Among the many activities of June, in addition to weddings, graduations, and the beginning of summer, Father’s Day takes on a special significance. This year, four first grade girls revealed something to me about the meaning of fatherhood; in particular, an insight into God as our Father.
The girls were on their way back to their classroom on the first floor from a visit to the nurse on the second floor of a Catholic School. Every first grader knows that when someone falls on the playground, it takes at least three friends to bring you to the nurse for a Band-Aid. On the landing between floors in their school there is a statue of Mary holding Jesus as a little boy.
The girls stopped at the statue and began a little dance in front of it. They were twirling and holding hands and moving in two circles. All the time they were praying the “Our Father” in that small child singsong way of speaking. Their smiles and giggles signified the delight they had in themselves and their prayer. Oblivious to anyone else, they finished their prayer and hopped down the stairs to resume their school day.
What do they teach us of God as Father and of prayer? First of all, they knew instinctively that God loves it when they sing and dance. It delights him and they were made to be a delight for God. They knew that praying includes the whole body and spirit — all the hope and joy we have we bring to God. And they knew that God as Father could simply enjoy them in all their beauty and love.
Perhaps their being so at home with God the Father serves as a reminder of fatherhood in general. Of course, fathers protect and provide and care for their children. But they also need to take the time to delight in their children. Let them dance and sing; clap for them and delight in them when they do so. Children who know that their fathers enjoy them become confident and free to express their feelings, dreams and desires.
Imagine a question asked of most Catholics attending Mass on any Sunday: “Are you really good at knowing how to pray?” Few would answer in the positive. Most of us think we are pathetic at praying. We are rarely confident that we have it right. Those four first grade girls would be among the minority who would have eagerly said, “Yes.” What can their innocent pure prayer teach the rest of us?
To be good at prayer, we have to pray. It’s that simple. We must know deep inside of us that God delights in our prayer; he does not judge it. We might not be free enough to dance around and hold hands with others, but we do need to know that free unfettered hearts are always singing before God. The little girls teach us that we don’t need fancy words — the basic suffice. St. Teresa of Avila, a 15th century Spanish mystic, and an expert on teaching ways to pray, said the “Our Father” was her favorite prayer.
We can learn a great deal from St. Teresa, but we can also learn from people around us who pray. The ordinary people in our lives who have become people of prayer: the grandmother who knelt down to pray the rosary when word arrived that her brother had died; the old lady who went to Church every night to pray the rosary and to splash holy water all over her face; the little girl who kneels by her window praying to Jesus as she looks at the cross on the hill of her city; the young family who bring their children to Mass; the maintenance man who begins his day at the 6 a.m. Mass, and the four little girls who dance and pray before God their Father. Amen to all of them.
Sister Patricia McCarthy currently teaches Math at a Catholic School. For many years she taught troubled children and victims of abuse.