12th Ordinary Sunday - Year C
Luke 9:18-24
Father's Day - Deep gratitude to God for our parents

St Joseph and infant Jesus
by Guido Reni,
Hermitage, St Petersburg

Today is Father’s Day and I suppose it is appropriate for us to reflect on this topic in the light of the Gospel message of St Luke.

If I am to look at myself today, I can see how I am very much part very much part of my mom and dad. Even though they have passed away many years ago; mom 28 years ago and dad 13 years ago, I still have beautiful dreams of them. In my dreams I see them very much alive and well. In fact, in many ways they continue to be present within me. The way I do things, the way I think and even the way I feel at times remind me so much of how my mom and dad used to be, when they were alive.

Mom had to take care of nine children. Her heart was always soft towards all of us. This was not because she was weak, but because it was her way of loving us. This made it very easy for all of us to go to her with our complaints and concerns. We could always count on her to listen to us and understand us. Dad on the other hand was a man who was strong, firm and decisive. Although he joked much, he maintained a certain distance from us. I suppose, he felt he needed that space to fulfil the role of being the head of the family. So, even though times were hard financially on certain occasions, he gave us a sense that we could count on him. He bore the heavy burdens of a large family bravely. He was for me, an intelligent and hardworking man who loved God, and who wanted to give his best to his family.

Strangely, he very seldom talked to us about religion. He was a prayerful man and we all knew that God was always close to his heart. It was mom who reminded us to pray, to fast and to dress well for Mass. Dad would simply give his full silent support and drove us in his car to Mass. If you see me rushing down here five minutes before Mass – a bit flustered and frantic – then consider it an improvement on my part because when we were young, the Heng family, in our hometown, were well known for always arriving five minutes late for Mass. We would all creep into the chapel blushing and yet, week after week, regardless of our constant resolve to be early, we were still somehow five minutes late! (Looking at our regular Sunday crowd here, it seems to me my family is not the only one that has this constant problem.) Dad, in all of this would remain patient and not say a word. I suppose it was his way of leaving the running of the home to my mom.

As I share all these thoughts with you today, I am sure each of you too will have your own story of your mom and dad. I am sure you too have parents who have loved you in their own ways and have helped you grow up into what you are today. In particular, on this special Father’s day, I believe it is important for us to remind ourselves how indebted and how grateful we ought to be to our fathers.

Many of you are fathers yourselves. And, I am sure, like my dad, you too have had your share of heartaches and headaches of shouldering the burdens of your family. And how you too at times, like my dad, had to put on a brave front and perhaps weep silently because you know you have to be strong for them. Like my dad, you may have your faults and even failures, and as your own father too was not perfect, we want you to know today, that we would all like to thank God for you, as you are truly God’s blessings and gifts to us. We want to salute you. We individually, and as a Christian community, want to thank God for all your sacrifices, your silent tears and your undying support for us over all these many years of our lives. Deep within us we know you have given us so much and how you have not spared yourself for us.

Yes, we have in different ways and at different times taken your love for granted. But, today, we want to say, “Dad, you know we love you and you know you will always have a special place in our hearts. We ask God to bless you abundantly now and in the coming years: that you will reap the rewards of your silent tears and selfless sacrifices. That indeed you will see your dreams for us your children fulfilled; and your goodness appreciated and cherished through the love and honour that God wants us to show you now and always.”

My sisters and brothers, how right and appropriate for all of us to honour and salute our dear fathers in this Christian community of faith! If we love God we must honour our parents, and in honouring our parents we also honour God. To honour our parents is very much part of what Jesus, teaches us. Jesus reminds us many a times to look at the deeper meaning of what life is all about.

Father God and man - Michaelangelo, Sistine Chapel, Rome

For many of us, the tendency is to take a lot of precious things that God has given us for granted. One such precious gift of God is the gift of our fathers. Because their love for us is constant and their sacrifices for us are silent, it is so easy for us to take them for granted. Our Lord is challenging us to see beyond what we are simply getting from them: like clothing, food, pocket money, home, education, advice and the like. Our Lord is challenging us to see that beyond the physical and the external care we receive from them, there is also the dedication, sacrifice and love that they are showering on us. Can we see this? Do we get the point that we Christians are being challenged today on this Father’s day?

My sisters and brothers, most if not all of us love our parents. As Christians we are challenged to spread what Jesus has taught us. And, in this celebration of Father’s day, we are challenged by Jesus, to tell in the daylight and proclaim from the house-tops, that we are called to honour our fathers and to love them.

This means that it is not enough to say, “Dad, I love you.” We are obliged to spread this love amongst the other members of our family, especially those who do not yet find it easy to love dad, because of some misunderstandings or fall outs. We are obliged also to encourage others, including our neighbours to love their fathers more. As we are each precious in God’s eyes, and worth “more than hundreds of sparrows,” so to speak, our fathers too are precious in God’s eyes, and we are called to honour them.

If we are successful today, we can be sure that, if not for our dad’s constant hard work to provide for us, many of us would never have made it to where we are today, academically and in our careers, including our vocation to the priesthood and religious life. If we are happy today, we can be sure that a lot of that happiness has come from the love we received from them. If we love God, we too can be sure that, in many ways, we have learnt to love God through our dads.

My brothers and sisters, gratitude is timeless. It is never too late. Even if our parents have passed away, it is still good to thank them very specially on this day for all that they have done for us and have been to us. Regardless of who we are, whether we are priests, parents or grandparents, all of us have fathers.

So, as I conclude, I suggest that it would be good for us to spend say half and hour, or even fifteen minutes in silence tonight, to recall all the blessings we have received from our fathers and thank God for them from the bottom of our hearts. And for the times that we have fought and failed them, we ask for God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with them.

If we can at least do this tonight, (in addition to our other personal expressions of our love for them,) then we can say that we have celebrated Father’s day in a true Christian way. That is, we have not only thanked them as a Christian community gathered here in God’s presence and in faith, but we have also personalized our gratitude in our prayers. When we go out after Mass to celebrate Father’s day with lunches, dinners and greetings, as Christians, we know that these celebrations are important external expressions of our gratitude and love for our fathers. However, we must more importantly remember that our deepest gratitude comes from the soul. This means that our deepest gratitude to our dads can only come from us, if deep in our hearts we love God.

And if we love God deeply, we will also know how to love our fathers deeply. If we can then love our fathers, out of our love for God, then we can say that we have given our fathers the most beautiful gift we can think of on this special day - our love with God’s love. “Happy Father’s Day!”