Monday, June 9, 2014

Fathers of Mercy

As Father's Day approaches, so does the anniversary of my father's death.  It's been four years, which in some ways seems like a long time.  But it mostly seems like yesterday.  (Here's a link to an all-time classic photo of a couple holy fathers!)

During my dad’s final months, one of our family’s favorite activities was reading the various notes sent by friends near and far.  One of the best was from a boyhood baseball teammate.  Basically, the two had played on a legendary team that had made it to the championship game of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA, but they had not been in touch for over fifty years.  The old teammate wrote to say that he had heard my dad was battling cancer, and he went on to offer words of support and the promise of prayers. 

In this note, however, he also recounted the last inning of the championship game, which their team ended up losing.  Down by five runs in their final at-bat, this old teammate had tried to bunt his way on base; he went on to apologize to my dad for this bad decision and commented:  “I never was good at bunting and wasn’t very fast—what was I thinking?!”  My family and I were touched by this note, but I was struck by the fact that this poor guy seemed to be still haunted by that game so long ago.

In the final weeks of my dad’s life, as his ability to speak was slowly fading, he became a master of non-verbal interactions.  He also seemed to become even funnier and more insightful while using fewer and fewer words.  At one point when we were alone, I sat down next to him and said that I wanted to apologize for all of the stupid things I had said and done down through the years.  He looked over with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Talking about bunting in the last at-bat?!”

This Father’s Day, I’m struck by the fact that the world needs more merciful fathers.  It needs people like me to be instruments of mercy, since I've had many first-hand experiences of the mercy of our Heavenly Father.  Maybe that's why Pope Francis chose Pentecost Sunday for an unprecedented prayer for peace in the Middle East (here's a great video clip).  It’s too easy for us to hang onto decisions which haunt us, or hurts which threaten to imprison and enslave us. 

Each of us needs to know experientially that our failures to hit the mark (a.k.a., our sin)--as well as our flawed decisions to lay down a bunt--have all been swallowed up in the ocean of Divine Mercy.  Thanks to the Father's gift of his Son, who freely poured out himself and his Spirit for us, of course. 
We earthly fathers have a special role to play as agents of mercy, but we certainly need to be shown mercy as well.  Whether we are biological or spiritual fathers, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).  We are all walking-wounded in some way or another.  Our stories may be different, but we fathers need our families to be patient about the way we are, in order to help us become the way we’re supposed to be.

We’ve all had those moments when we’ve wondered, “What was I thinking?!”  So this Father’s Day, let’s liberate both ourselves and our fathers from past chains, in order that we can be instruments on God’s grace in the present moment.