Back in January, I had the great privilege of doing an 8-day silent retreat, where we went through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The Spiritual Exercises are a series of prayers and meditations written by St. Ignatius which help people to discern the Lord’s will and presence in their lives. In the first few days of the retreat, one of the practices that Ignatius recommends really struck me. He says that before each time we stop to pray, we should pause for the length of an Our Father to recall how the Father is gazing on us. I was so moved by this, because I rarely think about the way in which God is gazing upon me at every moment. I would imagine that many others tend to gloss over this reality as well. Our Father is always looking down upon us with a loving gaze. He sees directly into our hearts: every thought, feeling, desire, and inclination lies open to His gaze.
All of us, whether we admit it or not, long to be looked upon lovingly by our father. This has become so much more apparent to me, since my own father passed away less than a year ago. There is something about when our father looks at us with his loving eyes and tells us how proud he is that fills our souls with incomparable joy. This is why my heart breaks for all those who do not have this fatherly presence in their lives. For my pastoral assignment in the seminary this year, I go each week to St. Christopher’s Inn, a shelter and treatment center for men who are suffering from addiction to drugs and alcohol. A huge number of the men did not have a fatherly presence in their lives growing up, and if they did, he was often abusive toward them. These poor, beloved children of God did not experience that fatherly gaze that we all long for, so they tried to fill that hole with something else which can never satisfy.
Our heavenly Father’s gaze, even when we do not recognize it, is always upon us. No matter how far we have strayed from him in our own woundedness and sinfulness, He is always looking upon us with tender affection. But for all those who are fatherless, who are longing to be looked upon by their dad, where do they turn? The answer is Jesus. One could argue that everything that Jesus did on earth: His public ministry, miracles, passion, death, and resurrection, can be united under a single goal: to reveal the Father to us. In John’s Gospel, during His farewell discourses at the Last Supper, Jesus says: “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (Jn 14:6-7). Jesus is the answer. He is the one Who shows us Who our Father really is. Under the gaze of Christ, we experience what it’s like to be gazed upon by our Father.
Throughout this year, in dealing with the loss of my own father and continuing to seek the face of Christ in my prayer and study, I have come to realize what it truly means to be a priest: to be a father to the fatherless. To be a priest means to look at each person with the gaze of the Father, recognizing that they are each unique, unrepeatable, and created to spend eternity with God. It is the duty of the priest to love his people with that same tender love that Jesus did, to show them just how much they are loved by their Father. What a lofty vocation this is! And how unworthy any human person is for this! In an era when so many of our fathers have fallen short of this lofty vocation, we need good priests now more than ever. And so, for any young men who might be considering a vocation to the priesthood, consider what you are being called to be: a father to the fatherless.