme throughout salvation history has been the covenant. A covenant differs from a contract in that in a contract the parties involved exchange goods and services according to a legal agreement, whereas a covenant goes beyond a contract in that in a covenant it is not goods and services that are exchanged but persons. The marriage covenant between a man and a woman illustrates this. A marriage is not merely a legal agreement, but expresses a bond whereby each spouse makes a total gift of self to the other. Thus a covenant is really a sacred bond that joins persons together as a loving family, with all the profound responsibilities that come with such an intimate family bond.
Our Father's plan for our salvation has been expressed and enacted over time in a series of covenants that God has made with man. God wants us to share in the intimate family union of the Trinity (see John 3:16; also see above Romans 8:14-17), and expresses that desire by making covenants with us. Starting with Adam and Eve and the covenant of creation, God began to father his people. Even with the sin of our first parents, God did not abandon his family but through a series of covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses and David continued to father his family in an ever-widening embrace. The first covenant was with a married couple (Adam and Eve), but progressed through Noah (a household), Abraham (a tribe), Moses (a nation), and David (a kingdom). All these covenants pointed to and were fulfilled in the new covenant established by Jesus Christ. Jesus died for us that we might become adopted sons and daughters of our Father through Him by the power of his Holy Spirit (see quotes above Colossians 1:12-15, 18; Romans 8:14-17). Thus, the new and eternal covenant established by Christ is meant to bring the whole world into loving family communion with God. And that world wide family of God is the Catholic Church. The covenants throughout salvation history culminating in the new covenant family of the Catholic Church will be explored more thoroughly in a later RCIA session entitled "The Story of God's People."
The Mystery of Evil
If God is a loving Father, then why is there so much evil in the world? This is a profound question that for many is an obstacle to faith in God. This subject will only be touched on briefly here as a later RCIA session entitled "Original Sin and the Mystery of Evil" will address this topic in greater detail. The first thing that must be understood is that God does not cause evil in the sense of willing it for its own sake. God created everything good, as Genesis 1:31 reveals: "God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good." When our first parents sinned evil gained a foothold in the created universe. In order that man may respond to God's love, man must be free. God therefore does not remove man's freedom for then man would not be able to love God freely. But if man is free, then he is free to reject God's love and commit evil and that is what our first parents did. Sin shatters our relationship with God, and separated from the source of all that is good man succumbs to evil. So the sinful actions of mankind in the past and in the present account for most of the evil in the created universe.
And yet God, who always acts for the good of those who love him (see Romans 8:28), is able to draw good even out of the evil we commit. Thus God is able to write straight with our crooked lines, and bring us to holiness after permitting us to experience the consequences of our rejection of him (see the parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32). In fact, the greatest evil that man has ever committed was to kill the Son of God who became man for our sake. Mankind murdered God, the crime of deicide, and yet out of this greatest evil God brought forth our greatest good, Redemption.
But a complete answer to the "problem of evil" as it is called is not possible in this life. The seemingly disproportionate amount of evil in the world including the suffering of innocents does not admit a full answer based on what God has revealed to us. We only know that God has revealed to us that He is Love, and seeks to share his life and love with us forever, to the point of entering history on our behalf as man and suffering with us, even to death on a cross. So in faith we trust in the loving God who made us, and who suffers with us, and who has revealed to us that even our suffering united to his can bring about good for ourselves and others (see Colossians 1:24). Most importantly we know that our sufferings will be at an end when eternity begins: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, God's dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them (as their God). He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, (for) the old order has passed away." The one [Jesus Christ] who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." (Revelation 21:1-5).
Jesus Christ revealed to us that God truly is our Father, and that our destiny is to be adopted into the eternal Family of the Trinity as sons and daughters of our Father through Christ's redeeming death and resurrection. Through faith in Christ and baptism, we become part of God's universal new covenant family. That is, we become the Father's adopted children by the power of the Holy Spirit (see above quote Galatians 4:6). In future RCIA sessions we will learn more about this new covenant family which is the Catholic Church.
Additional resources on God the Father and Covenant:
See printable version of this document in word format
Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraphs 2777-2802