By Dave McClow
Have you ever had a moment in time when something just clicks, things fall into place in a deeper way, and your understanding takes a huge leap forward? I had such a moment years ago in the Atlanta airport, where something I had known in my head went deep into my heart. I witnessed a young Hasidic Jewish boy running gleefully around his father. Hasidic Jews are not hard to pick out in a crowd—the men dress in black attire, including a hat, and their sidelocks are long curls.
This young boy of four or five was circling his father, as happy as he could be, saying, “Abba, Abba, Abba!” It clicked. This is the name Jesus revealed to us regarding his Father. Only twice did God reveal his name: once to Moses, “I am who I am,” and again through Jesus, “Abba.” I had known the word’s translation for years — Papa or Daddy — but it was only hearing it “live” in the airport when it stirred my heart and made me smile. I can still feel it reverberate through me. It was said with such ease, abandon, and delight. I thought, “That’s right! That’s how He wants us to talk to Him!”
Both in Jesus’ day and today, “Abba” has been a controversial name for God. When Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, provoking the religious leaders to persecute him (Jn. 5:16), we notice in the next verses that they “tried all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath but He also called God His own father, making Himself equal to God” (Jn 5:18). According to Scott Hahn, even today Muslims are terribly insulted by how we Catholics and Christians call God “Father.”
Back to the more pleasant side… I have prepared seventh- and eighth-graders for Confirmation for over 15 years. My wife and I have not been able to have children, so you can bet when two kids from different years spontaneously blurted out, “You would make a good dad,” I remembered it, sometimes with tears! There is something profound in being affirmed as a father. Being a spiritual father is something for which all men, even childless men, are designed. Our Abba is just as delighted and pleased when we “hallow” His name as the little boy did in the airport.
For this reason, I wrote the “Abba Prayer for Men,” opening with “Abba (Papa, Daddy, Dad), make me know my true identity as Your beloved son….” Many men (and women) have an identity problem when it comes to God. They see him as a master to be obeyed or, according to one of my clients, as a “drill sergeant.” St. John Paul II called this perspective a “servile fear of the Lord.” St. John would say these men live in fear of punishment and judgment (1 Jn. 4). They are exhausted, believing they are only as good as their last performance.
Wounded through words, violence, or neglect, they don’t feel loved. But the name “Abba” reveals something very different. The very name is life and love … fathers beget life through love! God gives Himself totally to His Son and totally to us: “Everything I have is yours,” as He tells the older brother in the prodigal son story. At Jesus’ baptism, He hears those words every boy and every man longs to hear from his father, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And at our baptism, Abba gives us His very life, His love — in fact He deifies us — makes us gods. Most of us were baptized as babies, so we had no great accomplishments, no big bank accounts. We were nothing but eating, sleeping, and pooping bundles. Yet Abba delighted in us — because we breathed, not because we did anything. We must drink deeply of this endless, enduring love so we can, as fertile spiritual fathers, radiate God’s Fatherhood to everyone — the challenge of the great commission.
If we are wounded, we must purify our hearts and memories of our negative experiences with our parents (CCC 2779). Here is a little test: start calling God “Abba,” “Papa,” “Dad,” or “Daddy.” If you find this difficult, then a wound needs healing. If this healing requires you to forgive someone, especially in this year of Mercy, know that forgiveness does not mean you must forget the trespass or run in slow motion in love toward the person. It simply means giving up the right to collect a debt or seek revenge. And forgiveness is impossible without God’s help. The Catechism illustrates this with some of the most beautiful and psychologically insightful words: “It is there … ‘in the depths of the heart,’ that everything is bound and loosed. It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession” (2843).
Dave McClow, M.Div. is a counselor with the Pastoral Solutions Institute Tele-Counseling Services. Read more at CatholicExchange.com.
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